Tough choices in school choice

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

For those parents who have the opportunity to do so, choosing a school for their child is one of the most important decisions they will make as parents – a decision that could have a lasting impact on their child’s life. What do parents look for when choosing a school for their child?

This month’s PISA in Focus reports on the criteria that parents consider before making this decision. Eleven countries and economies distributed a questionnaire to parents of 15-year-olds who sat the 2012 PISA test that asked them to report on the importance they ascribed to several criteria, including school quality, the distance from home to school, the school’s philosophy and financial considerations. Not surprisingly, the quality of the school – including such factors as academic achievement, reputation, environment and safety – comes first among parents. Yet, PISA finds that many parents value certain indicators of school quality – such as the school’s reputation or safety at the school – more highly than they do academic achievement.

While disadvantaged parents are more concerned than advantaged parents about low expenses and the availability of financial aid when choosing a school, PISA results show that disadvantaged parents often ascribe greater importance to these considerations than to criteria that focus on school quality. That is an important finding, because PISA results also show that the children of parents who consider academic achievement very important score 46 points higher in mathematics, on average, than the children of parents who consider it not important. Although the score-point difference shrinks to 32 points after students’ socio-economic status is taken into account, that difference is still equivalent to nearly an entire year of school.

A previous edition of PISA in Focus noted that competition for students among schools – or school choice, from the schools’ perspective – is related to greater socio-economic segregation among students. As this month’s edition makes clear: learning for some students, particularly disadvantaged students, could suffer tremendously in school systems where parents have to choose between affordability and quality.

PISA in Focus No. 51: What do parents look for in their child’s school?
PISA in Focus No. 51 (French version)
PISA 2012 Results: What makes schools successful?
PISA in Focus No. 42: When is competition between schools beneficial?
Photo Credit: Empty Checklist with copy space/ @Shutterstock

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