Anna Rhodes, Rice University and Julia Szabo, Rice University
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With the increasing number of options for where to send their children to school, parents are narrowing down their choices based on their own educational experiences as students.
This is what we found in a study published in March 2023 in Social Current.
In the past, parents have turned to their social media and materials created by school districts to help them choose a school for their child.
However, when we analyzed interviews with a diverse sample of 60 parents in the Dallas area, we found that about a third of them used their own school experiences to narrow down their choices before collecting other information about the school.
When parents have positive educational experiences as children, they often limit their choices to the same types of schools they attended, whether traditional private schools, technical schools, or public schools. She hopes to repeat this positive experience for her children. For example, Janice, a mother of two African Americans, explained, "They went to private school because I went to private school."
Although parents of all backgrounds and income levels use this strategy, it is most common among white parents, who typically enroll their children in private or suburban public schools they attend. We call this "empirically motivated reproduction".
Virginia, a white mother of two, explained that her husband John "just assumed our kids would go to public school" because the suburban school he attended was "a great public school." To repeat John's experience, the couple left the city to buy a house in the suburbs.
Similarly, Rachel, a white mother of three, quickly narrowed down her choice of school to only private Catholic schools based on her own positive experience. "The kids go to the same private Catholic school as he does," Rachel's husband told us.
On the contrary, we found that parents who had negative educational experiences tended to avoid enrolling their children in the schools they attended and excluded those schools from the analysis. This strategy, which we call "experiential avoidance," is common among black parents in our sample who felt neglected as children in urban public schools.
For example, Toni, a black mother of three, said, “I go to public school and I don't think the teachers really care about the children's education. I personally didn't get one on one." Because of this negative experience, he did not consider his public schools in the Dallas zone. Instead, Tony focused on choosing a charter school for his children. his house.
Why is it important?
How families enroll their children in school not only affects the educational resources available to their children, but also shapes broader patterns of racial and socioeconomic segregation in American schools.
The school choice process plays a key role in how educational disparities permeate generations, especially when white parents rely on their own experiences to make decisions for their children.
For example, when white families leave the city to enroll their children in suburban public schools, or consider only private schools like the ones they attended, these options reproduce historical patterns of white flight. It also helps explain why white families are overrepresented in private and suburban public schools.
Conversely, examining how parents' negative learning experiences affect the schools they consider for their children may help us better understand why, for example, black and Hispanic families are increasingly choosing charter schools.
what is not yet known
While this study sheds light on one of the key aspects of a parent's choice of school for their child, we think it's important to understand all the ways parents choose schools. Examining the selection process for different family groups in school choice districts can reveal the different strategies that parents rely on when choosing a school.
Anna Rhodes, Associate Professor of Sociology, Rice University , and Julia Szabo, PhD Student in Sociology, Rice University
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.