Cato Policy Analysis No. 383 October 26, 2000

Policy Analysis

More Than Grades: How Choice Boosts Parental Involvement and Benefits Children

by Philip Vassallo

Philip Vassallo is an educational consultant and writer. His work has been published in the American School Board Journal, Principal, Young Children, and Day Care and Elementary Education. Vassallo holds a doctorate in educational theory from Rutgers University.


Executive Summary

Research shows that parental involvement in a child's education is a strong predictor of student achievement: typically, the more involved the parent, the better off the child. Yet the current structure of the kindergarten through 12th-grade education system tends to marginalize parents. In most areas, government assigns children to particular schools, and school boards and bureaucrats control textbooks, curriculum, and other central aspects of a child's education.

Studies from school choice experiments suggest that school choice can be a powerful engine for parental involvement—choice by its nature engenders a higher level of parental participation than does the current system. Although a universal, customer-driven system has not been tried, sufficient research exists to prove that modified forms of choice—such as charter schools, vouchers, and private scholarship programs—increase parental involvement.

Although most studies of school choice experiments have focused on academic gains to children in choice programs, this study examines the many other benefits that choice programs bring to students. For example, parents of children in school choice programs (1) are more involved with their children's academic programs; (2) participate more in school activities; (3) believe that their chosen school offers a greater measure of safety, discipline, and instructional quality than did their previous school; (4) are more satisfied with their children's education in a choice program; and (5) are likely to reenroll their children in the choice program.

The ultimate key to school reform is the parent. Once parents assume the responsibility of advocating for and supporting their children's education, they will become partners with educators to create the schools their children need. State legislators should seek policies that return control of education to parents through mechanisms like tax cuts and universal tuition tax credits. The adoption of such measures promises to increase parental involvement and bring other important benefits to children.

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