This study of charter school parents is the first in a series to be conducted by the Goldwater Institute with the assistance of many supporters, most notably, the Dial Corp., Motorola Inc., and Bank of America. This body of research provides fresh insights into who attends charter schools and why. Until now, no statewide survey of charter schools had been undertaken. Several case studies and limited surveys have been conducted, but this is the first major progress toward developing population parameters for charter schools. The Goldwater Institute study also reveals information about charter schools that is contrary to popular opinion and may have considerable impact on future study and development of charter schools.
The study reveals that the majority of charter school students (69 percent of respondents) previously attended public schools and of this group, 57 percent of the parents were either very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with their child's educational experience. Overall, half of the charter school parents were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with their child's previous school. Ninety-two percent of these same parents say they are very satisfied or satisfied with their child's charter school and 94 percent plan to send their child to the same charter school next year.
We were also interested in why parents and students elected to leave a previous school and why they selected a specific charter school. The main reason charter school parents elected to remove their child from a previous school was curriculum. Teacher attitude and class sizes were the next most popular choices. Parents considered these same three reasons when selecting a specific charter school. As with most survey questions, there was great variety among responses based on where the child attended school last year.
Since the passage of the charter school legislation in 1994, charter school organizers/directors have talked about the challenges they face as educators when considering the students they serve while others have surmised that charter schools are "skimming the (academic) cream" off the top. The Goldwater Institute compared standardized test scores of chatter school students entering school last fall and the public school population. Charter school students at the fourth and seventh grade levels scored an average of 5 percent lower than the state average and tenth grade charter school students scored an average of 12 percent lower than the state average, demonstrating that charter schools are not "skimming the cream" off the top.
The data described in this report is just our first detailed look at charter schools. The Goldwater Institute will continue to chronicle the development of charter schools in Arizona. We will release subsequent reports examining what is happening in charter school classrooms as well as detailing charter school students' opinions of their experiences.