by Jim Boyle
Some of the leading factors causing parents who live in the Elk River Area School District to take their children out of District 728 schools and put them into other schools of choice are class sizes, program options and a desire for more challenging educational experiences.
At least this was the case for parents who took their children out of District 728 schools after the last school year and then responded to an online survey distributed by the school district in hopes of getting a better handle on the impact of school choice.
The decision to survey came after the school district’s enrollment dropped for the first time this past fall in more than a decade.
“While this phenomenon is not unique to the Minnesota school districts, it was the first time in recent history that the enrollment of (this) school district had declined,” Joe Stangler, the director of testing and assessment, stated in a report to the School Board Monday.
Stangler said school choice is a powerful aspect of the current educational system, and he said given the abundance of options it is imperative that public school districts gain an understanding of the reasons and rationale behind decisions that parents make regarding the enrollment of their children in school.
The school district always loses between 600 and 700 students a year due to families moving out of the district. This number is usually bested by the number of students who move into the district.
This past year, however, that was not the case. A significant number of students left for Spectrum Charter School and other schools of choice. Ultimately, the school district was down 149 students this past fall from the previous year.
So the district prepared and disseminated an online survey that went to 489 parents of students who were enrolled in the school district at the end of the 2010–11 school year but did not return at the beginning of the 2011–12 school year.
There were 41 emails that were returned due to invalid email addresses. There were 119 parents who chose to respond, providing the survey with a confidence interval of ± 7 at the 95 percent confidence level.
The survey looked at families who moved out of the district and those who stayed put but chose different schools for their kids.
In general, the results from parents whose family had moved out of the district were positive. They tended to rate their satisfaction level higher than those parents who had not moved, and they indicated they would have remained in the district had they not moved.
The parents who did not physically move out of the school district were not as satisfied with the education that their children received. In addition, they tended to be more critical of class sizes, program offerings and the challenge that students received.
Some personal preferences included attending a Northwest Suburban Integration School District magnet school, smaller schools and smaller class sizes, exposing students to different cultures and supporting a Christian education philosophy.
The district delved further into the rationale behind parents who continue to live in the district but send their kids elsewhere. They offered an open-ended question to get at the factors that led to their decision. They asked the respondents to rank the factors that influence them.
Overall, class size was listed most often as the most important underlying factor behind a parent’s reason to move their child to another school, as 20 parents listed it as their most important factor and another 13 parents indicated it was their second or third most important reason.
Program offerings such as magnet school opportunities were listed as the most important by 18 parents and another 21 said this was the second or third most important factor.
Another item that was listed by 11 parents as the most important factor was increased challenge. Another 14 considered it the second or third most important factor.
(Challenge differs from offerings in that challenge is not based on the opportunity to take a course or program; it is that the students are appropriately challenged in the course they are taking.)
Stangler said the good news about what they discovered is people were not leaving based on issues of anger or animosity.
“It was a choice they were making,” he said. “They wanted something different.”