Ep. 291: Big Ideas — National School Choice Week with Andrew Campanella

January 20, 2022

Andrew Campanella, the President of National School Choice Week, talks to us about some of the results from a recent survey conducted by the organization.

Jason Bedrick: Hello and welcome back to EdChoice Chats. I’m your host, Jason Bedrick, Director of Policy at EdChoice. And this is another addition of our big idea series. Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Andrew Campanella, the President of National School Choice Week, which just released a new survey, which will be the subject of today’s conversation. Andrew, welcome back to the podcast.

Andrew Campanella: Hey, Jason, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Jason Bedrick: Absolutely. So, before we dive into the survey results, maybe you can just tell us a little bit about what National School Choice Week is.

Andrew Campanella: Sure. So, National School Choice Week is a not for profit public awareness effort. Year round, we work to develop the nation’s largest portfolio of free and practical school search resources for parents and they’re available on a state by state basis. And then every year we join with 26,000 different types of schools and organizations across the country in January, to raise awareness of the need for parents to start looking around at their options. And we work to plan school fairs and open houses and information sessions and all different types of events to raise broad national awareness of the benefits of opportunity in education. And we’re going on our 12th year now.

Jason Bedrick: Great. Well, diving into the survey, perhaps the most attention grabbing finding is that a majority of families in the last year said that they either are considering or had considered choosing a new or different school for at least one of their children. So, maybe you can unpack that just a bit for our audience. How many of these families actually made the jump, chose a new school? How many of them are still considering it? What does this really mean?

Andrew Campanella: Sure. So, when we looked at parents cross country who have children between the ages of five and 18, school aged kids, we were surprised, but not too surprised to see high levels of utilization in terms of school choice. So, 51.7% of parents said that they are considering or considered within the last year, looking for a new or different school for their kids. 18% of those parents say they found a school for their child, a new school. 19.8% said that they looked, but they didn’t find a school. 14% are currently considering.

Now, when you look at the 49% of parents who did not find, or did not even look for a school for their kids, 18% of them say they are going to get the search process started in advance of the 2022, 2023 school year. Now, a few things that are really interesting to us about the data when it comes to the families who did look for schools or who are looking right now for schools, black and Hispanic or Latino families are 10 percentage points more likely to say that they looked at or are looking at switching their kids’ school. So, there is strong demand across all races, geographies, income levels, and ideologies for making a change.

Jason Bedrick: Now, what’s driving this? I mean, obviously, we’ve had a global pandemic the past few years, so parents are more interested perhaps in exploring other options, but why are parents seeking out educational options according to the survey?

Andrew Campanella: When we did this survey last year, COVID restrictions and limitations and disruptions were far and away the top reason that parents said they wanted to look for new and different schools for their kids. This year, COVID ranked pretty high up there, but it wasn’t the top reason. The top reason or a primary reason listed by parents for wanting to find a new school was a desire for a higher quality education. Second top reason was the disruptions caused by COVID and the third reason was concerns over school safety or bullying. I think the first two, desire for a higher quality education and concerns over disruptions, as it relates to COVID, go hand in hand.

Parents are seeing more of what their kids are learning as a result of emergency remote learning. And they are seeing that their kids in many cases are behind and they want their kids to catch up and get the best quality education. And at the same time, they want more consistency. They want to know if their kids’ schools are going to be open for in-person learning. And if those schools aren’t going to be open, or if they have to go remote, they either want to know how those decisions are made, what process is used to decide. And if there is remote learning, that it will be high quality, not just forcing kids to stare at a Zoom for eight hours a day.

Jason Bedrick: On the question of why families are seeking out newer educational options, do we see any differences across demographics here?

Andrew Campanella: Generally, no. Families really do want a higher quality environment and are frustrated with the COVID disruptions and that’s pretty static across the board.

Jason Bedrick: And what is it that they’re looking for? When families are going out, they’re looking for a new school or even perhaps a micro school or some other type of hybrid homeschooling, so many different types of options out there, what are parents saying that they are looking for?

Andrew Campanella: Well, in terms of the types of schools, families expressed a willingness to look at a variety of different options. And the vast majority of families who completed the survey said that they looked into more than one type of school. The highest percentage were interested in looking at traditional public schools in their district, followed by private and faith-based schools, traditional public schools in another district, public charter schools, online public schools, full-time homeschooling and then magnet schools.

So, I was happy to see that because I wanted to make sure, of course, that we were getting a representative sample and we know that a lot of families are happy with public schools, but they might want to go to one in a different zone. And that’s what the survey showed. We also looked into what are the primary criteria that families use to determine if a school is a good fit. So, families are really looking at quality and their views of what quality means. And so, nearly a quarter of families said that they wanted to find a school and that they would prioritize a school that helped prepare students for real world success.

20% of families said they wanted schools to help their kids develop critical thinking skills. Another 20% said they wanted schools with highly trained and qualified teachers. And about 18% said they would prioritize a school that focused on core subjects like reading, writing, math, science, or history. And of course, we gave dozens of potential options. Those were just the top four, most likely responses.

Jason Bedrick: So, now, with parents exploring their educational options at record levels, do we see higher levels of support for educational choice policies?

Andrew Campanella: Well, I think EdChoice has done some of the best research into this. You guys have done incredible research and Paul’s will work has really dived very deeply into support. We did test it just for the sake of having that information and we saw 69% of families saying that they do support school choice. And among that 69%, we saw the highest levels of support as you guys have found among black and Hispanic or Latino families.

Jason Bedrick: Right. So, where can our listeners learn more about National School Choice Week and especially about the events that might be taking place in their area?

Andrew Campanella: Sure. Well, we encourage everybody to go to schoolchoiceweek.com. If you want to read about the survey, it’s schoolchoiceweek.com/survey.

Jason Bedrick: All right, thanks so much. This has been another addition of EdChoice Chats. If you have any ideas for authors you’d like us to interview for the big idea series, please send them to media@edchoice.org and be sure to subscribe to our podcast. Follow us on social media at EdChoice. And don’t forget to sign up for our emails on our website, edchoice.org. Thank you. We’ll catch you next time.