Parents countywide say ‘Yes’ to diverse cross-district magnet schools

In a blog I wrote in April, I explored whether there was a positive response to doubters who may like the concept of diverse public magnet schools, but who wonder who’s going to develop such schools and who if they would attract socioeconomically-diverse students across district lines.

The conclusion was Yes—a number of such opportunities are either already in place or are in various stages of active conceptualization or development.

Don Pryor is a researcher for the Center for Governmental Research and a member of the GS4A leadership team

Don Pryor is a researcher for the Center for Governmental Research and a member of the GS4A leadership team

Now we have powerful evidence that “if you create it, they will come.” A countywide survey of parents of school-age children demonstrates keen interest among parents—across geographic, income, racial and ethnic lines—in considering socioeconomically-integrated magnet schools that would draw students across school district lines to access specialized academic offerings that even the most affluent districts cannot afford to offer on their own.

The survey is posted elsewhere on this GS4A website. The survey was conducted by Metrix Matrix, a respected local survey research firm, with the costs underwritten with the generous support of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation. GS4A is grateful to both organizations for making this important survey possible.

Metrix Matrix completed telephone interviews with 602 parents of school-age children, 301 from the city and 301 from the suburbs. The survey results were weighted to reflect the distribution of households with children across the county. The survey findings reflect a representative sample of the county and city population in terms of economic and racial/ethnic makeup.

For detailed findings, see the report. But just a few headlines to capture the most salient findings:
• Almost 90 percent of the parents indicated that they would consider enrolling a child in one or more of 7 potential magnet school options identified in the survey. Most of those selected three or more magnet options of interest.
• About 70 percent would consider magnet options with a mix of 50 percent low-income and 50 percent middle-class students. Research over the past 50 years has consistently demonstrated that such a mixture of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds contributes to improved outcomes for both poor and middle-class students, both in terms of academic achievement, graduation rates and critical thinking skills, creativity and the ability to learn to collaborate together.
• Almost two-thirds of all parents would be willing to have their child transported to a magnet school if it were no more than 30 minutes from their home.
• Furthermore, three-quarters of all parents indicated that they would consider sending their child to a magnet school on a voluntary basis, even if it were outside their home district, if transportation needs were met and it provided opportunities not available in their home district.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? As we have discussed our ideas throughout the community we have heard considerable support for the concept of diverse magnet schools, but also skepticism about how much interest there would be from parents in having their children attend diverse magnet schools.

This survey shows clearly that, although generally satisfied with their current educational offerings, parents overwhelmingly say that they want a richly diverse educational environment for their children and that they do not want to limit their children to the programs available in their home districts if better alternatives exist elsewhere in the community.

Of course what people say on a survey does not necessarily predict what they would do in real life. But the evidence is so strong and compelling from the survey that it is hard to ignore: that there is a large critical mass of parents throughout urban and suburban segments of the county who value the opportunity to provide their children with academic options not currently available to them, and to expose their children to the types of cultural diversity that will characterize the increasingly-diverse society and workforce of the future.

The results challenge the skeptics who have long said parents would reject even voluntary integration across district lines. Indeed, the results suggest strongly that significant numbers of parents of today’s school-age children support the concept of more diverse schools, even if it means crossing school district lines, and even more specifically want their own children to at least have the opportunity to consider options created by such specialized, diverse schools.

For additional discussion of the implications of the survey findings, and to hear more about specific magnet options in various stages of consideration and development, please plan to join GS4A in a community event open to everyone, on Thursday, June 9 at 7pm at Third Presbyterian Church at the corner of East Avenue and Meigs Street. We hope to see you there.