Arizona Schools find out what parents want

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon May 2 13:27:43 UTC 2005

The Arizona Republic, May 2, 2005

At last, we find out what parents want

David R. Garcia and Alex Molnar
May. 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Policymakers, legislators and advocacy groups regularly invoke the views
of parents to justify their education proposals. Rarely, however, are
ordinary parents asked to weigh in on education policy. This oversight is
unfortunate because the common-sense perspective of parents would help
ground policy discussions in reality. For the most part, parents do not
have the luxury of pushing ideology or playing politics. They tend to be
practical and have too much at stake to devote much attention to policies
that promote abstract ideologies.

Certainly, parent organizations do at times make their positions known to
legislators, but, in general, there is no mechanism for systematically
gathering the views of a representative group of Arizona parents. For the
past two years, the Arizona Education Policy Initiative, a collaboration
of Arizona's public universities, has put in place a simple idea to
interject parental opinion into Arizona's education policy debates. We ask
them. advertisement

The report, "Parent Attitudes About Education in Arizona: 2005," is based
on the Policy Initiative's second-annual statewide survey of Arizona
parents with children in K-12 public schools. Survey questions address the
most pressing issues in Arizona public education. The survey was taken
March 18-26 with questions asked of 398 public school parents and an
additional 93 Latino parents. The margin of error was 4.9 percentage
points. What we learned is important and may surprise many.

Parents are pleased with their children's schools and teachers.
Specifically, parents identified teaching basic academic skills and
meeting the needs of all learners as two areas in which Arizona public
schools are doing a particularly good job. They do not point to
school-related policies and practices as the primary cause of low test
scores and student dropout rates. Instead, parents view home and family
factors as more likely reasons for academic difficulties.

However, they regard inadequate funding as the biggest challenge facing
Arizona's public schools. Parents favor the use of standardized testing to
hold schools accountable and prefer to provide assistance to
underperforming schools instead of punishing them. A slim majority of
parents remain supportive of students passing AIMS as a prerequisite of
high school graduation, but there is increased sentiment against
high-stakes testing for students.

Arizona, like many states, has two functioning school-accountability
systems: state and federal. Arizona officials commonly point out the
merits of the state system, Arizona LEARNS, over the much-criticized
federal No Child Left Behind Act. However, many more parents are aware of
No Child Left Behind than of Arizona LEARNS. Despite the substantial
public criticism of No Child Left Behind, more than 50 percent of parents
polled hold a favorable view of the federal school-accountability system.
The majority of parents continue to oppose private-school vouchers,
perhaps because they do not regard vouchers as a means of improving public
schools. That is a conclusion supported by the finding that a considerably
larger percentage of parents, compared with those participating in the
2004 survey, feel that providing public dollars to private schools will
have a negative effect on public schools. At the same time, support for
tuition tax credits has increased, compared with 2004.

Arizona parents have many school-choice options available, including the
largest concentration of charter schools in the country. Therefore, it is
not surprising that Arizona parents report that there is sufficient choice
available to find the best school for their child. Somewhat surprisingly,
parents are not well informed about charter schools and do not consider
them a significant factor in the state's education system.

A majority of parents believe it is more beneficial academically for
non-English-speaking students to be placed in classrooms where only
English is spoken rather than in classrooms where both English and their
native language are spoken. Hispanic parents are less likely than Anglo
parents to agree on the matter.

As the debates continue in legislative circles about the merits of
full-day kindergarten, over 75 percent of parents have expressed support
for publicly funded, full-day kindergarten with an even higher level of
support among Hispanic parents.

The policy initiative intends to continue surveying parents of Arizona
public-school students to track shifts in opinion and to interject the
voice of this important group in the decisions that affect their children
and our state's future.

"Parent Attitudes About Education in Arizona: 2005" will be available on
Monday at:

David R. Garcia is assistant director of the Arizona Education Policy
Initiative at the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State
University. Alex Molnar is director of the Education Policy Studies

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