Satisfaction with Schools
FROM THE MARKET STANDPOINT, the foundation upon which so much of the argument for school choice rests, people who can choose should choose things they think best meet their needs. In turn, they should be more satisfied with them. By extension, parents who choose their children's schools should be more satisfied than parents who do not.
In this chapter, we begin our empirical investigation of the effects of charter schools using the survey data described in chapter 3. Here we look at the extent to which parents and students are satisfied with their schools. While we have panel data—repeated measures on the same survey respondents over time—we begin our investigation with cross-sectional analyses.1 We devote a great deal of space to the question of satisfaction for two reasons.
First, the structure of our data is complicated and we use several methods to account for potential problems for inference common to most observational studies, such as self-selection to the policy “treatment” and missing data due to nonresponses by parents. These problems and the methods we use to deal with them are discussed at length in this chapter, but we will refer to this discussion in later chapters.
Our other reason for devoting so much time to the issue of how parents view their child's school has to do with the importance of parental satisfaction to theories of choice. While much of the current debate about school choice focuses on achievement gains, as noted above, greater parental satisfaction with schools of choice has been a long-standing outcome that advocates have used to buttress their argument for expanding choice. If parents in charter schools do not prefer them to the traditional public alternative, this may signify that differences between the two sectors are illusory or perhaps that there is a serious shortfall in the range and type of charter schools available.
Satisfaction is also critical to the politics of school reform. Charterschool advocates have no qualms in talking about a charter-school move- ment, linking charter schools to a larger political effort to reform the system of education in the United States. If this movement is to have traction and gain adherents, parents who are satisfied with their children's schools represent a potential pool of supporters (and, not incidentally, voters) who will favor further expansion of charter schools and choice in