14 SES 07 B, Students, Families and Dynamics of Choice
The school’s reputation is a decisive point in the choice of school (Bosetti 2004). Particularly private schools are often credited with a good reputation in public. In the parents’ view ‘private schools are expected to provide better quality education than public schools’ (OECD 2005). Furthermore, they are often attributed as an exclusive segment of the school system, where specific social milieus are distinguished from other social groups (Krüger et al. 2012).
Over the last decades a worldwide increase in the number of private students can be recognized (OECD 2014). Also in Germany, the private education sector has expanded continuously from 5% in 1995 to 9% in 2015 (StBA 2016). Moreover, a further differentiation of public school profiles can be observed due to the debate on school autonomy.
Meanwhile, school choice options have expanded, and parents and students became important actors in school choice processes (OECD 2006; Riedel et al. 2010). This applies to secondary as well as to primary schooling. The latter is remarkable, as most German federal states base their regulations for primary school enrolment on mandatory school catchment areas (Noreisch 2007).
According to the rational choice approach, parents choose the school for their child, which has the best fit between school characteristics and their own wishes (Goldthorpe 1996). The aim is to achieve the best possible education for the child, which is related to increased job opportunities and higher income (Suter 2013).
Against the background of the described developments in school policy, the expansion of the private school sector and the good reputation of private schools in public, it is crucial to ask for concrete criteria for choosing a private school.
As the reasons for the attractiveness of private schools are largely unknown, it can be assumed that socially perceived deficits of public schools’ influence school choices regarding to school sponsorship (Herbst 2006). Moreover, distinction efforts of specific social milieus can determine school choice decisions (Kristen 2005).
The parental school choice process is characterised by an ‘interplay of various motives’ (Pfisterer 2003). Aside from the individual preferences of the parents, the choice of a private school is influenced by its supply, which differs in terms of the school’s pedagogical, linguistic or creative profile (e.g. denominational, international, Montessori or Waldorf schools).
Considering the few existing international studies on school choice criteria, various factors of school quality (e.g. school’s reputation, school climate) and pragmatic reasons (e.g. accessibility, childcare service) are identified to determine the decision-making process of private school parents (Speiser 1993; Suter 2013) as well as of public school parents (Holme 2002; Bosetti 2004; Clausen 2006).
Even if parents assign a better school quality to private schools - as described above - it is not empirically proven that they have a significant performance advantage (OECD 2011; Weiß 2013). Data only verifies that private school parents rate school climate and teacher commitment higher (e.g. Dronkers/Robert 2003).
As ‘school choice and the expansion of private schools seem to go well with each other’ (Koinzer et al. 2017), research in this field has to be intensified. For Germany, there are no studies that compare the choice of private and public schools directly, nor that focus on primary education or parental perspectives.
This raises the following research questions:
(1) What are parents’ general attitudes towards private and public schools? To what extent do they differ between private and public school parents?
(2) What school choice criteria are decisive for public school parents as opposed to parents of the different types of private schools?
(3) To what extent influence these attitudes parents' school choice decisions compared to other school choice criteria?
To examine the research questions mentioned above, data from a quantitative parent survey are used, which were collected within the framework of the project ‘CHOICE – School choice and socio-cultural matching’ funded by the German Research Association (DFG). The target group of the survey were first-grade parents at private and public schools in Berlin at the beginning of the school years 2015/16 and 2016/17. Berlin, a typical European urban area, has been selected as a great variety of different types of private primary schools is located there. In total, 1.283 parents have participated. 41,3% (N=530) of the parents have chosen a private school and 58,7% (N=753) a public school. The sample is biased in favour of urban middle-class parents with a high educational level. The survey was carried out anonymously by standardized questionnaires with various sequences referring to well-tested scales and established theoretical constructs of school choice (Clausen 2006; Jurczok/Lauterbach 2014). In addition to closed questions, the questionnaire also contains several open-ended questions in order to reflect the individual opinion of the respondents in more detail. The following instruments and variables are of particular relevance for the analyses presented in this paper: First of all, the school that the child attends is registered and transferred to a category system based on the sponsorship (public or private) and the individual profile focuses. The category system with the different school types is developed and checked on basis of the information provided on the corresponding school homepage and the information provided by the Berlin Senate. Thus, it is possible to determine whether the child attends a school with, for example, a denominational, bilingual or reformed educational orientation. In addition, two open-ended question formats are used. On the one hand, this refers to the general attitude of the respondents regarding private or public schools. On the other hand, parents are asked to indicate the three most important criteria for their choice of school. These specifically open-ended questions enable, firstly, the personal undirected answering of the questions, secondly, a broad spectrum of possible answers and, thirdly, an individual ranking of the importance of the individual school choice criteria (Reinders 2015). Based on previous studies on school choice (e.g. Clausen 2006), a category system was developed for the two questions, intercoded and revised several times. Group comparisons of private and public school parents are based on chi-square tests and logistic regression analyses.
As expected, overall data demonstrates that private schools are credited with a good reputation in public whereas deficiencies are related to the public school system. Analysis of the data demonstrates that private school parents are predominantly negative about public schools (86,8%). Even parents who have chosen a public school associate these with negative aspects (65,1%). Regarding private schools, most private school parents have positive attitudes towards them (77,7%). But also, one third of the public school parents, associate positive characteristics with private schools. In further analyses, the attitudes are evaluated under content-related aspects and according to the different private school profiles as well. Initial evaluations of the open-ended question on school choice criteria show that pragmatic aspects are more relevant to public school parents. Furthermore, they refer more often to personal experiences or to the school's profile. Unexpectedly, for them the school's reputation is of higher importance than for private school parents. In contrast, parents whose children attend a private school mainly refer to the general school conditions (e.g. extracurricular offers, equipment) and the pedagogical concept. Besides, a high level of performance, discipline and the imparting of values are important. Concerning the various private school profiles, first analysis of the denominational schools indicate differences between catholic and protestant school parents: For catholic school parents, religious aspects are first priority. In contrast, protestant school parents emphasize the general school conditions and the pedagogical concept. These results will be supplemented by a comparison with other types of private schools (international and reform pedagogical schools). The first results of the analyses above indicate differences in the choice of a public or private school. According to the third research question, we will look at the relationship between the attitudes and school choice criteria with the help of logistic regression analyses.
Bosetti, L. (2004). Determinants of School Choice: Understanding How Parents Choose Elementary Schools in Alberta. Journal of Education Policy, 19(4), 387-405. Clausen, M. (2006). Warum wählen Sie genau diese Schule? Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 52(1), 69-90. Dronkers, J./Robert, P. (2003). The effectiveness of public, private government dependent and private independent schools: a cross-national analysis. EUI working papers. Goldthorpe, J. (1996). Class analysis and the reorientation of class theory: the case of persisting differentials in educational attainment. British Journal of Sociology, 47(3), 481-505. Herbst, J. (2006). School Choice and School Governance. A Historical Study of the United States and Germany. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Holme, J. (2002). Buying Homes, Buying Schools: School Choice and the Social Construction of School Quality. Harvard Educational Review, 72(2), 177-205. Jurczok, A./Lauterbach, W. (2014). Schulwahl von Eltern: Zur Geografie von Bildungschancen in benachteiligten städtischen Bildungsräumen. In: Berger, P. A. et al. (Ed.). Urbane Ungleichheiten. Wiesbaden: Springer, 135-157. Koinzer, T./Nikolai, R./Waldow, F. (Ed.) (2017). Private Schools and School Choice in Compulsory Education. Global Change and National Challenge. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Kristen, C. (2005). School Choice and Ethnic School Segregation. Primary School Selection in Germany. Internationale Hochschulschriften. Münster: Waxmann. Krüger, H.H./Helsper, W./Sackmann, R. (2012). Mechanismen der Elitebildung im deutschen Bildungssystem. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft 15(2), 327-344. Noreisch, K. (2007). Choice as rule, exception and coincidence: Parents’ understanding of catchment areas in Berlin. Urban Studies, 44(7), 1307-1328. OECD (2005). School factors related to Quality and Equity. Results from PISA 2000. OECD (2006). Demand-sensitive schooling? Evidence and issues. OECD (2011). Private Schools. Who benefits? PISA in Focus, 7. OECD (2014). Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators. Pfisterer, A. (2003). Schulkritik und die Suche nach Schulalternativen – ein Motor der Schulentwicklung? Studien zur Schulpädagogik. Hamburg: Dr. Kovac. Reinders, H./Ditton, H./Gräsel, C./Gniewosz, B. (Ed.) (2005). Empirische Bildungsforschung. Wiesbaden: Springer. Riedel, A./Schneider, K./Schuchart, C./Weishaupt, H. (2010). School choice in German primary schools. How binding are school districts? Journal for Educational Research Online, 2(1), 94-120. Speiser, I. (Ed.) (1993). Determinanten der Schulwahl. Privatschulen - öffentliche Schulen. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. Statistisches Bundesamt (StBA) (2016). Kultur und Bildung. Private Schulen: Schuljahr 2015/2016. Wiesbaden: Statistisches Bundesamt. Suter, P. (2013). Determinanten der Schulwahl: Elterliche Motive für oder gegen Privatschulen. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Weiß, M. (2013). Schulleistungen in Privatschulen – Ergebnisse deutscher Vergleichsstudien. In: Gürlevik, A. (Ed.) Privatschulen versus Staatliche Schulen. Wiesbaden: Springer, 227-234.
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