Do Schools Care What Families Think?

When I take my car in for service, I receive a call before I get back home asking me how my experience was.

When I call my cell phone company, the customer service representative asks me if there is anything else she can do to make me 100% satisfied. Then an automated survey asks me to rate my satisfaction with that representative.

When I check my credit card bill online, a chat window pops up with a representative asking if I need any help.

These days, everyone is obsessed with customer satisfaction. I can’t even go for a run without being asked for feedback; the app I use to track my distance regularly asks me to rate it.

It feels excessive sometimes, but the message is clear: You are the customer and we care about your experience. If you are unhappy, we want to know.

It’s painful to say this, but we rarely see this approach with schools. Sometimes it feels like the message is, “be grateful we let you send your child here and stop bothering us.” Of course, there are schools where this isn’t the case, but in an era when, “How likely are you to refer us to a friend?” is a common question, why don’t we see more school systems routinely asking parents (and students) about their interactions with schools?

While a few school systems do this, they are the exception, not the rule. New York City, for example, surveys all teachers, parents and 6-12th grade students annually and publishes the results online; the school districts of Philadelphia and Denver conduct parent satisfaction surveys and include the data in their school performance frameworks. In most other cases, parent surveys tend to be perfunctory, low response affairs that either aren’t publicly reported or aren’t very accessible—that is, if they exist at all.

In New Orleans, where parents must choose schools, you would assume that data about family experiences and satisfaction would be a given, right alongside school test scores and state letter grades. Yet no parent survey exists. In fact, the same is true for the vast majority of the districts with the greatest degree of school choice in the country:

*Excellent Schools Detroit gathers student and family input from the 5Essentials Survey and incorporates it into its school scorecards. **DC Public Schools typically surveys parents and families every other year, but its survey does not extend to families in local charter schools. Based on publicly available information. Enrollment data and district rankings as of 2014-15.

What if a parent’s many phone calls to a child’s teacher go unreturned? Or the speech therapist never sets up the meeting she says she is going to? Or a student feels unfairly singled out by a teacher– and the parent worries that telling the teacher directly will only bring more negative attention? What if school administrators aren’t responsive to the parent’s concerns?

Clearly, parent surveys aren’t the only way that school systems can gauge families’ experiences and satisfaction, and individual schools may offer surveys even when their districts don’t. But without a consistent way for parents to share their experiences, schools can’t begin to address these individual problems or look for larger trends. The voices of families go unheard. And families choosing new schools are left without a crucial source of information that could have an enormous impact on their decisions.

Schools should care what families think. We think it’s sensible for any city to invest in parent surveys, especially those with a substantial school choice program. New Orleans, a pioneer in expanding school choice for families, should lead the way. A parent survey would elevate New Orleans parents’ perspectives, help schools be more successful, and make the entire system more accountable to the people who ought to matter most: students and families.

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