NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Hidden Demand for School Choice

August 28, 2001

Researcher Terry M. Moe believes that the appeal of private schools is especially strong among parents who are low income, minority, and living in low-performing districts -- precisely the parents who are most disadvantaged under the current system. Moe argues that they are the ones who would disproportionately take advantage of an expansion of choice in education -- and their shift from public to private would produce a very substantial measure of social moderation, rather than the worsening of social biases that critics say would occur.

Moe's analysis is based on a 1995 random survey of nearly 5,000 adults concerning vouchers.

Two findings of the study stand out:

  • Attitudes toward race (diversity) appear to have little to do with why parents go private, and there is no indication that whites go private in order to flee blacks and other minorities.
  • Of all the influences on parental choice, by far the most powerful is school performance -- the less satisfied parents are with the performance of the public schools, the more likely they are to go private.

Do public school parents want to go private?

  • Most public parents, 52 percent, would be interested in going private if money were not a problem, compared with 43 percent who say they would stay in the public sector.
  • This is consistent with a 1999 survey by Public Agenda, which found 57 percent of public parents were interested in going private.
  • Among low-income inner-city parents, 67 percent said they would be interested in leaving the public system.

Among low-income parents, a growing sense of inequity makes them 26 percent more likely to be interested in private schools, as compared with shifts of 12 percent for middle-income parents and 11 percent for upper-income parents.

Source: Terry M. Moe, "Hidden Demand: If given a choice, who would switch to private schools and why?" Education Matters Spring 2001.


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