A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF PARENT SATISFACTION LEVELS
IN CHARTER AND NONCHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Diana L. Sirko
B.A., University of Northern Colorado, 1975
M.A., University of Colorado, 1985
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
1999 by Diana L. Sixko
All rights reserved.
This thesis for Doctor of Philosophy
Diana L. Sirko
has been approved
Sirko, Diana L. (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
A Comparative Analysis of Parent Satisfaction Levels in Charter and
Noncharter Public Schools
Thesis directed by Professor Rodney Muth
This thesis examines the satisfaction of parents with the school their child
attends. Seven schools, four charter and three noncharter public schools,
were included in the study focusing on differences in their demographic
characteristics and their satisfaction on six subsets. Parent satisfaction
was measured according to: (1) parent involvement; (2) curriculum; (3)
teachers; (4) student discipline; (5) school administrators; and (6) school
communication. Parents were also queried about what they like most and
least about their school. The findings indicate a greater satisfaction level
among parents in charter schools, although parents in both school types
were generally satisfied. It also indicates some distinct differences
between charter parents and noncharter parents in what they look for
when they choose their childs school. A statistically significant difference
was found in parent education level. A greater number of charter school
parents had education beyond the high school level. Student achievement
is also compared on two different standardized measures, the Terra Nova,
and Colorado Student Assessment Program exams.
I dedicate this thesis to my husband, Michael, and my children, Kristen,
Nick, and Erin for their continued support and understanding while I
wrote this paper. I would also like to thank my wonderful parents, Joyce
Haney, Fred Hinman, and Mike and Ruth Sirko, and my grandmother,
Evangeline Hinman, who has inspired me for all of my life.
I wish to thank my advisor, Dr. Rodney Muth, for his unwavering patience
and guidance during the last several years. Thanks to other committee
members, Dr. Nadyne Guzmann, Dr. Dallas Strawn, and Dr. Paul Sale
whose assistance and encouragement were invaluable. I would also like to
thank Dr. Dale Gasser and Dr. Dave Roudebush who were readers, re-
readers, and encouragers during the process.
I wish to acknowledge and thank Dr. Richard OConnell as a committee
member and the Superintendent of Douglas County School District for
allowing the study to take place in his district.
Finally, I would like to thank the wonderful charter school deans and
noncharter school principals in Douglas County who graciously agreed to
participate in the study.
1. INTRODUCTION.................................... 1
Statement of the Problem........................ 4
Purpose of the Study............................ 5
Research Questions.............................. 6
Organization of the Study....................... 7
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE........................ 8
Choice in Education............................. 8
Types of School Choice.......................... 19
Charter Schools................................. 22
The Rationale for Charter Schools...............25
A Critical Look at Charter Schools..........32
Charter Schools in Colorado......................... 40
A Study of Charter Schools Operating in Colorado.... 45
Choice and Perceived Control.........................59
Parent Satisfaction and School Choice................62
3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY.................................67
Research tool....................................... 68
The Sample.......................................... 73
Data Collection and Analysis........................ 74
Limitations of the Research Design...................77
4. ANALYSIS OF THE FINDINGS.............................79
Survey Respondents.................................. 79
Parent Education Level.........................83
Income Level................................... 86
Parent Satisfaction Survey Component................87
Satisfaction Within the Subsets................ 91
Satisfaction wit Parent Involvement............ 93
Satisfaction with Curriculum................... 95
Satisfaction with Teachers..................... 95
Satisfaction with Student Discipline........... 98
Satisfaction with School Administration........98
Satisfaction with Communication.................100
Satisfaction with Education Level...............103
Student Achievement................................. 103
Open-Ended Questions................................ 107
Strengths of Each School........................107
Least Liked Components..........................110
Summary of Open Ended Questions.................114
5. CONCLUSION AND SUMMARY.............................116
Summary of the findings................................ 118
Results of Demographic Questions........................119
Parent Education Level.............................Ill
Parent Income Level................................121
Satisfaction with Parent Involvement.............. 121
Satisfaction with Curriculum...................... 123
Satisfaction with Teachers........................ 124
Satisfaction with Student Discipline.............. 124
Satisfaction with School Administration........... 125
Satisfaction with Communication................... 126
Summary of Satisfaction Questions................. 127
Student Achievement.................................... 127
Research Questions..................................... 129
Implications for School Choice..........................130
Implications for All Schools........................... 132
Implications for Future Studies.......... 134
A. COVER LETTER..........................137
B. SURVEY INSTRUMENT.................... 138
C. PERMISSION TO USE NASSP SURVEY...... 144
D. RESULTS OF ALL SURVEY QUESTIONS....... 145
2.1 The Black Box...............................................50
2.2 Purchase Decision Phases and Elements of Uncertainty.........57
3.1 School Population...................................68
4.1 School Population and Respondent Size...............80
4.2 Ethnic Breakdown of Respondents by School Type......82
4.3 Comparison of Parent Education Levels of Respondents
by School Type......................................84
4.4 Comparison of Parent Educational Levels Collapsed into
Two Educational Groups............................. 85
4.5 Annual Income Range of Respondents by School Type ....86
4.6 Chi-Square Comparison of Parent Income Levels.......87
4.7 Reliability Analysis for Parent Involvement.........89
4.8 Reliability Analysis for Parent Involvement Without
4.9 Comparative Alpha for NASSP Field Test and This
4.10 Multivariate Test on All Subsets of Satisfaction
4.11 Descriptive Statistics and Tests of Between Subjects Effects
4.12 Descriptive Statistics and Tests of Between-Subjects for
4.13 Descriptive Statistics and Tests of Between-Subjects for
4.14 Descriptive Statistics and Tests of Between-Subjects for
4.15 Descriptive Statistics and Tests of Between-Subjects for
4.16 Descriptive Statistics and Tests of Between-Subjects for
School Administration............................ 101
4.17 Descriptive Statistics and Tests of Between-Subjects for
4.18 Tests of Between-Subjects Effects for Parents with
4.19 Comparison of Student Achievement on the Colorado
Student Assessment Program........................105
4.20 Comparison of Student Achievement on the Terra Nova.. 106
4.21 What Parents Liked Most About Their School in Order of
4.22 What Parents Liked Least About Their School in Order of
Our nations public schools have been faced with criticism and fierce
scrutiny in the last decade. Gallup's annual survey shows that many
people are concerned about the state and quality of our schools (Elam,
Rose, & Gallup, 1996; Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1997; Rose, & Gallup, 1998).
Cries for school reform continue to echo across the country (Finn, 1990).
To meet these concerns, many innovations and interventions have been
tried with varying levels of success. Among these ideas are outcomes-
based education (Spady, 1994); standards-based education; competitive,
market-driven schools (Chubb, & Moe, 1990); site-based management
(David, 1996); and teacher empowerment (Fullen, 1996).
Fred Newmann, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
who specializes in educational reform issues, cites one of the most popular
restructuring proposals as parental choice in education (Wells, 1993).
One choice concept gaining momentum across the country is charter
schools. Colorado is one of thirty-three states that has enacted legislation
that supports the formation of charter schools (United States Department
of Education [ED], 1997, p. 1). At the beginning of 1998, over 1000
charter schools served students across the United States (Schnaiberg,
1998). In his 1997 State of the Union address, President Clinton called
for the expansion of charter schools and vowed that 3000 such schools
should exist by the year 2000 (Education Week, 1999). In support of this,
the Clinton administration has supported grants to encourage the
formation and implementation of charter schools. In 1997, the United
States government appropriated $51 million dollars for this purpose
(United States Government Press Release, 1996).
A charter school is an autonomous entity which operates on the basis
of a charter or contract between the individual or group (teachers,
parents, or others) which organizes the school and its sponsor (local school
board or county or state board) (Colorado Department of Education
[CDE], 1993, p. 2). Once granted a charter, the school receives
educational funds as if it were a public school. In Colorado a charter
school remains under the authority of its local school board and, by
statute, receives a minimum of 80 percent of the per pupil funding from
the district. Actual figures indicate that charter schools in Colorado
receive from 80%-100% of the per pupil operating revenue (PPOR) across
the state, with the average at 91.3% (Clayton Foundation, 1997). The
1999 Legislature recently passed a bill that guarantees charter schools
95% of each districts per pupil revenues beginning with the 2000-2001
school year (Colorado Association of School Executives, 1999).
Proponents of charter school legislation hope that the initiative will
achieve a variety of purposes, including encouraging innovative teaching,
promoting performance-based accountability, expanding choices in the
types of public school available, creating new professional opportunities
for teachers, improving student learning, and promoting community
involvement. Supporters also point to charter schools as subscribing to
American democratic ideals of the common school. That is, they are
tuition-free, non-seiective in student admissions, non-sectarian, and non-
discriminative on the basis of race, religion, or disability.
Advocates of a market-driven educational system believe charter
schools are a significant step in the right direction (Chubb & Moe, 1990).
By definition, these schools are designed to attract educational
consumers, therefore introducing competition within the public education
Colorado's Charter School Act boasts that these schools will create an
avenue for parents, teachers, and community members to take responsible
risks and create new, innovative, more flexible ways of educating all
children within the public school system (CDE, 1993, p. 3).
Statement of the Problem.
The 30th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes
Toward the Public Schools continued the trends demonstrated in previous
Gallup polls by showing that the majority of public school parents support
the school their eldest child attends (Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1996; Elam,
Rose, & Gallup, 1997; Rose, & Gallup, 1998). Despite the continued
advocacy for public schools, the cries for school reform continue. This
perceptual schizophrenia in public opinion makes it difficult to know what
it is that the public, and more specifically parents, want from schools.
Public schools, too, are faced with the difficult dilemma of ascertaining
what the public wants, what educational elements they feel that schools
ought to deliver, and what promotes parent satisfaction. In an effort to be
responsive to both the cries for school reform and the need for people to
define what it is they want in a school, many states are enacting
legislation to form charter schools.
As groups across the state rush to form charter schools and implement
their vision of what a school should be, much can be learned about their
motivation and desire to change the educational structure of public
Purpose of the Study
This study examines the characteristics of parents who select a charter
school and their satisfaction level with the school after their child has
attended it. This analysis was compares charter school and noncharter
public school parents on their satisfaction levels with their schools.
Presumably, parents are happier with an educational setting if their
children are academically successful. Standardized test scores of the
charter schools in Douglas County were compared with noncharter public
schools in the District to compare academic success.
These analyses provide important information about what parents
want from schools and how schools can best restructure to meet the needs
of our communities and students. The information gathered from this
study may help all schools improve through a greater understanding of
what parents desire from public education.
The purpose of this study is to determine what parents want from
public schools by comparing parent satisfaction levels in charter and
noncharter public schools. The parent communities of four charter
schools and three noncharter public schools (neighborhood schools) were
surveyed to determine their satisfaction level with six different
components of their school, their demographic characteristics, and their
assessment of what they like most and least about their school. Finally,
student achievement data were compared, using standardized
achievement tests to determine if any differences exist in the academic
achievement of charter schools and noncharter public schools with similar
demographic backgrounds. Test scores were obtained from a two-year
sample, 1997 and 1998.
The research questions addressed in this study are:
1. Do parents who choose charter schools for their children have more
years of formal education than those in noncharter public schools?
2. Do parents who choose charter schools for their children fall into a
higher socioeconomic group than those in noncharter public schools?
3. Do parents who choose charter schools for their children report a
higher rate of satisfaction with their school than those in noncharter
4. How do the achievement levels of students in charter and noncharter
schools compare using district standardized measures?
Organization of the Study
Chapter One presents background information on the problem and
identifies four research questions to guide this dissertation. Chapter Two
contains a review of literature on the topics supporting the research
questions and focuses on the impact of choice in education, why charter
schools are important in school reform, and the research on satisfaction
and dissatisfaction. In Chapter Three, the research methodology used in
this dissertation is presented. Findings of the study are presented in
Chapter Four. Chapter Five contains a summary of the research,
conclusions, implications, reflections on the information gathered, and
recommendations for further research.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
The review of supporting literature is divided into five sections:
(a) the function and purpose of choice in education; (b) charter schools,
their history, and development as a school choice option; (c) the role of
satisfaction in parent decision making about where their child attends
school; (d) the role that dissatisfaction plays in parental decision making
about school attendance; and (e) choice behavior and how the act of
choosing affects ones perception of control and satisfaction level.
Choice in Education
Choice is a reality in all aspects of our life. As was outlined in John
Naisbitts Megatrends (1982), the 1980s marked a decade of
unprecedented diversity. This trend has continued and proliferated
throughout the 1990s, signaling an end to the postwar era where personal
choices were narrow and rather limited. The typical supermarket in 1976
had nine hundred products; in 1992 it had more than thirty thousand
(Cookson, 1994). The once unified mass society has fractionalized into
many diverse groups of people with a wide array of differing tastes and
values, what advertisers call a market-segmented, market-decentralized
society (Cookson, 1994; Naisbitt, 1982). The either/or choices of the past
in the areas of family and work have also exploded into a multitude of
highly individual arrangements and lifestyles. The basic idea of a
multiple-option society has spilled over into all areas of our lives such as
religion, the arts, music, food, and entertainment. Diversity is celebrated
in America (Naisbitt). It is simply logical for the public to look for choice
in education as well.
Many options, innovations, and variations have been suggested as
methods to improve public education. A common theme is the concept of
choice. Many commonly agree that greater choice is desirable in
education (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Cookson, 1994; Finn, 1990; Raywid,
1989). Choice is a major tenet of both a market economy and a democratic
society (Levin, 1990). It is only natural that society would begin to expect
the options philosophy to affect education. School choice has captured the
imagination of American educators, politicians, policymakers, and the
public (Cookson, 1994). Halstead (1994) states that the freedom to choose
and take responsibility for ones pathway through life is fundamental. In
a world where consumption and choice are considered essential
components of the good life, the idea that children are required to attend a
particular neighborhood school seems, to some, anachronistic (Cookson,
John Coons, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley
and a long proponent of choice, argues that school choice is an instrument
of distributive justice and a medium of expression for the ordinary family;
it serves the psychological welfare of the family and is a guarantor of a
marketplace of ideas. He states that choice is synonymous with liberty
Levin (1990) offers three major reasons to promote choice in education.
First is the belief that families should have the right to choose what is
best for their children. Parents have the right to raise their children with
particular traditions and values and should be able to choose schools
which reinforce those values. Certainly, a single approach could not
address the diversity of values and traditions that exist in our
Levin also proposes that each childs educational needs are different.
Many factors contribute to student success. School size, instructional
philosophy, curriculum, and organization are some of these factors, and
thus students needs may be quite different with respect to these
Finally, general agreement suggests that introducing choices into the
educational marketplace will produce competition and therefore promote
greater accountability, efficiency, and productivity. Public schools are
seen by choice advocates as highly centralized, inflexible and
unresponsive monopolies. They state that monopolies simply do not have
the competitive pressure to use resources efficiently (Levin, 1990). George
Bush (1992) was a strong supporter of choice during his presidency and
for too long, weve shielded schools from competition-allowed our
schools a damaging monopoly power over our children. And this
monopoly turns students into statistics and turns parents into
pawns. And it is time we begin thinking of a system of public
education in which the providers offer a marketplace of
opportunities-opportunities that give all of our children choices
and access to the best education in the world.
At the National Governors Conference in 1986, where choice made its
first major national political breakthrough, the governors pushed true
school choice as a method to unlock the value of competition in the school
marketplace. They stated that schools that compete for students,
teachers, and dollars, will, by virtue of the environment, make those
changes that will allow them to succeed (Paulu, 1989). Proponents imply
that by social magic, private vices such as greed become public virtues
because greed energizes the few to create goods and services that
eventually trickle down to the many (Cookson, 1994).
At the basis of the controversy over choice is the debate about the main
purpose of education. Does educational choice contribute to or detract
from the fundamental purposes of education? Is educations goal to
produce an educated citizenry that share a common set of cultural ideals,
norms, and experiences? Or, is it to provide individuals with a vehicle to
promote their own values, traditions, and educational needs? Is the
purpose of education satisfied when families have the option to choose
their childs education on the basis of their own tastes and judgments?
These are important questions to consider when evaluating the role of
choice in education.
It is widely held that democratic and capitalist societies rely upon
schools to preserve and support the fundamental political, social, and
economic institutions that comprise their society (Camoy & Levin, 1985;
Levin, 1985; Levin, 1990). The early history of education in the United
States shows a keen interest in the need for common schools to build a
unifying sense of the public good (Biggs & Porter, 1994). Schools should
create citizens who have a common set of values and knowledge to
function democratically (Butts, 1989; Gutmann, 1987; Levin, 1990).
Education must contribute to economic growth, equal social, economic,
and political opportunities, and produce graduates with the commitment
and skills to defend the Nation (Levin, 1990).
Since the beginning of the common school movement in the 19th
century, three goals have been espoused for public education: (a)
education for the common good, (b) education for individual growth and
fulfillment, and (c) education for a better, more competitive workforce and
a stronger economy (Wells, 1993)
The anti-choice movement points to these purposes and suggests that
schools have abdicated these responsibilities in their quest to create
diverse experiences and choices (Levin, 1990). They feel that social
competence and cultural cohesion in the United States is dependent upon
providing a relatively fixed set of formative experiences for all members of
our society (Levin). Elmore (1990) believes that policies affecting choice
must take account of the broader public aims of education, in addition to
the individual preferences of consumers and providers.
Our citizens share common expectations of outcomes for school that
are subject to social rather that private choice. Levin (1990) states
that: education lies at the intersection of two sets of competing rights.
The first is the right of parents to choose the experiences, influences,
and values to which they expose their children. The second is the
right of a democratic society to use the educational system as a means
to reproduce its most essential political, economic, and social
institutions through a common schooling experience, (p. 252)
The recent promotion of choice as a reform strategy has three distinct
political agendas: the neo-conservatives, who lament the decline in
standards and the loss of traditional authority and see educational
diversity as a way of abandoning common schooling and reintroducing
selection (Halstead, 1994); the neo-liberals, who favor educational
vouchers or other forms of open enrollment to introduce market
mechanisms for the improvement of schools (Chubb & Moe, 1990;
Halstead, 1994); and the pluralists, who argue that democratic societies
have a duty to avoid assimilationist policies and the imposition of
majority values on unwilling minorities or individuals to be responsive to
the needs of individuals and minority groups (Halstead, 1994). These
have little in common, other than their support of choice. With such a
diversity of reasoning for school choice, how can the choice offerings truly
serve the purpose of all who promote them? Adler (1993) suggests that all
of the choice offerings will result in a negative sum game, where the gains
of some students are more than offset by the losses incurred by others and
by the community as a whole (in Halstead, 1994).
Chester Finn (1990), a well-known proponent of choice, presents six
reasons why choice is needed. First, the alternative of no choice is
incompatible with American democracy (p. 3). He states that we live in a
democratic republic anchored to the principle that government exists to
serve the citizenry, not the other way around (p. 4). American citizens did
not surrender civil and human rights when government was created, and
a general commitment exists to a minimal amount of coercion by the state.
In secondary and primary education, our basic arrangement is a
compromise. We know that in a civilized society certain skills and
knowledge are preferred for all of its members and society is therefore
willing to exert some force to enforce that preference. At the same time,
parents want to retain the right to determine what specific nature that
formal education will take and where it will be acquired (p. 5). In a free
society, it is simply unconscionable to oblige a child against his or her will
to attend a rotten school that he or she would flee but for the denial of
alternatives and the coercive powers of the state (p. 5). Also, recent
public opinion has shown that educational choice is strongly favored by
the public. To not heed these public opinions on such key matters is not
Second, Finn believes that choice fosters equality of opportunity (p. 3).
Choice policies do the most good for the least fortunate members of our
society. The middle and upper class members of our society are able to,
and do, exercise their options all the time. If they do not like the
neighborhood park, they can join a club or take a vacation; if they do not
like the subway, they can take a cab, buy a car, or even hire a limousine.
If they dont like a school, they can move to another area and go to a
different school; they could go to a private school; or they could enlist
influential friends to change the system (p. 6). Those members of our
society who lack resources are the ones who need help in the form of
policies. They are the ones who are most often found in the least effective
and most troubled schools that are the least likely to provide them with
the kind of education to give them upward mobility (p. 6). The ability to
match the student and the school is often a prerequisite for obtaining a
good education. That means choice. It means clear policies that say to
everyone, you are invited to participate in selecting a school that will
work well for your child (p. 7). Finn claims that it is not a coincidence
that on polls and surveys low-income and minority respondents most
strongly endorse choice policies, for they are the ones least able to practice
choice without such policies (p. 7).
Third, Finn states that choice helps parents play their proper roles with
respect to the education of their children. It empowers them by drawing
them into a fundamental question about their child and their education:
where should they attend school (p. 7).
A common complaint of public educators is that parents are not doing
their part. Choice offers an opportunity for parents to have greater
involvement. Parents are entrusted with the fundamental issues of where
a child will be housed, fed, clothed and receive medical care. Religion,
morality, values, and ethics are almost completely in their hands. Choice
ensures that parents can add educational options to their list of
responsibilities and decisions.
Fourth, according to Finn, choice stimulates autonomy among schools,
professionalism among teachers, and good leadership on the part of
principals (p. 3). The individual school is educations principle delivery
system and the team of professional educators within the building
determine how good a school it is (p. 9). As educators gain greater
professional autonomy and make more decisions at the building level, a
greater amount of variety will exist among individual schools. As schools
differ from each other, it becomes even more important for individuals to
be able to choose which school best meets their child's needs.
Fifth, schools of choice are more effective educational institutions, that
is, students learn more in them (p. 3). Finn states that it is human
nature that people will be more successful in situations that they have
sought out and where they have willingly placed themselves. People in
magnet school and other schools of choice are more enthusiastic and
contented. Above all, students appear to learn more (Finn, 1990; Raywid,
1984, 1985, 1989).
Sixth, Finn states choice is a potent mechanism for accountability (p.
3). Choice is a sound and needed policy because, by creating a
marketplace around schools, it makes them more accountable in the
most direct way for what they are doing and how well they are doing it.
Schools that are doing well, and providing the type of education that is
most appealing to most of the consumers, will thrive and replicate
themselves. While those that are not, or offer unpopular choices, will
shrink and perhaps vanish (p. 11). Finn feels that accountability for
results is indispensable to the proper functioning of any enterprise (p.
One fascinating component of the entire school choice controversy is
that little evidence exists that greater choice for consumers will, by itself,
dramatically change the performance of schools (Elmore, 1990, p. 23). In
fact, critics agree with Elmore and point to the fact that many of Finns,
and others, claims about the benefits of choice have not come to fruition.
Research on the impact of public school choice on students remains
inconclusive (Education Commission of the States, 1999). Some reports
boast positive results, while others maintain it is difficult to measure the
overall impact choice has had on students and that little evidence exits
that students in choice schools learn at a higher rate (Fuller, 1996).
A study conducted by John Witte, a professor at the University of
Wisconsin, comparing student achievement in low-income/minority
students in a voucher choice program with a cross section of Milwaukee
public school students showed no educational benefits with no difference
in student achievement (Pipho, 1996).
Types of School Choice
The offering of choices and options in public education has taken many
forms across the country. One type that has been operating across the
country for many years is the alternative education movement which
began in the 1970s. Experts estimate that 4,000-8,000 alternative
schools are operating in the United States, with three-fourths of these as
public schools (Wells, 1993). Alternative schools take many forms and are
often centered around a specific theme. In Colorado, each school district
is required to have an alternative high school available to its students.
Some states, such as Colorado and Minnesota, offer their juniors and
seniors postsecondary options allowing them to attend postsecondary
institutions, such, as vocational schools, public and private colleges and
universities, and receive college and high school credit. The cost of the
courses are paid by the student's local school district (Wells, 1993).
Another method of offering choice is through magnet schools (Wells).
Magnet schools provide distinct educational programs, usually with a
curricular theme, such as math/science or performing arts, and are often
utilized by a district as a method of desegregating students. The idea is to
create schools that offer an engaging program that parents of all races
would prefer to their neighborhood school (Wells).
One interesting twist in the arena of choice is the Edison Project. The
Edison Project is a for-profit educational venture started by Christopher
Whittle in 1991 (Wells). He plans to have 1,000 schools opened by the
turn of the century. By using less human capital and more technology-not
to mention volunteer labor from both parents and students-Whittle plans
to reap profits of 1.5 billion by the year 2010 (Wells). The three Edison
schools in Colorado function as public schools through a partnership
between the sponsoring school district and the Edison Corporation that is
similar to that of a charter school.
Open enrollment is yet another method of choice. Schools and school
districts open their doors to students from other school and district
attendance areas. The student may transfer to any school and take their
state per-pupil education dollars with them. In most states, there is a
capacity requirement and space must be available in the receiving school
before students may transfer. This plan is designed to offer individual
families optimal choice and induce school districts to improve their
offerings and quality of education to compete for students (Wells).
Certainly the most politically charged of choice alternatives is
vouchers. Voucher proponents argue that parents should be able to take
either a tax credit or tuition voucher and spend it in any educational
institution they desire, public or private. The contrasts between public
and private schools stand at the heart of the multi-faceted debate (Wells).
Utilizing the money follows children philosophy, some plans allow parents
to take a portion of the public money that would normally go toward
educating their children in the public schools and allow them to spend it
at any private school that accepts their children. Critics of vouchers
argue that critical differences exist in the missions, regulations, and
governance of private and public schools, and that public dollars should
be reserved for supporting public schools (Wells).
The fastest growing public choice movement of the 1990s is charter
schools (Riley, 1996). U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley described
charter schools as a good way for communities to roll up their sleeves and
move forward-charter in hand-to strengthen options within public schools
and encourage effective innovation coupled with public accountability
(1996). Deeply embedded in the charter school concept is the assumption
that schools chosen and designed by student and families are more
responsive, more accountable, and thus foster better learning
environments (Cookson, 1994).
Mulhallond and Bierlein (1993) define a charter school as an
autonomous entity which operates on the basis of a charter or contract
between the individual or group which organizes the school, usually
parents, or teachers, and its sponsor, most often a local school board,
county board, or state board. Once granted a charter the school receives
educational funding as if it were a public school. Charter schools across
the country are viewed as a method of educational reform, allowing
parents and others to institute certain educational ideas and philosophies
which may have met with resistance in regular public schools. Charter
schools may be exempt from most local and state rules, hire their own
staff, determine their own curriculum, and control their own budgets.
This concept is in contrast to most public schools, which are subject to
substantial external controls, such as local, state, and federal
requirements, which limit their authority over curriculum and personnel
decisions (General Accounting Office [GAO], 1995, p.4).
Charter schools were first initiated in Minnesota in 1991 (Mulhallond
& Bierlein, 1993). The original act authorized the creation of eight charter
schools, but has since been expanded to allow more charter schools. The
charter school concept is growing across the U.S. Since the first charter
school opened its doors in St. Paul, Minnesota in September 1992, 33
states have enacted legislation that support the formation of charter
schools (United States Department of Education (ED), 1997, p. 1).
Colorado is one of those states. At the beginning of 1998, there were over
1000 charter schools serving students across the United States
The federal government has also acted on behalf of charter schools.
Two pieces of education legislation passed in 1994 include provisions for
charter schools. The first is the Improving Americas Schools Act, which
re-authorized and amended the ESEA of 1965. It includes a new federal
grant program to support the implementation of charter schools (GAO, p.
4). It even allows the conversion of a school in need of improvement to a
charter school for corrective action. The second is the Goals 2000:
Educate America Act which allows the use of federal funds for charter
schools (GAO, p. 5).
Colorado passed its charter school legislation in June 1993. By law,
the charter school remains under legal authority of its school board and,
in the original legislation, was to receive a minimum of 80 percent of per
pupil funding from the district. Colorado governor Bill Owens provided
further evidence of Colorados strong support for charter schools in his
first State of the State Address where he called for more money for
charter schools (Walsh, 1999). The 1999 Legislature subsequently passed
a bill that guarantees charter schools 95% of each districts per pupil
operating revenue beginning with the 2000-2001 school year (Colorado
Association of School Executives, 1999).
Tom Watkins (1995), the director of the Detroit Center for Charter
Schools, placed charter school advocates in three categories: the zealots,
who believe that private is better than public, unions are always the
problem, and that market systems are superior to public systems;
enterpreneurs, who want to make money running schools or school
programs such as the Edison Project; and reformers, who are child-
parent-, and teacher-centered, and who believe that expanding public
school options will help improve all schools through creative tension--it is
this last group that are perceived as politically moderate that give the
movement its mainstream respectability (Molnar, 1996).
Joe Nathan (1996), a well known advocate for charter schools, sums up
the two main goals of the charter movement as establishing innovative
schools and improving the public education system.
The Rationale for Charter Schools
Reasons abound why charter schools are gaining attention across the
country. First is the idea of parental choice. For teachers and
administrators, charter schools offer a chance to work in autonomous,
innovative schools which have different philosophies, programs, and
teaching methods (Mulhallond & Bierlein, 1993). Charter schools also
epitomize the ideals of the common school. They are public schools and
therefore are tuition-free and cannot discriminate on the basis of race,
religion, or disability. They must be non-selective in student admissions
Charter schools also address the notion of decentralization which is
being embraced in all institutions nationally. As autonomous entities, the
schools are able to make decisions that best support their needs.
Proponents argue that charter schools create a unique trade-off between
autonomy and accountability (Mulhallond & Bierlein). This autonomy is
seen as a benefit for teachers, as well. The concept of charter schools
promises to release teachers from the constraints that often prevent them
from teaching effectively (Wells, 1993). Finally, by attracting educational
consumers, competition is introduced into education, thereby creating a
more market-driven system.
Chester Finn, Bruno Manno, and Lou arm Bierlein (1996) summarized
their two year Hudson Institute study of charter schools by describing
them as havens for people who need and want alternatives to schools that
have served them poorly. They describe the attractive features of charter
schools as including their intimate scale; clear, focused mission; freedom
from excess regulation and control; and the fact that parents, teachers,
and students have chosen to be there.
Citing the unresponsiveness of pubic educators and their lack of ability
to self-correct, Seymour Sarason, the preeminent Yale psychologist, stated
that public schools have no one to blame for the rise of the charter school
movement but themselves (Lewis, 1999). While he said that exemplary
public school classrooms can be found, their ideas do not spread because
education is a non-self-correcting system (p. 8). The lack of openness to
innovation combined with the inability to self-correct has caused parents
to look for alternatives.
Forced change is never well-received and seldom successful, and
charter schools offer parents and children a voluntary vehicle to
encourage educational change and innovation. As Tim Robinson, a parent
and board member who helped organize the Toivola-Meadowlands
Charter School in Meadowlands, Minnesota stated what connects it for
the parents is that they can be directly involved and they dont have 50
layers of bureaucracy to go through when they want to have input of how
things are done (North Central Regional Educational Lab, 1994, p. 10).
In a report to Congressional Requesters, the General Accounting Office
[GAO] (1995) identified charter schools as a rapidly growing public school
reform movement that is intended to address a variety of concerns about
the nations educational system, including unresponsive district
bureaucracies, restrictive rules, limited choices among public schools, and
a lack of accountability for student performance (p. 1). In reviewing the
83 charter schools that were operating in May 1994, the GAO found that
charter schools across the country had utilized various methods and
philosophies to make them responsive to these concerns.
The following is a summary of their findings. Much diversity and
varying levels of innovation exist in their instructional programs.
Examples of these are multiage grouping or thematic instruction. Some
charter schools emphasize specific subject areas such as science or the
arts. Others target a specific population such as home-school students or
educationally at-risk students.
Charter schools also vary greatly in the amount of autonomy they have.
This is influenced by their legal status and how they are approved,
funded, and gain exemptions from rules. Many states (examples include
Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota) authorize
legally independent schools (p. 3). All charter schools must be approved
by some public institution, usually a school district or state board of
education (p. 8). In Colorado, only local school boards can approve
charter schools. The State Board of Education has the right to overturn a
local board decision if an appeal is made by rejected applicants (p. 10).
Charter schools may also vary by the number of exemptions they may
request from state and district rules. Some states allow charter schools to
receive a blanket exemption from most miles, while others require a rule-
by-rule exemption. Legally independent charter schools are not subject to
district rules unless that is negotiated as part of the approval process (p.
13). In Colorado, charter schools must obtain a rule-by-rule exemption
from state and district rules, subject to district and state approval (p. 14).
How schools measure and report student progress is quite different
across the country. Whether charter schools will be held accountable for
student performance depends on the quality of assessment and
completeness of reporting. Student assessments used by charter schools
include portfolios, demonstrations of students work, standardized
achievement tests, and exhibitions (p. 15). Student outcomes include both
objective and subjective outcomes. They range from specific achievement
levels on standardized tests, and attendance and graduation rates to
becoming an independent learner and understanding the responsibilities
of citizenship (p. 15).
Academic accountability is an area of controversy and leaves many
unanswered questions for charter schools across the country. Are charter
schools collecting adequate baseline data to judge student performance?
Also, will charter schools report data by race, sex, or socioeconomic so that
performance of specific student groups can be adequately assessed?
Finally, what are the implications of requiring charter schools to meet
state performance standards and use standardized, norm-referenced
tests? Will the use of standardized tests encourage charter schools to
have more traditional instructional programs (p. 15)?
In Colorado, charter schools are subject to the states Standards Based
Education Act (CDE, 1993). Content standards and assessments must be
developed and adopted locally (by districts or charter schools). Charter
schools must participate in the Colorado Student Assessment Program
which began in 1996 (CDE, 1996). A plan for pupil evaluation must be
stated in a charter application, and assessment results must be included
when seeking renewal of the charter (p. 16).
Funding arrangements vary in the extent the fiscal resources are
negotiable, and how these funds flow to the schools. Districts sometimes
seek to retain control over some funds as a condition for approval (p. 11).
This may limit the autonomy of a charter school.
In some states the amount of state or local funding is subject to
negotiation with the district that approves the charter. In others, the
funding is set by the state and cannot be negotiated. In Arizona, funding
is subject to negotiation when approved by the local district but not when
approved by the state (p. 11). In Colorado, the state and federal funds
flow from the state to the district to the charter school. Recent legislation
states that beginning with the 2000-2001 school year, at least 95 percent
of the per pupil operating revenue of the district must go with the student
to the charter school (Colorado Association of School Executives, 1999).
This is an increase over the original legislation which set the amount at
80%. The actual amount of funding may be negotiated with the district
When enacting the Improving Americas Schools Act, Congress
identified the following findings to support the design and
implementation of charter schools (GAO, p. 35):
(1) the enhancement of parent and student choices among public
schools can assist in promoting comprehensive educational
reform and give more students the opportunity to learn to
challenging State content standards and challenging State
student performance standards, if sufficiently diverse and
high-quality choices, and genuine opportunities to take
advantage of such choices, are available to all students;
(2) useful examples of such choices can come from States and
communities that experiment with methods of offering
teachers and other educators, parents, and other members of
the public the opportunity to design and implement new
public schools and to transform existing public schools;
(3) charter schools are a mechanism for testing a variety of
educational approaches and should, therefore, be exempted
from restrictive rules and regulations if the leadership of such
schools commits to attaining specific and ambitious
educational results for educationally disadvantaged students
consistent with challenging State content standards and
challenging State student performance standards for all
(4) charter schools, as such schools have been implemented in a
few a States, can embody the necessary mixture of enhanced
choice, exemption from restrictive regulations, and a focus on
(5) charter schools, including charter schools that are
schools-within-schools, can help reduce school size, which
reduction can have a significant effect on student
(6) the Federal Government should test, evaluate, and
disseminate information on a variety of charter schools
models in order to help demonstrate the benefits of this
promising education reform;
(7) a strong documented need exists for cash flow
assistance to charter schools that are starting up, because
State and local operating revenue streams are not
A Critical Look at Charter School: Disputing the Claims
Albert Shanker, the late, past-president of the American Federation of
Teachers, is credited with launching the charter school movement in a
1988 speech for the National Press Club (Molnar, 1996). He called for
empowering teachers by creating charter schools that focused on
professional development and had a clear commitment to improving
student achievement. The rise of the charter school movement after that
was spectacular as proponents saw it as a way to protect public education
as an institution, and at the same time provide for fundamental reform
and restructuring (Molnar).
As the movement began to take on a variety of agendas, Shanker was
skeptical about all of the benefits and reforms that were promised as a
result of charter schools. The first concern he expressed was about
innovation and creativity in the curriculums. He referred to these as do-
your-own-thing curriculums (1995, p. 12). In a mobile society such as
ours, students often attend several different schools in the course of their
education, and Shanker asked, how can a teacher be responsive to the
needs of kids who have come from so many different backgrounds? (p.12).
Next, he stated that, because of the scarce number of charter schools, it
would be hard to tell whether student results are a product of a charter
schools innovations or its selected student body. With many more
applicants than seats available, charters will be able to pick kids who are
likely to do well. Self-selection will undoubtedly give charters a highly
motivated student body.
Shanker also stated that charter schools may not help us salvage kids
who are not doing well in public education but rather may provide an
escape valve to keep those who are dissatisfied from deserting the system
(p. 12). Finally, he believed that charter schools will do little to solve the
basic problem of how teachers teach. Few teachers have ever had the
chance to analyze and discuss their work with colleagues, he suggests,
and most teachers teach the way they were taught. If they are not doing
things differently or better, it is because they do not know how (p. 12).
Shanker felt that charter schools will allow for a lot of enthusiasm but
will leave untouched the bigger problems facing public schools.
With 33 states enacting charter school laws over the past seven years,
why are some states still hesitant to jump on the charter school
bandwagon? Montana Representative Kim Gillan stated there is no real
sense of urgency to try charter schools (Hirsh, 1998). That feeling is
echoed by Tennessee House Chairman Gene Davidson who feels that the
acceptance of charter schools is experiencing a slowdown nationally
(Hirsh). This may be due to the fact that there is still no definitive
research demonstrating the effectiveness of these schools. Evaluations
from Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, Colorado and Michigan show
mixed results. Although these reports find high levels of student, parent,
and teacher satisfaction, most are inconclusive on student performance
(Hirsh). More than 75% of charter schools across the nation are less than
two years old, so it is difficult to ascertain what the long-term impact is on
student achievement (Hirsh).
In a recent report analyzing achievement data from charter schools
over a two-year period in Arizona. The report found that despite high
approval ratings by parents, teachers, and students, charter school
students are making academic gains at only the same rate as their peers
in regular public schools (Schnaiberg, 1999a).
Since Minnesota launched the charter school movement in 1991, 30
such schools have closed their doors nationwide. Twenty charter schools
had their charter revoked, six were not renewed by their sponsors, and
four closed voluntarily. Some revocations were for schools that never
opened or that later were rechartered by other entities (Schnaiberg,
California has 156 charter schools operating as of Fall, 1998 (Center
for Education Reform, 1998). This makes it the state with the second
largest number of charter schools, only Arizona, with 258, is greater.
However, California has the most students enrolled in charter schools in
the Nation (University of California at Los Angeles [UCLA], 1998). A
recent report from UCLA, based on a two-and-a-half year study of
California charter schools lead by Amy Wells, examined many of the
claims of charter school advocates against the realities experienced by
educators, parents, and students in those charter schools on any given
day (UCLA, 1998). The study identified fifteen findings that, in most
cases, demonstrate that the experiences of charter schools do not support
the claims made by advocates. The following paragraphs summarize their
Despite claims that charter schools will be more accountable for
student outcomes, the report indicates that the accountability that most
charter schools face centers around fiscal responsibility and not student
achievement. This is, in part, because California has no statewide
student assessment system. Further, student outcomes are often ill-
defined and vaguely written from the onset in the charter school proposal.
Unsure what to do, school district officials tend to monitor the use of fiscal
resources, which are easier to define and measure, rather than student
Next, the research team found that local school boards are reluctant to
become involved with charter schools and are ambivalent about their
responsibilities. Interviews with school board members revealed a feeling
by some that board members have incurred much of the responsibility of
charter schools without any control over what the schools do. School
board members had a fundamental lack of understanding about what
their role should be.
Charter schools see themselves as accountable to many constituencies.
The many different audiences that charter schools must serve create a
great dilemma for the educators in these schools. Market accountability
makes charter schools responsive to the needs of parents who can simply
vote with their feet and leave the school. At the same time, a significant
educational accountability for students and parents comes from the
educational vision that was the basis for beginning the school.
A wide variety exits in the amount of autonomy that charter schools
have and. desire. This variety is also found in the demands they make on
their districts. The data demonstrates that charter schools do tend to
have greater autonomy from state and local directives than their
counterparts in the same district. However, many of them rely heavily on
the support and resources they receive from their local district or
The amount of funding that charter schools receive varies widely from
school to school. In addition, the California law restricts the access that
charter schools have to capital funds or state catagorical programs. The
amount of money that each charter school receives is highly dependent on
the school district. Much of what charter schools receive is often based on
the relationship between each charter and the district, the political savvy
of the charter directors, and the district level policies about what charter
Schools usually depend on private resources for survival. The schools
vary widely in their ability to obtain those private resources. They often
rely on the presence of a strong leader who is well-connected in the
community to help procure the needed resources. These resources can be
in the form of facilities, monetary support, in-kind assistance, or
assistance from a well-resourced organization.
Charter schools have control over which students that they want to
serve. Although advocates have touted the importance of parents having
a choice, the data indicate that charter schools themselves have more
choice than do parents. Most of the schools make use of targeted
recruitment strategies and contracts that dictate what families must give
the school. The California charter school laws require a charter school to
have the same racial/ethnic makeup of their district. This has not been
enforced and, as such, is not reflective of their student populations.
Teachers value the freedom and small class size that working in a
charter school affords them, but heavy workloads are an issue. The data
indicate that many wonder how long charter teachers can keep up with
the pace. The study also found that instructional practices, such as
classroom organization, curriculum, and pedagogy, were very similar to
those found in noncharter public schools. This is far from the educational
innovation that is stressed by proponents of charter schools as a major
purpose of charter school legislation.
Most charter schools utilize certified teachers, although this is not
required. However, it most cases, this is based on the value of the
credibility it brings to the school, not the expertise and skills that the
Teachers in start-up charter schools do not belong to teachers unions,
but those in schools that were existing schools converted to charter
schools do continue their membership.
Finally, proponents of charter schools espouse the notion that a
primary benefit of charter schools is they encourage competition and
innovation. It then follows, they propose, that the success of the charter
schools and their innovations will cause noncharter public schools to
adopt some of the educational practices, causing all schools to change the
way they do business and therefore, improve. The researchers at UCLA
found that no mechanisms are in place for charter schools and noncharter
public schools in California to learn from each other, in fact, there is little
communication among the schools. Public school educators believe that
charter schools have an unfair advantage. This belief inhibits
communication, receptivity to new ideas horn the charter schools, and
true competition. The UCLA report states that educators who feel they
are being asked to compete on an uneven playing field are less likely to
respond to competitive forces in the manner economic theory would
suggest (p. 8).
Amy Wells and the research team at UCLA conducted over 450
interviews over the two-and-a-half year study of California charter
schools. They examined a vast amount of evidence from their studies and
made a startling conclusion. The charter school reform, despite the hard
work and dedication of many of the charter school founders and operators,
falls short of the broad and comprehensive claims made by many of its
proponents (UCLA, 1998).
Charter Schools in Colorado
The original Colorado Charter Schools Act was enacted in 1993 and
included a sunset provision that repealed the law in 1998. During the
1998 legislation session, the act was reauthorized without a future sunset.
This significant action clarified the role of charter schools as a permanent
part of the public education structure in Colorado (Clayton Foundation,
1999). It is the General Assemblys hope that charter schools will help
create an atmosphere in Colorados public school system where research
in developing different learning opportunities is actively pursued
(Clayton Foundation, p. i). Colorado is classified as a state with strong
charter school laws and has 60 charter schools operating as of February,
1999 (Center for Education Reform, 1999).
Some of the specific rules governing Colorado charter schools have
been presented in the previous section as they relate to specific legislation
and as they compare to other states across the country. This section
specifically describes the characteristics and regulations to which charter
schools in Colorado must adhere. A charter school in Colorado is defined
public school operated by a group of parents, teachers and/or
community members as a semi-autonomous school of choice
within a school district, operating under contract or charter
between the members of the charter school community and the
local board of education. (CDE, 1993, p. 1)
The charter, as defined in the Charter Schools Act,
spells out the school goals, standards, education design,
governance, and operations. The degree of autonomy to be
exercised by the charter school on such issues as personnel,
curriculum and facilities is negotiated between the charter
applicants and the local school district and reflected in the
charter. (CDE, p. 1)
Under Colorado law, a charter school is a public school defined uniquely
by a charter and is not a separate legal entity.
The most important aspect of the charter application is to state clearly
the schools vision, educational approach, and design. The charter
application is a lengthy document which must include the following
elements (CDE, p. 5): (a) mission statement, (b) goals and objectives, (c)
evidence of support, (d) statement of need, (e) educational program and
standards, (f) plan for evaluating pupil performance, (g) proposed budget,
(h) administrative audit, (i) displacement of students and staff, (j)
governance and operation, (k) employee relationships, (l) liability and
insurance, (m) transportation plan, (n) admissions process, and (o)
CDE describes the purpose charter schools as an avenue for parents,
teachers, and community members to take responsible risks and create
new, innovative, more flexible ways of educating all children within the
public school system. The philosophy is that different children learn
differently. The hope was that the Act would foster the creation of schools
with high, rigorous standards that would provide expanded opportunities
for low-achieving students.
The Act determined that enrollment must be open and tuition free to
any child who resides within the school district which grants the charter.
Charter schools are subject to all federal and state laws prohibiting
discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender,
national origin, religion, ancestry, or need for special education services.
Criteria for student selection may be established, when applications
exceed the space available, as long as they are not discriminatory (CDE,
Any group of parents, teachers, or community members may develop a
charter application. The application should show evidence that an
adequate number of parents, teachers, and pupils support the formation
of the school. The school must be nonsectarian, nonreligious, and non-
home-based. Colorado law prohibits the conversion of an existing private
school into a charter school (CDE).
Each school district establishes the procedures and timeline for
submitting and considering applications. The process most often includes
a series of dialogues and negotiations with the district and other
interested parties. The board holds community meetings and must make
a decision within 60 days of receiving the application (CDE, p. 2).
Charters that are denied may be appealed to the State Board of
Each charter school must have its own governing body that is
responsible to the local board of education for carrying out the charter.
This design and procedures for operation must be spelled out in the
charter application. The charter may be granted for a five-year period,
and may be renewed for five-year increments. Charters may be revoked
for cause (CDE).
The proposed charter school must find an acceptable site for its
operation. Acceptable sites can be hard to find. The cost of maintenance,
cleaning, and other operational costs, must be reflected in the budget
negotiated in the charter agreement (CDE, p. 3).
If transportation is to be provided, the plan for doing so must also be
included in the charter application. The inclusion of a transportation
plan is encouraged to assure access to low-income students (p. 3).
Charters can be denied if the proposed charter would: (a) violate any
federal or state civil rights laws, (b) violate any court order, (c) threaten
the health and safety of pupils in the school district, or (d) be consistent
with the equitable distribution of charter schools among the school
districts (CDE, p. 3).
A Study of Charter Schools Operating in Colorado
The Clayton Foundation recently completed an evaluation study of
Colorado charter schools (1999). Their research centered on the first 32
charter schools in the state. They identified several promising trends
related to the performance of the 32 schools studied. First, they found the
performance of the charter schools, as a whole on the Colorado Student
Assessment Program (CSAP) is stronger than state averages, stronger
than sponsoring district averages, and stronger than the averages of other
schools in the sponsoring districts who serve a population of students
roughly comparable to the population served by charter schools. Several
of the schools in their study did not report their results as a result of the
small sample tested. Scores were reported in only 15 of the 32 schools.
Next, they found that the great majority of charter schools in this study
are meeting or exceeding the performance goals defined in their
individual charters and school improvement plans as reported by the
The level of parent participation and parent satisfaction in charter
schools as a whole was very high and the market indicators, such as
waiting lists and retention rates for the charter schools in this study were
impressively bullish (Clayton Foundation, 1999, p. ii).
They further stated that teachers of the charter schools in this study
express high levels of satisfaction with their schools and very positive
opinions about the effectiveness of their schools (Clayton Foundation,
They did however express some areas of concern. The felt that while
charter schools in this study served a diverse population of students in
the 1997-1998 school year, the population of charter school students is not
as diverse as the population of the state as a whole.
They also found that several schools in the study have experienced a
high rate of turnover in their building administrator (principal, dean,
director) position and/or among members of their governing boards. They
attributed some level of administrative disequilibrium be to the growing
pains of designing and opening a new school, but felt that if these rates
continue over time, they may adversely affect the schools capacity to
maintain stability, consistency and coherence in their administrative
functions and in accomplishing their school mission.
Finally, as is consistent with the UCLA California charter school
study, they found little transfer of charter school approaches or experience
to other public school settings. They attributed this to both inadequate
communication mechanisms and the opinion of many public school
leaders that charter schools are not implementing educational programs
that are innovative and/or replicable in other public school settings
(Clayton Foundation, 1999).
As has been stated earlier, it is still too early to declare the charter
school movement a success or a failure. The results are inconclusive in
relation to student outcomes. What is certain is that the public is
supportive of having the ability to start, and/or have their child attend a
charter school and see it as a viable educational alternative.
Consumer satisfaction is generally acknowledged to be a value sought
in our society, yet it is difficult to measure either the level of satisfaction
or its change (Hunt, 1977). The variety of needs and diversity of
consumers make measuring satisfaction especially difficult-. Making
policy decisions that influence consumer satisfaction without effective
measures of that satisfaction level is uncomfortable to both the policy-
makers and the consumers (Hunt). Legislators and policy-makers are
making decisions about what leads to and detracts from consumer
satisfaction with no true instrument to measure satisfaction and no
comprehensive study about what leads to satisfaction.
Consumer satisfaction results from the interaction of levels of
expectations about anticipated performance and evaluations of the
perceived performance (Hunt). Tse and Wilton (1988) state one of the
definitions of consumer satisfaction as the consumer's response to the
evaluation of the perceived discrepancy between prior expectations, or
some other norm of performance, and the actual performance of the
product as perceived after its consumption.
Satisfaction is the end state of a psychological process. It is a
multidimensional concept. In fact, consumers can be satisfied or
dissatisfied with the level of satisfaction received. One might argue that
today's consumers desire more "satisfaction" from their satisfaction,
suggesting that current levels of satisfaction may be dissatisfying at a
higher level of abstraction (Oliver, 1997, p. 12). Given the public's
increasing expectations of schools to meet escalating individual needs, it
may become increasingly difficult for schools to satisfy consumers, both
parents and students.
Oliver (1997) defines satisfaction as a consumer's fulfillment response.
It is the judgment that a product or service provided a pleasurable level of
consumption related fulfillment, including levels of under-or over-
fulfillment (p. 13). Satisfaction is an attitude and as such is an evaluative
orientation that can be measured. In structural terms, an attitude can
only be formed with actual experience with the product (Hunt, 1977), or
in this case school. Consumer satisfaction is a special kind of attitude,
because by definition it can not exist prior to the purchase or experiencing
of the attitude object (Czepiel & Rosenberg, 1977).
Perceptions are compared with the motivations which underly the
action, the expectations previously formed about the outcome of the
experience, and further modified by standards of desirable and normative
outcomes (Hunt, 1977). Satisfaction is not the pleasurableness of the
experience; rather it is the evaluation rendered that the experience was at
least as good as it was supposed to be. One could have a pleasurable
experience that causes dissatisfaction because it was not as pleasurable
as it was expected to be. Expectations are key (Hunt, 1977; Lutz &
lannoconni, 1978; Oliver, 1997). Satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not
emotions; they are the evaluation and measurement of an emotion. The
measurement of satisfaction is partly dependent upon the perceived
alternatives. It has a compared to what attached to it.
Oliver (1997) states that consumers want to be satisfied for three
reasons: satisfaction itself is a desirable end-state, a reinforcing,
pleasurable experience. Satisfaction obviates the need to take additional
actions or to suffer the consequences of a bad decision, and it reaffirms
the consumers decision-making prowess. Satisfaction feels like an
achievement to the consumer (p. 10). From a societal perspective,
research on the quality of life suggests that satisfied members have better
The Black Box
Performance Outcomes Black Box (Processing Psychology) Satisfaction/ Dissatisfaction
(Oliver, 1997, p. 40)
Olivers model, as illustrated in Figure 2.1, suggests that the
psychological processing that goes on within the consumer determines the
perception of satisfaction. Due to the fact this goes on inside the
consumer's mind, these workings are sometimes known as the "black box"
because an observer can see only what goes in and what goes out, and not
what occurs inside. The black box is positioned between performance and
satisfaction to imply that the consumer's psychology mediates the impact
of performance observations on satisfaction judgments. The black box
itself is affected by antecedent states that prime the consumer to respond
in a particular way (Oliver, 1997, p.40).
The impact of expectations cannot be understated (Hunt, 1977; Oliver,
1997). The most common interpretation of the word expectation is that
it is a prediction of future events (Oliver, 1997, p. 77). Consumers choose
products to fulfill their desires, to "satisfy" needs, and to achieve valued
end states of consumption, such as achievement and well-being. Human
desires, needs, and values are preexistent and seen as antecedent
conditions. When these are aroused, the desires, needs, and values
motivate consumers to seek out alternatives that have desire-fulfilling,
need-fulfilling, and value-fulfilling properties (Oliver, 1997). Individuals
pursue choices they expect will satisfy them. As such, needs, values, and
desires all operate to influence the expectations the consumer would have
for a product.
Understanding the key role that expectations play in determining
satisfaction, it is also necessary to understand what determines the
expectations that a consumer has about a product or option. Consider the
many varying opinions that are offered about public schools and schools of
choice. These external factors have a direct affect on what people expect
of their neighborhood or charter school. Examples of external sources are
promotional claims, word of mouth, and third-party information.
The onset of schools of choice has spawned promotional ads in
newspapers and on television and radio. Advertising opens a whole new
realm for public education. This is particularly important in that most
neighborhood, noncharter public schools do not advertise, in contrast to
charter public schools and other choice schools. It has been theoretically
and empirically shown that advertising of this type is effective if a
consumer has no other information sources or experience on which to
draw (Deighton, 1984; Hoch & Ha, 1986; Oliver, 1997).
Another potent source of information is word of mouth. Research
shows that the experiences of others may carry greater weight than other
information due to the similarity between recipient and communicator
and because no financial motive exists on the part of the other person
(Oliver, 1997). Consumers may also rely on independent third party
Expectations are important because of the role they play in satisfaction
formation and because they may predispose the consumer to respond to a
choice in a certain way (Oliver, 1997).
Satisfaction is a difficult concept to measure. The role that
expectations play, as well as preconceptions of a school or educational
environment, make it difficult to understand the results of the data given.
It also makes one wonder if the spectrum of expectations have become so
broad that no single system could possibly satisfy them.
Research by the Gallup poll and others does not indicate a massive
amount of dissatisfaction with public education and neighborhood schools
(Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1996, 1997; Rose, & Gallup, 1998). Researchers
hold that consumerism becomes an active force when satisfaction reaches
a low enough level that some citizens are willing to expend considerable
effort and resources to bring it back to an acceptable level (Hunt, 1977).
Implicit in most theories of consumer behavior is the premise that
consuming is done because it is expected to be satisfying (p. 7).
As a concept, the impact of dissatisfaction is far greater than
satisfaction. Dissatisfaction implies many actions: angry consumers,
worried managers, protesting consumer advocates, and rule-making
government officials. It is a fire that demands to be put out (Hunt, p. 10).
Dissatisfaction theory examines the processes by which public
dissatisfaction with local educational governance leads to traumatic
episodic changes in it (Lutz & Iannaccone, 1978). Dissatisfaction theory
is concerned with the responsiveness of a local educational agency to the
public's needs and demands. It examines the capacity of the
dissatisfaction to bring about changes that reflect public demand and
meet public needs. Lutz and Iannaccone describe the premise of
dissatisfaction theory as the inevitable drift in all political systems toward
an organized central elite that becomes increasingly closed to citizens'
demands. These tendencies lead the educational agency toward increased
stability, perpetuation of the elite, and the continuance of the same
political ideology and related programs valued in schools. Thus, schools
will continue with little change, continuing to be in line with the larger
society's wishes, and with minimum levels of competition or
correspondence in administrative decisions to client needs (Lutz &
Leavitt suggests that consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not
opposite ends of a continuum but rather different dimensions which are
related, not independent (Hunt, 1977). This is especially apparent when
considering expectations. One can see that it is possible for one to
experience dissatisfaction with an excellent outcome when an even
greater or more excellent outcome was expected (Hunt, 1977). Oliver
refers to this as negative disconfirmation, when performance was good,
but below expectations (p. 39).
Dissatisfaction theory suggests that a person can be satisfied with
some components of a school while being dissatisfied with others. The
difficult aspect of this for school policy makers is to determine which
aspects are motivators for change. In other words, which components will
become the itch that demands to be scratched that would cause parents
to move a child to another school.
According to Oliver (1997), four phases comprise the decision-making
process. He calls these phases Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.
The behaviors and corresponding elements of uncertainty are presented
in Figure 2.2.
When one prepares to make a choice, each of the alternatives will have
features in common and usually, one or two unique features that are not
duplicated by the other choices. It is this mutual exclusivity that will
create a form of decision conflict, similar to the difficulty involved in
solving complex problems (Oliver, 1997). The four stages have distinct
boundaries, which may be collapsed in many choices where consumption
The alpha or predecision phase begins when one decides to make a
choice or decision and ends at the decision or choice. The focus of
uncertainty and anxiety is related to fact that a choice is to be made
between alternatives. Inherent in the act of choosing is the knowledge
that some alternative^) will be left unchosen. This creates decision
conflict because there is an understanding that some of the benefits of
that choice will be unavailable to the consumer.
Purchase Decision Phases and Corresponding Elements of Uncertainty
Phase Description Focus of Uncertainty Psychological Response
Alpha Predecision Desirability of alternatives Decision conflict
Beta Postdecision, prepurchase Desirability of chosen alternatives versus forgone alternatives Apprehension
Gamma 1. Postpurchase, prepossesion 2. Postpossesion, preuse Desirability of forgone alternatives, performance adequacy of chosen alternative Apprehension, performance anxiety, self- doubt
Delta Postuse Consequences of performance, future performance Regret, guilt, resignation, (dis)satisfaction
(Oliver, 1997, p. 242)
The beta phase is the next phase and ends at possession.
Apprehension continues as a state of anticipated regret, knowing that
some of the alternatives will be left behind.
Next, is the gamma phase whereby the product or choice is in
possession or implementation. The focus of uncertainty in this phase
centers around the realization that the forgone alternatives are truly
forgone. The subject experiences fear that the selected product or choice
will not perform as anticipated and that the feeling that an error in choice
has been made will surface.
The delta phase is the final phase and brings the realities of the choice
and its consequences. It is either a satisfying or unsatisfying choice and
one must face the ongoing feelings of regret or guilt as a result of the
choice made. Even if the result is satisfaction, regret may be present
about the alternatives not chosen (Oliver, 1997).
Stresses face the consumer at every phase of the decision making
process. The cognitive dissonance and resulting regret that occur from the
act of choosing is unavoidable. This dissonance creates anguish at having
to leave choices on the table. This stress results in a psychologically
uncomfortable tension, and a person then seeks to relieve that tension
and reduce dissonance (Festinger, 1957).
In the case of school choice, the consumer may be more likely to become
involved in the school to influence the outcome and increase and ensure
their satisfaction level with the choice. They may also choose to look at
the components of their school from a different perspective.
Not all decisions made by consumers result in dissonance. Three
antecedent conditions must be present to create dissonance. They are the
importance of the decision, personal responsibility, and irrevocability
(Cummings, & Venkatesan, 1976). Certainly, the choice of a school for
ones child may meet these conditions. Greater levels of satisfaction with
all of the choices leads to greater dissonance for the parent (Oliver, 1997).
In other words, if parents are not greatly dissatisfied with their current
neighborhood school, it may create considerable regret and dissonance to
choose to send their child to a charter school.
Choice and Perceived Control
As has been presented, school choice is cast by some as an important
innovation to improve public education. The competition created by this
free enterprise philosophy is presented as a method for pushing schools to
be at their best. The impact that the act of choosing itself has on
satisfaction level and perception of the quality of the educational
experience merits examination. Studies by psychologists suggest data
which points to the intrinsically rewarding aspects of choice (Perlmuter &
Monty, 1979). Although a paucity of current research exists on this topic,
many studies were done during the 1970s which support the impact of
choice on satisfaction.
Thomas Brighams (1979) research demonstrated that children
preferred self-selected reinforcers over those selected by the
experimenters even though they were identical. That is, it is not what is
chosen that is important, it is the exercise of choice that is seen as a
benefit to the chooser (Permuter & Monty, 1979, p. 127).
Choice is the opportunity to make an uncoerced selection from two or
more alternatives. Uncoerced choices are those where no programmed
implicit or explicit consequences exist for selecting one alternative over
others except for the characteristics of the alternatives themselves
(Brigham, 1979). Several studies lead to the theoretical speculation that
the opportunity to choose may itself be a positive reinforcer (Brigham,
1979; Hockstra & Brigham, 1976). They found that, when the
opportunity was given to make a choice about some aspect of a situation,
participants worked harder, faster, and reacted more positively to the
situation than when they were unable to make a choice. Students in an
instructional setting have worked better and seemed to like their classes
more when allowed to make choices. Choice appears to be the key
ingredient, the setting event that leads to these changes (Brigham, 1979).
Kanter (1959) defines a setting event as an antecedent stimulus or
response interaction that affects the frequency of the response that
Thibaut and Kelley (1959) propose that people do not report a feeling
of choice unless at least one of their available options is as least as
desirable as their comparison set. Taking it one step farther, people do
not feel they have a good choice unless one of the options exceeds the
comparison level (Steiner, 1979). The greater amount that it exceeds the
comparison level, the greater the feeling of perceived choice. Choice is
strongly correlated with the desirability of the best available option, and
that little or no choice is perceived when no alternative is as good as the
individuals comparison level (Steiner).
Some research evidence attests to the importance of perceived control
in predicting satisfaction (Lefcourt, 1979). In a study by Langer and
Rodin (1976), nursing home residents were encouraged to believe that
they could affect their surroundings by making specific choices to
maximize their satisfaction. Others were offered the same satisfactions
but without any sense of choice, participation, or control. Those who
participated in the first group rated themselves, and were judged by
others, to be happier, more active, and live longer than the residents in
the second group. Similar findings were seen in studies reported by
Naditch, Gargan and Michael (1975), and Reid and Ziegler (1977). The
perception of control has been related to indices of well-being and can
predict satisfaction (Lefcourt, 1979).
Similarly, Rensbon (1979) argues that within each of us exists a need
for considerable influence over the people, events, and institutions that
substantially impact our well-being and valued life pursuits (p. 41). This
need fosters the desire for the feeling of personal control, and the bebef
that choices give us a sense of personal control. This is echoed by school
choice advocates who feel that choosing ones school is a fundamental
right in a free society (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Finn, 1990; Levin, 1990;
Parent Satisfaction and School Choice
An underlying assumption is that allowing parents to choose the
school that their child attends increases their satisfaction with their
childrens education (Raywid, 1981). Investigating the factors that
influence parents satisfaction level will help to broaden our
understanding of parent-school relationships and increase our
opportunities to provide school environments that parents can support.
This support can lead to increased student achievement. Is their
satisfaction with schools of choice related to the parent, parental
involvement, or the congruence between what parents expect of a school
and the program that is delivered by the school (Goldring & Shapira,
An assumption among advocates of choice is that the act of choosing
will increase parent satisfaction with their schools (Goldring & Shapira).
Advocates further state that parents will be satisfied because they have
exercised their right to choose (Goldring & Shapira, 1993; Levin, 1991).
Cremin (1987) suggests that education is most successful when the school
shares a common commitment to the values and beliefs shared by
families, the community, and churches. Research by Goldring and
Shapira (1993) suggests that this congruence increases parents
satisfaction level. This research is consistent with rational choice theory
which relies on two themes: individualism and interest maximization
(Goldring & Shapira). The individual is viewed as a rational decision
maker who acts out of self-interest and who utilizes maximizing
strategies. These maximizing strategies motivate a person to make
choices between alternatives which will provide the highest net benefit as
weighed by their own preferences (Ostrom & Ostrom, 1971). This means
that given a choice, parents exhibit a tendency to choose schools that offer
programs congruent with, their values and the perceived learning needs of
Hirschmans (1970) perspective on schools and families links two
important concepts that people utilize to achieve satisfaction. These
concepts are exit and voice (Cookson, 1994; Dutton & Ogawa, 1997;
Hirshman, 1970). Exit is seen as part of an economic response to an
organization; that is, people who are dissatisfied leave an organization to
receive services elsewhere. However, before people decide to exit, voice
can be used. Parents can utilize voice as a legitimate means of
influencing an organizations services. Parents may use their
involvement in school decision making to exercise their voice and shape
the programs and activities in the school. Voice helps to increase their
satisfaction level as it helps to shape the school to meet their expectations.
Once human beings have made a choice, they do not like to be proven
wrong. They therefore tend to demonstrate their commitment to the
choice, trying to ensure the choice turns out well (Erickson, 1982).
Another issue that may contribute to parental satisfaction is the amount
of time and energy they may have put into making the choice. It is this
investment that increases their commitment to the choice and causes
them to view their choice favorably. They look at the school through rose
colored glasses and promote a self-fulfilling prophecy that may lead to a
sense of satisfaction and ownership (Goldring & Shapira, 1993).
The act of choice implies a sense of ownership and commitment to the
school (Driscoll, 1991). This may increase the involvement and
empowerment of parents. This, in turn, may increase their commitment
to the school. Goldring and Shapira (1993) suggest that involvement and
empowerment influence the parents level of satisfaction with the school.
Participation in the school provides parents with a sense of control and
the ability to change things if they do not like them. It gives them an
avenue to make the school more congruent with their desires and values,
thus leading to greater satisfaction with the school and their choice.
Proponents of choice also predict that increased involvement will build
greater parental support for schools (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Nathan, 1985;
Watt, 1983). This support can then lead to greater satisfaction with the
school. Chubb and Moe (1990) state that the consumer satisfaction
requirement may help schools become more open about the needs and
desires of parents, and allow parents greater influence in school decisions
and processes. This view is not shared by all. Cooper (1991) argues that
parents-as-consumers may be in conflict with parents-as-participants,
since heightened choice may send children off to far away schools, distant
from the neighborhood, community and families with whom the children
grew up (p. 239). Many parents believe that, once they have made their
choice, they no longer need to participate in other ways.
Are charter school parents more satisfied with the level of parent
involvement in their schools than noncharter school parents? This
research study attempts to answer that question and to determine what
impact parent involvement has on differing levels of parental satisfaction.
In Bridge and Blackmans (1978) study of the Alum Rock voucher
experiment, they found that while parents satisfaction increased, their
sense of power did not. They were satisfied with the number of choices,
but after they exercised their choice, the school-parent relationships
remained the same.
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY AND DESIGN OF THE STUDY
The major purpose of this study is to compare the parent populations of
charter and noncharter public schools. Their opinions and satisfaction
level, as well as their educational level, socioeconomic level, and ethnicity
are measured and compared as they relate to charter vs. noncharter public
schools. Student achievement data are also compared.
The study was conducted in Douglas County School District during Fall
1998. The Douglas County School District was chosen because it has six
charter schools, one of which is the longest operating charter school in
Colorado. Four charter schools and three noncharter public schools were
selected. They were selected based on their overall population, their
geographic location, and the length of time they had been in existence. In
addition, two of the charter schools that participated were included in the
group of charter schools that have been in operation the longest in
Colorado. The total population of students for schools selected is
approximately equal, with the total for both charter and noncharter
students of about 1170, although fewer families are in the charter school
population than in noncharter schools. The population of each school is
presented in Table 3.1.
School # Number of Students Number of Families
1 290 180
2 291 182
3 287 190
4 298 184
Total 1166 736
5 282 180
6 326 206
7 554 440
Total 1162 826
The selection of Douglas County also allowed for control of demographic
variables due to the homogenous nature of the population as measured by
the 1990 U.S. Census.
A survey was used as it best assesses attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and
other types of information (Schumacher & McMillan, 1993). This format
is most useful to describe the characteristics of a specific population.
Survey research allows for the generalization of facts, judgments, and
opinions of larger populations of persons (Jaeger, 1984).
The majority of the survey items for the instrument used here were
taken from the National Association of Secondary School Principals
(NASSP) Parent Satisfaction Survey. The survey was developed in 1986
as a component of the Comprehensive Assessment of School
Environments. These assessments were developed by a task force whose
primary objective was to develop a series of instruments and to offer
recommendations to practitioners and researchers about assessing and
improving school climate (NASSP, 1987). The assessments include a
school climate survey, a student satisfaction survey, a teacher satisfaction
survey, and a parent satisfaction survey. The fourth component was used
as the basis for the survey instrument with permission granted by the
National Association of Secondary School Principals.
The survey was developed by Neal Schmitt and Brian Loher at
Michigan State University. They defined satisfaction as the personal,
affective response of an individual to a specific situation or condition
(NASSP, 1987, p. 3). This definition is consistent with the intent of this
research study. In their model, parent and teacher satisfaction are input
variables. The readability level of the parent survey is eighth grade.
After initial field tests, the instrument was subjected to a national
normative study. It was administered to 4,400 parents during the national
pilot and normative studies (Halderson, 1987). Internal consistency
coefficients (Cronbachs alpha) were calculated for each subscale based on
the data collected during the pilot and normative studies. The average
internal consistency reliability of the parent satisfaction subscales is 0.85,
with a range of 0.72 to 0.92 (Halderson).
Evidence of content validity and construct validity are provided by
NASSP. Content validity is the extent to which the items are
representative of the domain of interest. Satisfaction items were grouped
into subscales and field tested and subjected to factor analysis
(Halderson, 1987). Redundant or ambiguous items were changed or
Construct validity attempts to account for measured behaviors. It is
the indicator of how well the instrument measures the satisfaction of the
target role group (Halderson, 1987). Satisfaction represents a perception
and attitude that can be measured. Exploratory and confirmatory factor
analysis in field testing was used extensively to support the construct
validity of the instrument. Factor analysis identified both the
intercorrelated items and the underlying factors that seemed to account
for the correlations (Halderson).
The NASSP survey instrument collects data about parent perceptions
on nine subscales. The subscales are: Parent Involvement, Curriculum,
Student Activities, Teachers, Support Services, School Building, Supplies,
and Maintenance, Student Discipline, School Administrators, and School
Information Systems. Modifications were made to the instrument to
remove the subsections that were not as appropriate for grades K-6 or for
charter schools. These were items related to areas such as transportation,
which is not provided to charter school students, and school activities,
which examined interscholastic activities which are not present in both
charter and noncharter elementary schools.
The six subscales that remained in the revised version are as follows:
(A.) Parent Involvement-Parent satisfaction with the
opportunities for parents and communities to become involved
in and support the school.
(B.) Curriculum-Parent satisfaction with the quality and range of
curricular offerings available at the school, as well as
parental influence over what is taught.
(C.) Teachers-Parent satisfaction with the personal and
professional characteristics of the teachers.
(D.) Student Discipline-Parent satisfaction with, student conduct
and disciplinary practices in the school.
(E.) School AdministrationParent satisfaction with the
competence, accessibility, leadership, and communication
skills of school administrators.
(F.) School CommunicationParent satisfaction with the
availability of information about school programs and
activities, and student progress.
Items measuring the demographics of the respondents were added, as
well as an item measuring the length of time their student(s) had been at
their current school. Finally, two additional questions were added, asking
parents to state what it is they like most about their school and what it is
they like least.
A Likert-type scale, short answer completion, and open-ended
questions were used. The Likert-type scaling method allows measurement
of the strength of response on a five-point scale. In the Likert-type format,
respondents may answer in varying degrees to each question (Hayes, 1992,
p. 57). Likert developed a scale which represents a bipolar continuum.
The low end represents a negative response while the high end represents
a positive response. The scale attaches a 1 to Very Dissatisfied, a 2 to
Dissatisfied, a 3 to neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, a 4 to Satisfied and, a
5 to Very Satisfied (Hayes). A response of 6 indicates that the respondents
do not know how they feel about that particular aspect of the school or do
not know whether the statement fits their school. The advantage of using
this format is reflected in the variablity of scores that result from the scale
(Hayes, p. 59). From a statistical perspective, scales with five response
options have greater reliability than those with fewer options (Lissitz &
Green, 1975). Rehability seems to level off with scales that have more
than five scale points (Hayes, 1992).
The survey instrument was distributed to all families at four charter
schools and three noncharter public schools. They were sent home in the
students weekly folders with a cover letter requesting parents
participation in a survey about parent opinions. Parents were instructed
to return the survey to the school within one week. An envelope was
attached to each survey to provide parents with an avenue to respond
honestly and return the survey anonymously.
Enrollment records of the two school types indicate a total of 736
families in the participating charter schools and 826 families in the
participating noncharter public schools.
Data Collection and Analysis
Permission was granted by the superintendent of Douglas County
Schools for the schools to participate. Each charter school also received
permission from their governing council to participate. In addition, the
Human Subjects Research Committee from the Graduate School of
Education at the University of Colorado at Denver granted permission for
the study. A summary of the findings will be given to the district and to
each school in appreciation of their cooperation.
The study was designed to provide insight into parent satisfaction
levels and assist educators in knowing what it is that parents want from
their childs school. The open-ended questions were content analyzed to
record common themes or occurrences. The content analysis consisted of
recording each parent comment and tallying the number of comments that
were similar. They were then categorized and sorted by topic to compile a
fist of the items that charter school and noncharter public school parents
liked best about their respective schools, and the items that charter and
noncharter public school parents liked least about their schools. The study
compared the satisfaction levels of parents in choice or charter schools
with those in a noncharter public school.
The causal-comparative method was used to analyze the data (Borg &
Gall, 1989). It is useful to explore the causal relationships between
variables. It is especially effective in samples that are different on a
critical variable but otherwise comparable (Borg & Gall). In this study, it
is the critical variable of choice that is the basis of the comparison. The
causal-comparative method is aimed at the discovery of causes and effects
of a behavior by comparing subjects in which a pattern or characteristic is
present with similar subjects in which it is not present (Borg & Gall,
1989). The relationships between variables of greatest interest to
educators are those involving cause and effect. This method provides this
research project with a method to predict parent satisfaction levels based
on the variables present. Another advantage of this method is the
relationship between many variables that can be studied in a single
research project. The major disadvantage to this method is that it is
difficult to establish causality on the basis of the collected data (Borg &
The data were collected during a one-month period in November. Even
though parents were requested to return the surveys within one week,
surveys were collected for 3 to 4 weeks. Surveys were coded by school and
survey number as they were received. The responses from the survey were
entered into an electronic spreadsheet using EXCEL. Data entry and
coding were compiled and entered by the researcher. The data were
reviewed to ensure that all of the recorded responses were in the range of 1
to 6 and then verified by checking every tenth record for accuracy. Any
question not answered by the respondent was assigned a sixthe response
associated with dont know. Any answer that was between two numbers
was assigned the lower number. For instance, if a respondent circled the
space between a three and a four, it was recorded as a three.
The data were then encoded for input into a statistical software
package designed to process the analyses desired. The program used was
the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences 8.0 (SPSS, 1997) primarily
using a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA).
A multivariate analysis of variance is most helpful when there are
several dependent variables. In this study, each of the subsets is a
dependent variable. The MANOVA tests whether mean differences
among the charter and noncharter parents satisfaction on the subsets
were likely to have occurred by chance. The Wilks Lambda test will be
used to measure whether or not a statistical significance in variation
Limitations of the Research Design
A limitation of the research design is that it is dependent upon
volunteer respondents. Persons who volunteer to respond to this type of
survey may not be representative of all of the parents in the school.
Another limitation is that which is inherent in all survey research.
The difficulty of generalizing the data to the larger population (Jaeger,
1984). By design, a survey consists of answering a relatively few specific
questions by a relatively small sample of respondents. Then the data are
generalized on both statistical and substantive grounds (Jaeger, 1984).
Two types of error plague valid statistical generalizations: bias error and
random error. Bias error can occur if a high nonresponse rate happens.
Nonresponse in survey research is seldom random (Jaeger, 1984). The
people who respond are seldom like those who do not. Also, some random
error is inevitable whenever sampling is used. This can be controlled by
utilizing a large sample. The number of schools used in the study was an
attempt to control the random error.
Next, with, a survey that measures parents perceptions and
attitudes, one can never really know the true underlying satisfaction level
of the parents (Hayes, 1992, p. 31). It is necessary to develop measures to
make inferences about the underlying construct of satisfaction. To do this,
it is important to consider the issues of reliability and validity.
To address reliability, one must be sure that the true underlying level
of perception of satisfaction is accurately reflected in the questionnaire
score. This was addressed by employing the strategy of internal
consistency (Hayes, p. 32). By exploring the same dimension of
satisfaction in several different questions, it was possible to analyze the
responses for consistency. As was mentioned earlier in this chapter, the
average internal consistency reliability of the parent satisfaction
subscales is 0.85, with a range of 0.72 to 0.92 (Halderson, 1987).
ANALYSIS OF THE FINDINGS
This chapter is divided into five sections. The first section describes
the response rates and the populations involved; the next describes the
demographic questions and their responses; the third section presents the
information on the satisfaction questions and describes respondents
answers on each of the subsets identified as components of parent
satisfaction; the next section addresses student achievement data, and the
final section reports the results of the two open-ended questions at the
end of the survey.
Four charter schools and three noncharter public schools participated
in the study by sending the survey home to their parents. Their
participation was requested based on their overall population number,
their geographic location, and the length of time they had been in
existence. In addition, two of the charter schools that participated were
among the group of charter schools that had been in operation the longest
iq Colorado. Data presented in Table 4.1 display the student and family
numbers as they compare for charter school and noncharter school
School Population and Respondent Size
School # Number of Students Number of Families Surveys Returned Number Percent
1 290 180 74 41%
2 291 182 61 34%
3 287 190 61 32%
4 298 184 31 17%
Total 1166 736 227 31%
5 282 180 67 37%
6 326 206 68 33%
7 554 440 117 27%
Total 1162 826 252 31%
The response rate for both charter schools and noncharter public
schools was 31%. Even though the percentage of surveys returned was
the same for both school types, due to the greater number of families in
noncharter public schools, the actual number of surveys analyzed was
greater for noncharter schools than for charter. Charter school number
four had the lowest number of respondents. They are in their second year
of operation and have just experienced turmoil in their organization and
governance structure. This may have had an impact on their response
As table 4.1 depicts, all of the schools, except number seven, have
approximately the same student population. They were selected to
participate because of their similarity in size and calendar. The Douglas
County School District has three different school calendars: traditional,
single-track year-round, and multi-track year-round. School number
seven, even though larger, was chosen to participate because it is in the
same geographic area as two of the participating charter schools and
serves the neighborhoods where the two charter schools are located.
Therefore, they may be drawing on the same student population.
This section examines the demographic characteristics of the
respondents. Included are ethnicity, parent education level, and income
Table 4.2 provides a comparison of the ethnicity of the respondents in
the charter and noncharter public schools. The predominance of
Caucasian parents is evident in both school types and consistent with the
Ethnic Breakdown of Respondents by School Type
Number Percent Number Percent
American Indian 1 .4% 2 .8%
Hispanic 0 0% 6 2.4%
Black, Not Hispanic 0 0% 3 1.2%
Asian or Pacific Islander 0 0% 0 0%
Caucasian, Not Hispanic 162 97% 234 95.1%
Other 4 2.4% 1 .4%
No Response 60 6
Note, Percent indicates the percentage of survey respondents who
responded to the demographic questions.
census data in Douglas County. No statistical significance exists in the
differences of charter school parents versus noncharter school parents for
ethnicity as measured by the Wilt's Lambda.
One of the charter schools chose not to have their patrons answer the
demographic questions. That information is reflected in the large number
of respondents with no response in the charter school category. This is
true of all tables that show demographic data.
Parent Education Level
Parents were asked to describe the highest level of education
completed by the members of their household. They had a choice of: (a)
graduate degree, (b) college degree, (c) 1-3 years of college, (d) high school
graduate, (e) GED, or (f) less than 11 years of schooling. A summary of
their responses is presented in Table 4.3.
The small number of parents that fell into the last two categories was
compensated for by collapsing parents into two groups-those with 1 or
more years of college, including a degree or graduate degree, and those
with a high school diploma, GED, or less. A chi-square was utilized to
analyze the amount of difference in the two groups, with respect to school
type. The chi-square test compares the observed frequency of cases
Comparison of Parent Educational Levels of Respondents bv School Type
Number Percent Number Percent
Graduate Degree 49 29.3% 61 24.8%
College Degree 85 50.9% 117 47.6%
1-3 Years College 30 13.2% 47 19.1%
High School Grad. 3 1.3% 20 8.1%
GED 0 0% 1 .4%
Less than 11 years 0 0% 0 0%
No Response 60 0
Note. Percent indicates the percentage of survey respondents who
responded to the demographic questions.
against the expected frequency. The closer the expected number is to the
observed number, the less likely it is that any difference between the
observed and expected frequency is statistically significant (Cramer,
1998). The counts and results of the analysis is displayed in Table 4.4.
The difference between actual cell values and expected cell values,
Xr (3, N = 408) = 8.395, el = -004, was statistically significant. The data
reflect a slightly higher education level for charter school parents. Most
notable is the difference in the number of parents who have education
Charter Percent Noncharter Percent
1-3 years of college or more, up to and including a graduate degree. 98.2% 91.3%
High school diploma, GED, or less than 11 years 1.8% 8.7%
Chi-Square Value Df Sig.
8.395 1 .004*
Note. Percent indicates the percentage of survev respondents who responded to the demographic questions. *p < .05.
beyond high school. Of the parents who responded to the demographic
data, 98% of charter school parents had some amount of college education,
as compared with 92% of noncharter school parents. The data indicate
that parents with more education seek out alternatives to their
neighborhood schools and take advantage of choices that exist. It also
indicates that parents with less education choose their neighborhood
schools more often than they do a charter school.
The survey queried respondents about their household income range.
Table 4.5 illustrates the number of families that fall into each of the
categories. A chi-square test compared the differences in charter and
Annual Income Range of Respondents by School Type
Charter Number Percent Noncharter Number Percent
$10,000- $25,000 6 3.6% 10 4.1%
$26,000- $50,000 22 13.2% 26 10.6%
$51,000- $75,000 53 31.7% 90 36.6%
$76,000-$100,000 39 23.4% 55 22.4%
More than $101,000 47 28.1% 65 26.4%
No Response 60 3
Note. Percent indicates the percentage of survey respondents who
responded to the demographic questions.