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Low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents, school choice, and information

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Title:
Low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents, school choice, and information
Creator:
Medina, Christina Ann
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English
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xviii, 416 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
School choice ( lcsh )
Immigrants -- Services for -- United States ( lcsh )
Children of immigrants -- Education -- United States ( lcsh )
Home and school -- United States ( lcsh )
Latin Americans -- Education -- United States ( lcsh )
Children of immigrants -- Education ( fast )
Home and school ( fast )
Immigrants -- Services for ( fast )
Latin Americans -- Education ( fast )
School choice ( fast )
United States ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 392-416).
General Note:
School of Public Affairs
Statement of Responsibility:
by Christina Ann Medina.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
268760271 ( OCLC )
ocn268760271
Classification:
LD1193.P86 2008d M42 ( lcc )

Full Text
LOW-INCOME, NEWLY-ARRIVED, LATINO IMMIGRANT PARENTS,
SCHOOL CHOICE AND INFORMATION
by
Christina Ann Medina
B.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1997
MPA, University of Colorado at Denver, 1998
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Public Affairs
2008


2008 by Christina Ann Medina
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Christina Ann Medina
has been approved
by
Paul E. Teske
itz
Christine R. Martell

Date


Medina, Christina Ann (Ph.D., Public Affairs)
Low-Income, Newly-Arrived, Latino Immigrant Parents,
School Choice and Information
Thesis directed by Professor Paul E. Teske
ABSTRACT
As the nations education crisis deepens, especially in terms of the achievement
gap, school choice has emerged as a growing education reform movement, proponents of
which argue may help improve educational attainment among underserved populations.
Using a mixed methods approach that combines survey, interview and focus group
data, this dissertation examines the experiences of low-income, newly-arrived, Latino
immigrant parents with school choice, focusing primarily on their decision-making. By
investigating the factors that influence these parents decisions, such as culture, language,
gender, prior educational experiences, expectations, and legal status, the study seeks to
explain how they choose schools for their children. Furthermore, the study explores the
process through which parents become aware of existing public and private school choice
systems and how information influences their choices.
While low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant families face additional
challenges in learning about and exercising school choice, as compared to their low-income
peers, they are very capable of becoming informed consumers. Initially, these parents draw


heavily upon past educational experiences in their native countries, which are largely
shaped by their interaction with teachers and other authoritative school figures in a system
where they had limited or no access to school choice. However, over time, these parents
learn about and exercise their choice options. But due to their limited English proficiency,
they rely upon their children to translate and utilize information either obtained from or
provided by authoritative school officials, who serve as their primary source of information,
given their weak and small social networks. Even though at first these parents have a
limited amount of information, as their involvement in their childrens schools increases,
they gather additional information about an expanded set of options to help them make
improved choices.
Parents value academic quality, school curriculum, location/convenience, but safety
and a welcoming school environment are especially important. Similar to other parents,
they attempt to match a school to their childrens needs, they take into consideration several
factors as part of a complex decision-making process, and they report a high level of
satisfaction with their choice, which reflect a consideration of both the childrens and the
familys well-being.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its
publication.
Signed
Paul E. Teske


DEDICATION
I would like to dedicate this dissertation to my family my parents Jose and Valerie, my
sister Jenny, and my beautiful niece and God child Alexa may all of your dreams come
true. Thank you for all of your love and support over all of these years! I am who I am
today because of you and I could not have accomplished this milestone in our familys
history without you! Mom, there was a time during this program when I feared that you
would not live to see this day so, I am so very grateful to be able to share this moment with
you. Through every obstacle, you gave me the strength to continue when I needed it the
most and you never doubted that I could finish this program. You are my inspiration.
I would also like to dedicate this dissertation to all of the parents who opened up their hearts
and homes to me to make this study possible. Mil Gracias!


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
There are many people I have to thank, many who have shared this long journey
with me over the years and to whom I will always be grateful. First, I would like to thank
my dissertation chair, Dr. Paul Teske who gave me the opportunity to study a topic that he
is also passionate about. Your important work provided the foundation for this study and
others to come. I am honored to have been able to work with you over these years; I could
have not had a more knowledgeable chair. Thank you for your guidance, patience,
flexibility and understanding through this whole process. Dr. Jody Fitzpatrick, I have
learned so much from you throughout my career at SPA! It was truly a privilege to work
with you on your Colorado Institute of Technology (CIT) grant, the experience I gained as a
result was invaluable. You are a wonderful teacher and I credit you for my first exposure to
professional conferences (2004 AEA conference in Atlanta, Georgia) and for sparking my
interest in program evaluation. Thank you very much for your careful feedback and help
with the methodology and structure of this dissertation. Dr. Christine Martell, I witnessed
your transformation from a new faculty member from whom I had the privilege of taking
one of my first doctoral classes to an accomplished scholar in your field. Thank you for
your support throughout this process, your words of encouragement during some difficult
times meant very much to me. You are a role model for new professors like me who wish
to follow in your footsteps. And, Dr. Rene Galindo, you have been a number one supporter
of mine since the beginning. It has been a privilege to work with you on a variety of
endeavors. My early work with you as your research assistant led to the selection of this


dissertation topic. It is also because of you that I was able to learn the editorial process and
co-publish my first publication with you. From day one, you have been a great teacher and
mentor to me. Te agradezco mucho todo lo que has hecho por mi, Gracias!
At this time, 1 also remember the late Dr. Franklin James who encouraged me to
pursue a Ph.D., was the first to spark my interest in school vouchers, and who made me
believe that I could successfully complete this doctoral program. You are missed but your
memory lives on in your students.
1 would also like the SPA Student Coordinators Antoinette Sandoval and Dawn
Savage for all of your administrative help and encouragement over the years!
Finally, I could not have accomplished this milestone in my life without the support
and assistance of several friends (both new and old) and other Ph.D. students in my cohort
(and others!) including: Spiros Protopsaltis, Aimee Williamson, and Kazuo Kuriyagawa.
Spiros, I cant thank you enough for all that you have done for me throughout these years!
Aimee, you and I shared many experiences throughout this program and I am a better
student because of you. I wish you great success in all that you choose to pursue! Kaaz,
thank you for all of the countless talks after class, for believing in me, and recognizing my
potential to teach. You gave me my first opportunity to teach at the college level and I am a
professor now because of you! I would also like to thank the following friends:
Catia Chavez for your friendship and for assisting me with the translation of my interview
protocols from English to Spanish. Muchas gracias amiga! Dr. Peter Vigil, you may now
call me Dra.! Thank you very much for your friendship, good advice, and words of
encouragement when 1 needed them the most! Dr. Viola Fuentes, thank you for all of your


help and support this past year, you have been a great source of encouragement and
inspiration and I am truly blessed to have met you!
I am also grateful to my past and current employers for their support and assistance
in numerous ways. Jeffrey Hirota, my former supervisor at Channel 7 News, you supported
my pursuit of a Ph.D. from the beginning. Thanks to my life-long Channel 7 friends Lisa
Yamamoto-Grimsley and Nellie Flores with whom Ive shared many special moments.
Thanks to all of my former co-workers at the Community College of Aurora (CCA) (Dr.
Geoff Hunt, the CCA Department of Political Science, and Susan Yuthas) and the CCA
Lowry One-Stop (Rosalie Moncada, Greg Moore, Jennifer Brady, and Elizabeth Hirsch).
Thank you to my former co-workers at the Colorado Foundation for Families and Children
(CFFC) (Ken Seeley, Krystina Finlay, and the entire CFFC research and evaluation team).
Colorado Hispanic CREO (Scott Flores and Linda Sosa), thank you for the opportunity to
be a part of the important work you are doing in the Latino community, it is because of you
that so much of this study was possible. And, thank you to all of my new colleagues and
students in the Department of Government at New Mexico State University with whom I
had the privilege to work with and learn from while finishing up this program.
I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart!


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Tables....................................................................xvii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.......................................................1
The State of Public Education in America...........................1
The Origins of School Choice.......................................2
The Expansion of School Choice.................................5
Problem Statement: Reaching Students from Disadvantaged and
Minority Families..............................................9
The Latino Education Crisis...................................12
Hispanic Population Growth..................................12
Low Achievement, High Illiteracy, Soaring Dropout Rates and
Underrepresentation in Higher Education.:........................ 13
Building Armies of Minority Mothers.......................... 16
Research Goals and Questions..................................18
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE..........................................20
Theoretical Perspectives on Parents, Information and School Choice.21
The Glass is Half-Full: The Optimistic Perspective...............22
The Glass is Half-Empty: The Pessimistic Perspective........30
School Choice Evidence: The Effect on Student Achievement..........32
Factors That Influence Parents Choice of Schools.............36
The Demand-Side of Parent Information.......................37
x


The Supply-Side of Parent Information...........................46
Contributions from Other Disciplines..............................49
Implications for School Choice Research...........................50
Factors That Influence Immigrant Parents Choice of Schools.......51
Language and Cultural Issues....................................51
School Based Management, Immigrants and
Parental Involvement in School Governance...................... 53
Immigration and Legal Status Concerns...........................55
Information Dissemination.......................................56
The Importance of Location, Information, and
Social Networks to Immigrants...................................57
Social Networks of Immigrant Parents........................... 62
3. METHODOLOGY..........................................................64
Part I: Research Purposes, Research Questions, and
Research Strategy.................................................64
Research Purpose................................................65
Research Questions..............................................65
Research Strategy/Study Design..................................67
Quantitative Research.............................................68
Surveys.........................................................68
Qualitative Research..............................................69
Case Study Design...............................................70
Setting/Site Selection............................................71
xi


Sample Selection and Parent Participant Profiles
73
Selection of Interviewees.........................................74
Ethical Considerations............................................77
Respondents Profile..............................................78
Barriers to Data Collection.........................................82
Part II: Data Collection Strategies and Data Analysis...............86
Quantitative Measures...............................................86
Surveys...........................................................86
Qualitative Measures................................................91
Interviews and Interview Protocol.................................91
Parent Workshops and Event Observations...........................94
Administrator Interviews..........................................98
Document Analysis................................................100
CHCREO Chooser Focus Groups......................................102
CHCREO Non-Chooser Focus Groups..................................102
Archdiocese of Denver Office of Catholic Schools
Seeds of Hope Catholic School Voucher Program
Chooser Focus Groups.............................................103
Qualitative Data Analysis..........................................108
Parents Expectations and School Choice..........................108
Parents Experiences with Schools and Information................108
Parents School Choice Decisions and Influencing Factors........110
Analyzing Qualitative Data: NVIVO..................................111
xii


Analyzing Quantitative Data: SPSS...................................112
Validity of Data Collection and Analysis...........................113
Generalizability....................................................115
Reliability and Validity...........................................116
Method Limitations..................................................117
Significance of Study..............................................119
4. RESULTS.................................................................121
Parents Expectations and School Choice.............................121
School Choice is Primarily the Work of Mothers.....................122
The Role Spouses Play in School Choice Decisions.................124
Logistical Issues are Barriers Limiting the
Role Parents Play in School Choice................................126
Language is a Barrier to Choosing Schools...........................128
The Role Parents Should Play in the School Choice Process..........131
Low Educational Attainment is a Barrier to School Choice and
to Developing Educational Partnerships..............................132
Psychological Issues are Barriers To Getting Parents into Schools..141
Parents Experience in Choosing Schools in Their Native Countries..142
Cultural Conflicts and Parents Relationships with Schools..........147
Advancement Based on Age and Not on Academic Progress............148
Parents Relationships with Schools...............................151
Parents Experiences with Schools and Information...................155
How Do Parents Learn They Have Choices..............................156
xiii


How Parents First Became Aware of Their Right to Choose........156
How Do Parents Choose Schools?...................................172
Grade Child Was in When First Considered School Options........172
Schools Considered and Applied To..............................177
School Choice Activities: Information-Gathering Activities.....179
How Well Informed Are Parents?....................................217
CHCREO Non-Chooser Focus Groups and
CHCREO Parent Workshop Observations...............................222
Parents School Choice Decisions and Influencing Factors.........228
What Do Parents Value in Schools?................................228
The Most Important Factor: Academic Quality.....................230
The Second Most Important Factor:
Security, Safety, and Discipline................................232
The Third Most Important Factor:
A Welcoming School Environment..................................238
The Importance of Morals, Values, and Religion To Families
with Children in the Catholic Schools...........................240
The Importance of Location of the School.......................241
Where Parents Obtained Information about
the Important Factors Mentioned...................................249
Social Networks...................................................252
What Role Do Children Play?.......................................258
How Do Parents Match Child and School?...........................262
Immigration and Legal Status Concerns.............................265
XIV


*
How Satisfied Are Parents?.................................268
5. CONCLUSION.....................................................272
Summary of Findings........................................272
Propositions...............................................283
Discussion of Findings.....................................291
How Are Low-Income, Newly-Arrived, Latino Immigrant Parents
Different From Other Parents? How Are They the Same?.....294
The Importance of Social Networks........................295
Academic Quality and School Information..................298
Information Dissemination................................299
The Role Children Play...................................300
School Governance and Parental Involvement...............302
Immigration and Legal Concerns...........................303
The Importance of Location and Transportation............304
Public Policy Implications.................................305
Research Limitations and Implications for Further Research.309
Conclusion.................................................310
APPENDIX
A. SURVEY/QUESTIONNAIRE
DENVER ANNOTATED TELEPHONE QUESTIONNAIRE.......................312
B. METHODOLOGICAL ISSUES AND
DETAILS OF SURVEY RESPONSE RATES...............................330
C. INTERVIEW PROTOCOLS...........................................332
xv


Parent Interview Protocol in English....................332
Parent Interview Protocol in Spanish....................340
Focus Group Protocol in English.........................349
Focus Group Protocol in Spanish.............................355
Faculty and Administrator Interview Protocol................362
Faculty and Administrator Interview Protocol in English.363
D. UCD HUMAN SUBJECTS RESEARCH COMMITTEE INFORMED
CONSENT LETTERS................................................366
Parent Interview Consent Form in English................366
Parent Interview Consent Form in Spanish................367
Focus Group Consent Form in English.........................368
Focus Group Consent Form in Spanish.........................369
Faculty and Administrator Interview Consent Form in English.371
E. RESPONDENTS PROFILE IN NARRATIVE FORM.........................372
F. HUMAN SUBJECTS APPROVAL LETTERS................................382
G. ARCHDIOCESE OF DENVER OFFICE OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
INVITATIONS TO PARENTS TO PARTICIPATE IN A
FOCUS GROUP....................................................385
H. ARCHDIOCESE OF DENVER OFFICE OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
THANK YOU LETTER TO FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANTS...................388
ENDNOTES...............................................................389
BIBLIOGRAPHY...........................................................392
XVI


LIST OF TABLES
Table
2.1 School factors important to low-income parents.............................42
3.1 Percentage of DPS students who do not go to their neighborhood schools.....73
3.2 Profiles of parents and families interviewed..............................80
3.3 Parents reported income in the general survey across three cities:
Denver, Milwaukee, and Washington, DC.....................................87
3.4 CHCREO parent workshops attended and observed..............................97
3.5 Formal administrator interviews conducted..................................99
3.6 School choice documents parents referred to in the qualitative interviews
and focus groups..........................................................101
3.7 List of all parent focus groups conducted.................................107
4.1 How Denver Latino parents first became aware they could choose............158
4.2 Information-gathering activities reported by low-income parents surveyed
across three cities (Denver, Milwaukee, and Washington, DC)
and in Denver.............................................................183
4.3 Information-gathering activities reported by various low-income Latino
parents surveyed in Denver................................................184
4.4 The most important factor in choosing the school child now attends reported
by various low-income parents surveyed in Denver..........................229
4.5 Whether child attended the closest school to his or her residence that they
were able to attend.......................................................242
4.6 The importance of school location to choice reported by various
low-income Latino parents surveyed in Denver..............................243


4.7 Parents attending the closest school to their residence that they were able to
attend in their own childhood reported by various low-income Latino parents
surveyed in Denver........................................................244
4.8 Whether the best and most important information came from
people or written materials reported by various low-income
Latino parents surveyed in Denver...............................................253
4.9 Whether parents are more likely to believe teachers and school officials or
parents of child when faced with conflicting information about the quality
of a school reported by various low-income Latino parents surveyed in
Denver..................................................................255
4.10 Whether parent could have made a better choice if parent had a school choice
counselor to talk with about decision reported by various low-income Latino
parents surveyed in Denver........................................256
4.11 The top three best people to serve as a school choice counselor reported
by various low-income Latino parents surveyed in Denver.................257
4.12 Child involvement in making school choice decisions reported by various
low-income Latino parents surveyed in Denver............................260
4.13 Child possessed certain personal characteristic or trait that influenced school
choice decision reported by various low-income Latino parents surveyed in
Denver............................................................263
4.14 Satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the school chosen for child to attend
reported by various low-income Latino parents surveyed in Denver........269
5.1 How low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents in Denver
compare to other low and moderate income parents across three cities....280
A. 1 Data summary.............................................................331
XVIII


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
The State of Public Education in America
Today, the state of Americas public education system is at the center of the
countrys political agenda (Figlio, 2001; Moe, 2001; Ravitch, 1995). More than 20 years
ago, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation at Risk
(1983), which sounded the alarm about the academic performance of the nations students
and launched a nationwide effort to reform Americas educational system. This landmark
report described the educational crisis in the following way: The educational foundations
of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our
very future as a nation and a people. Nearly a decade later, another report by the Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1992) declared that The decade-long
straggle to reform American education seems suddenly to hang on a single word: choice
(p. 1). Both reports argued that the old vision of Americas public schools was obsolete and
proposed the transformation of the educational system into a system of choice one that
will empower low-income and disadvantaged families and children and offer them social
justice.
1


There is a common perception that the American K-12 education system is in a
state of crisis and needs significant improvement. However, and despite various and costly
reform efforts, there exists a widespread perception that the state of public education has not
improved much over the past two decades and Americans exhibit strong discontent and
disappointment with the public school system and its ability to deliver a quality education,
as indicated by several surveys.1 Yet, frequently overlooked in the debate on educational
reform are disadvantaged children, especially minority and low-income students, among
whom low achievement is much more pronounced (Fiske & Ladd, 2000; Ladd, 2002).
Overall, the perceived failures of our public education system have fueled an intense policy
debate about public and private school choice (Chubb & Moe, 1990), which has expanded
nationwide in recent years.
The Origins of School Choice
School choice has become the slogan of a growing movement to empower
parents to decide which primary and secondary schools their children will attend. The
movement hopes that increased choice will lead to increased competition among schools
and thereby raise the overall quality of educational services offered. According to
Schneider, Teske, and Marschall (2000), Choice has emerged as a tool for transforming
schools that are widely perceived as failing (p. 5). Yet, others define school choice as any
policy that is designed to reduce the constraints that the current school configurations place
on schools and students (Goldhaber, 1999, p. 16). While various forms of school choice
exist, some scholars recognize that the bounds of the debate have shifted rather dramatically
2


from whether to enhance choice within the public school system to a debate over public
funding for private schools through vouchers (Goldhaber, 1999, p. 22). Yet, while the
debate on school vouchers has mostly focused on their effect on student achievement, it has
recently switched to issues concerning equity, due to inconclusive and often contradictory
evidence on their impact.
Parental choice of school is neither new nor uncommon. Actually, school choice
has always existed for American families who have had the financial ability to move to the
school district of their choice. For years, many parents have voted with their feet, using
their residential location decisions as a way to choose schools. In general, property values
and/or tax rates are higher in better public school districts. Magnet schools are another
longstanding form of school choice, providing an opportunity for a few promising
disadvantaged students, but traditionally magnet school entry is selective and based on
academic merit or talent in art, music, or athletics. Many Catholic parents and members of
other religious groups that have been committed to religious education have traditionally
chosen parochial schools regardless of their income level (Carnoy, 2000). While the above
forms of school choice are widespread and less controversial than modern day market-based
education reforms, school choice has been exercised primarily by White and upper-income
parents as a result of segregated schools and housing. A high fraction of African
Americans lived (and still live) in the South where schools were segregated until
the early 1970s. Although funding for Black public schools began to improve significantly
in the 1940s (Card & Krueger, 1992), they remained much poorer than White schools well
into the 1980s. Choice was also limited for the vast majority of Blacks in the North because
3


of segregated housing(Camoy, 2000, p. 15). Overall, Carnoy makes the point that unequal
access to quality education and school choice is embedded in our public educational system
and has been the subject of intense criticism since the 19th century.
While the origin of school choice dates back to the 1700s, to the works of
economist and philosopher Adam Smith and U.S. founding father Thomas Paine,
contemporary forms of market-based school choice can be traced back five decades to
economist Milton Friedman (1955, 1962). Friedman blamed bureaucracy, instead of
consumers or voters, for the unequal state of affairs in public education. As an alternative,
he proposed an educational market or voucher system that would allow students to receive a
voucher from the government that could be redeemed for education at any school of the
parents and students choice. The voucher might fully cover the cost of attending a local
public school or could be supplemented with private funds to cover tuition at a private
school. While Friedman suggested that the government should fund public education
because of the importance of schools in advancing the values required for democratic
functioning, he believed the government should not necessarily operate the schools. He
viewed government schooling as a monopoly and asserted that public schools should
participate in a competitive market with private schools. Such a market-based approach
would ensure efficiency, innovation, and responsiveness to parent concerns due to the
incentives created by a competitive market. Schools would serve particular market niches
and compete intensely (Friedman, 1962) and parents, who would be allowed to remove their
children from schools that failed to meet their expectations, would select schools in the
same way they select other goods and services. Friedman argued that a much greater
variety of schools would emerge to serve the private interests of families, while the public
4


interest would be protected through very minimal curriculum regulations. Since Friedmans
proposal, a variety of school choice plans have emerged, and especially voucher plans, each
with different features, size and scope.2
The Expansion of School Choice
Two decades ago, when former U.S. President Ronald Reagan advocated tuition tax
credits and deductions to offset some of the public or private school cost of attendance and
school vouchers to pay for education expenses at a school of parents choice, the literature
on school choice was sparse. Despite these proposals and reform efforts, available market-
based school choice was limited and most children attended the public school they were
zoned to by their local school board. Consequently, the literature focused more on ideology
and theory and less on empirical evidence.
Today, school choice has expanded significantly. Many states offer intradistrict
open enrollment programs that allow choice of public schools within school district
boundaries or interdistrict open enrollment programs that allow choice of public schools
across district boundaries, or both. A majority of states have passed legislation enabling the
creation of charter schools that are publicly funded, privately managed, and operate under
an agreement or charter from an authorizing entity or board. Public voucher programs
exist in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin and numerous private voucher programs exist, mostly
in urban areas. Other forms of school choice include magnet schools (specialty schools that
focus on a certain curricular area like science, technology, or the performing arts), dual
5


language schools (schools designed to promote bilingualism), and programs that follow
pedagogical theories such as those of Maria Montessori or Rudolph Steiner.
Many choice programs remain highly controversial, most notably publicly or
privately funded voucher programs. An intense policy debate has emerged over the relative
effectiveness of different school reform approaches in improving student achievement.
With the expansion of school choice options, the school reform literature has also grown
exponentially. School choice research has yielded some areas of consensus, but there still
remains vibrant disagreement.
A common point of contention among educators, economists, policymakers, and
researchers is the likely effect of a free market regime on primary and secondary education.
School choice supporters typically consider the infusion of market mechanisms a silver
bullet that can dramatically improve educational outcomes by subjecting public education
to much-needed market pressures, fueling competition, increasing parent involvement,
providing for diverse educational needs, promoting greater innovation in schools, and
thereby raising student achievement (see Coons & Sugarman, 1978; Hassel, 1999; Hoxby,
1998, Howell & Peterson, 2002; Jencks, 1972; Smith, 2001; Viteritti, 1999). Conversely,
supporters of the public school system status quo maintain that choice programs divert
public funds, efforts and resources away from the most troubled public schools and stratify
an already underserved public student body. They contend that K-12 education would
either be adversely affected by competition and choice or that the effects would be
insubstantial and undermine the public good of a free and uniform public education for all.
Overall, critics tend to see expanded school choice as a threat to public education, and by
6


extension, to American democracy (see Henig, 1994; Fiske & Ladd, 2000; Fuller & Elmore,
1996).
While the debate as to whether or not school choice is a silver bullet or a threat
intensifies, the evidence suggests that school choice in its various forms is here to stay
and grow. Participation in open-enrollment programs has grown steadily over the past
decade, to nearly four million students per year nationwide, according to U.S. Department
of Education estimates. In some districts, as much as 20 to 30% of the student population
takes advantage of intradistrict enrollment options. For example, in Colorado, data
compiled by the Rocky Mountain News and the Piton Foundation reveal that about a fourth
of school-age children ages 5 to 17 in Denver do not attend the citys public schools and it
is estimated that 15,700 students by-passed the Denver Public Schools during the 2006-
2007 school year in favor of private or suburban schools (Flubbard & Mitchell, 2007).
Today, charter schools are the most widely exercised form of school choice in the
nation. Usually founded by parents, educators, community groups, or private organizations,
charter schools are essentially deregulated public schools that are publicly funded, often
with private funding used as a supplement. Decreased regulations and requirements are
provided in exchange for enhanced accountability. Estimates suggest that approximately
half a million children attend charter schools (Hassel, 1999). The voucher movement is
also likely to expand in light of the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the
constitutionality of the Cleveland Scholarship Program (see Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536
U.S. 639; 122 S. Ct. 2460; 153 L. Ed. 2d 604; (2002)). Colorado was the first state to pass
similar legislation in April, 2003 without fear of a potential First Amendment challenge
7


since the high courts landmark ruling in 2002. However, the legislation (H.B. 1160) was
later overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
School choice also plays a prominent role in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
that was signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2001, which provides
increased federal support for public school choice through a number of provisions,
including the Innovative Programs, Public Charter Schools Program, Voluntary Public
School Choice, and Magnet Schools Assistance provisions.
The question, therefore, is not whether we should have school choice. It is, rather,
what type of school choice policies will ensure equity and quality for all students? To
answer this question, it is necessary to obtain a deeper understanding of how choice is
designed and implemented and how it impacts parents from diverse racial, socioeconomic,
linguistic and cultural backgrounds. This area represents a gap in the existing literature on
school choice that this dissertation seeks to address by examining existing school choice
options and how low-income and immigrant families access them. Specifically, additional
research is needed to help understand and explain the growing participation of
disadvantaged populations in school choice programs, and especially for Latino students,
many of whose parents are newly-arrived immigrants. This dissertation seeks to contribute
to the literature on school choice and to the field of education policy by investigating how
low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents experience and participate in
educational choice.
8


Problem Statement: Reaching Students from
Disadvantaged and Minority Families
The design of school choice matters as different approaches can either support or
harm public education. How choice is funded and organized, who can choose, what
information parents obtain, and who receives public funds to launch and operate schools are
among the factors that determine school choice effectiveness, according to the final report
of the National Working Commission on Choice in K-12 Education released in late 2003.
The different options of magnet schools, open-enrollment programs and charter schools
attract different student populations, and have produced mixed results in their efforts to
provide disadvantaged students with greater education options.
Designed initially to reduce racial segregation and to promote student body
diversity, magnet schools primarily attract higher-income students. According to the U.S.
Department of Education, although enrollment in magnet schools has tripled in the past
decade, the number of low-income students and students of color remain underrepresented
in most programs (Programs for Educational Opportunity, 1995), as families with the most
resources typically have access to information about magnet programs that lower-income
families lack. In fact, Henig (1996) found that whether parents even knew of the term
magnet school depended on a parents ethnicity and income level. In addition, magnet
schools often employ a high degree of selectivity in their admissions processes. The
implication is that high-achieving students are often preferred, resulting in a clustering of
some struggling students in low-performing schools. However, there is some evidence that
magnet schools, such as career magnet schools in New York City, reduce ethnic and class
9


separation through the use of a random lottery admission system (Cookson & Schroff,
1997).
Some public school choice programs also seem to be stratified. For example,
middle-and upper-class students still comprise the bulk of participants in open-enrollment
programs, despite efforts to reach out to low-income and minority children. Similar to
those parents who choose magnet programs, parents who choose open-enrollment schools
are mostly middle or upper-income and have the time, resources and education levels
necessary to investigate and exercise school choice options. Clearly, knowing what choices
exist and how to access those leads to increased participation in such programs. A study of
St. Louiss city-county transfer program found that the most important predictors of
participation were parent education and parent involvement in their childrens education
(Wells, 1993). Similarly, in an analysis of interdistrict choice in Massachusetts, Armor and
Peiser (1998) found that students transferring through open-enrollment programs had higher
family socioeconomic status, higher achievement on standardized tests, and were more
likely to be White than their home district peers. Furthermore, a study of the New York
City open-enrollment plan found that lack of publicity and a complex application process
limited the plans reach to low-income families (Cookson & Schroff, 1997). A study of the
Boulder Valley School Districts open-enrollment system in Colorado found that high-
achieving White students were fleeing low-performing public schools for charter schools or
schools in wealthier neighborhoods (Eisenhart & Howe, 2000). Moreover, Whites are
disproportionately requesting open-enrollment in schools with high test scores while
Latinos are disproportionately requesting open enrollment in bilingual schools (see
Eisenhart & Howe, 2000; see also Morson, 2005, 2006). The high rate of school choice
10


among White parents is mainly a product of their familiarity with school choice options and
a thorough understanding of how to navigate the school system. Minnesota seems to be
having the greatest success involving minority students in its statewide open-enrollment
plan, with 40% minority student participation (Cookson & Schroff, 1997).
Of the three types (magnet schools, open enrollment, and charter schools) of public
school choice programs outlined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA),
charter schools serve the greatest number of low-income and minority children. According
to figures from the U.S. Department of Education (2000), charter schools enrolled a higher
percentage of minority students than all public schools in states with charter schools.
Charter schools in Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota,
New Jersey, North Carolina, and Texas actually enroll a much higher percentage of
minority students than public schools. In the states that have charter programs, charter
schools also enroll a slightly higher percentage of low-income students eligible for the
federal free or reduced priced lunch program (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Again,
the increased economic and racial diversity in charter schools is a function of lottery, or
random, selection mechanisms, but also of the diversity of parents applying to charter
schools (Bicrlein et al., 1997, p. 51; Vanourek et al., 1998). However, at the same time,
charter schools serve a slightly lower proportion of students with disabilities than all other
public schools.
11


The Latino Education Crisis
Hispanic Population Growth
Latinos/Hispanics3 now comprise the nations largest ethnic minority group,
making the education challenges facing Latino students even more critical for policymakers
to address. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, 35.3 million or 12.5% of the
U.S. population were of Hispanic origin. Much of this growth has been attributed to
growing rates of immigration, both legal and undocumented. The Urban Institute estimates
that more than 14 million immigrants entered the country in the 1990s and projects that
another 14 million will enter between 2000 and 2010 (Fix & Passel, 2003). In 2000,
foreign-born residents represented 11% of the U.S. population, more than double the 4.7%
in 1970 (Fix & Passel, 2003). Projections into the next decade estimate that the foreign-
born population will rise to 40 million representing 13% of the total U.S. population (Fix &
Passel, 2003). In Colorado, the immigrant growth rate in the last ten years has been 190%
(Gibson, 2002). Overall, the Hispanic population increased by 57.9% from 22.4 million in
1990 to 35.3 million in 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau expects the number of Hispanics to
almost double from 35.3 million in 2000 to 63 million by 2030.
Consequently, foreign-bom students represent a significant and growing share of
the student population in America. Between 1970 and 2005, the share of children under age
18 with at least one immigrant parent more than tripled, from 6% to 21% percent. By 2005,
immigrants represented one in eight of all U.S residents, but their children represented one
in five of all children under age 18 (Capps & Fortuny, 2006).
12


While 25.7% of the U.S. population was under 18 years of age in 2000, 35% of
Hispanics were under age 18. Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the U.S.
population and have become the largest teen minority group. According to the Western
Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE):
By 2018-19, the number of Hispanic high school students nationwide will
have more than doubled from its 2001-02 level, increasing its composition
of enrollments from 14.5 to 27.2%. This growth will offset declines in the
number of White non-Hispanics enrolled at public high schools. These
projections indicate that our nations public high schools will become
majority minority in 2018-19, when the share of high school students who
are White non-Hispanic is expected to fall below 50 percent for the first
time (2008, pp 26-27).
Low Achievement, High Illiteracy, Soaring Dropout Rates
and Underrepresentation in Higher Education
Of primary concern are disparities in academic achievement found in the Latino
population. The Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO) argues
that many Hispanic parents believe their children are not getting the knowledge and skills
they need to succeed in life as they are not learning to read, write, and do basic arithmetic
(Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options [HCREO], 2008). Hispanics have
been the most undereducated major segment of the U.S. population and while the
educational prospects for other minorities have improved over the last 20 years, several
measures indicate that this is not the case for Hispanics.
Hispanics experience high illiteracy rates, with the number of Hispanics who
cannot read on the rise. The U.S Department of Education National Center for Educational
Statistics issued the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy and determined that 11
13


million adults in the U.S. are illiterate in English and that the overall literacy rates for
Hispanics have declined since 1992.
Furthermore, Latino students drop out of high school at the highest rate in the U.S.
(Carger, 1997; Gibson, 2002; McKissack, 1999; Scribner, 1999). It is estimated that almost
half of Hispanic students do not graduate from high school or are below grade level.
According to the 2000 Census, 1.56 million U.S. residents between the ages of 16-19 were
not high school graduates and were not enrolled in high school, of which 34% or more
than 528,000 were Hispanic. This is staggering since Hispanics represent only 11% of the
population in this age group, according to the League of United Latin American Citizens
(LULAC) (2003). A study by Greene and Winters (2005) concluded that there is a wide
national disparity in the graduation rates of White and minority students. In the class of
2002, about 78% of White students graduated from high school with a regular diploma,
compared to 56% of African-American students and 52% of Hispanic students. Graduation
rates also remained relatively flat for each racial and ethnic category for which the study
had information. During this period, the graduation rates for White and African-American
students each increased by two percentage points, from 76% to 78% and from 54% to 56%,
respectively. The graduation rate for Hispanic students remained unchanged at 52% for the
classes of 1997 and 2002. Colorado was ranked 29th with a total average high school
graduation rate of 72% for the years 1991-2002 and ranked 16th out of the 38 states for
which there was information for by Hispanic high school graduation rates. The study found
that in Colorado, 47% of Hispanic students completed high school in comparison to 61% of
African-American students, and 80% of White students.
14


As with graduation rates, there are major disparities among racial and ethnic groups
in the share of students who graduate prepared for college. Greene and Winters (2005)
found that nationally, about 40% of Anglo students, 23% of African-American students, and
20% of Hispanic students graduated college-ready in 2002. In Colorado, only 34% of all
students graduated with the basic skills necessary to succeed in college in 2002, of which
41% were Anglo, 23% were African-American, and 19% were Hispanic. Not surprisingly,
Latinos lag dramatically in post-secondary education achievement. According to the
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only about 17% of Hispanics hold a four-
year college degree compared to 47% of non-Hispanics.
Richard Valencia (1991, 2002), described the underachievement of Chicano4
students as persistent, pervasive, and deeply rooted in over 30 years of low educational
attainment. In his 1991 book, Chicano School Failure and Success. Valencia noted that
Chicano school failure is not confined to a geographic location instead, wherever Latino
communities exist, school failure appears to be widespread. Many factors have contributed
to this state of affairs, including poor English skills, ill-prepared teachers, and insufficient
parent education. In their book, Latinos and Education: A Critical Reader (1997). Darder,
Gutierrez, and Torres argue that the educational status of Latinos is affected by several
interrelated factors, such as the general state of U.S. urban schools, school segregation and
poverty. Additional factors include language barriers, low expectations of teachers, racism,
and isolation (Gibson, 2002; Scribner, 1999), as well as the lack of cooperation between
schools, parents, and communities (Scribner, 1999).
Few would doubt the importance of earning a high school diploma in todays global
economy a college education is no longer an option but a necessity, with educational
15


attainment and lifetime earnings increasingly interdependent. The lack of education
condemns people to a life of menial jobs and poverty. It can also sentence them to a life of
welfare, unemployment, or crime. The economic and social consequences of poorly
educated students are staggering. Therefore, according to Valladares-Rodriguez (2002),
improving educational outcomes should become a national priority, especially for Hispanics
who are lagging the national average. Clearly, the status of education for Latinos in the
U.S. is in a state of crisis, and school choice has emerged as a popular remedy.
Building Armies of Minority Mothers
If youre drowning and a hand is extended to you, you do not ask if the
hand is attached to a Democrat or a Republican... From the African-
American position at the bottom, looking up theres not much
difference between the Democrats and the Republicans anyway. Whoever
is sincere about working with us, our door is open (Wisconsin State
Representative Polly Williams, known as the mother of school choice in
Milwaukee, quoted in Carl, 1995, p. 259).
Increasing numbers of minority and inner-city parents favor school choice, and in
particular school vouchers, which, in turn, has bolstered the number of school choice
proposals focusing on serving these population groups (Carl, 1996). As Lamar Alexander
said, What were simply trying to do is give people without money more of the same
choices of schools that people with money already have (quoted in The Carnegie
Foundation Report, 1992, p. 3).
However, critics of school choice have mixed feelings about these promises. Even
though existing voucher programs have not been universal (where all students would be
eligible to participate in the voucher program) but means-tested instead (targeted or limited
16


to low-income students), critics have viewed means-tested vouchers as a strategic ploy to
make choice acceptable to its opponents (Lowe, 1992, p. 30). At the same time, voucher
proponents' reassurances that they are concerned with assisting low-income students have
gained new credibility in recent years as increasing percentages of surveyed inner city
parents favor choice and civic movements supporting choice have featured coalitions of
African-American and Latino/a parents joining Republican choice reformers (Carl, 1996).
In response to the failures of the public school system and desegregation efforts, many
inner-city parents have turned to modestly-funded private schools and religious schools.
Margonis and Parker (1999) argue that the support of many low-income and inner city
parents for choice proposals does not necessarily indicate their belief that the marketplace
will fairly distribute educational opportunities, but rather, many parents who favor choice
are demonstrating their reduced faith in the current system to provide an adequate education
for their children:
They have recognized that private-school voucher advocates are not
primarily concerned with establishing equitable schooling, that choice may
indeed be a strategy for further institutionalizing the economic and racial
segregation of schools (Miner, 1997). Nonetheless they consider choice as
a way of tunneling some state funds into neighborhood schools where their
children can be supportively educated in the knowledge and values of their
parents and community (Faltz and Leake, 1996)
(Margonis & Parker, p. 203).
Jim Carl (1996) acknowledges that not all proponents of vouchers in Milwaukee can be
described as agents of the conservative restoration (p. 268). Many minority parents may
actually comprise what Carl calls unusual alliances of elite and grass-roots elements in
parental choice movements and describes as a conditional alliance between state-level
17


neoliberal reformers and Milwaukee-based supporters (including minority parents) of a
handful of independent community schools.5 Pedroni (2005), in an effort to re-theorize the
pro-voucher coalition of African-American political representatives, community leaders,
and mostly poor and working class women and their families as representative of a third
force in conservative formation, assessed the pivotal role played by such groups in
conditional alliances that he believes have enabled the success of rightist projects in
education and elsewhere. He argues:
The conditional alliances formed by such mobilizations are much more
transient, ephemeral, opportunistic, and unstable than current literature,
including Apple and Olivers Becoming Right piece implies.
Nevertheless, despite the often transient nature of such conditional
alliances, crucial and lasting gains are in fact won by educational
conservatives as a result of the reforms that these alliances are able to
engender. The effects of voucher mobilizations on legislation and on the
global currency of private vouchers is not nearly as ephemeral as the
conditional alliances, which under gird and enable their initial success
(Pedroni, 2005, p. 96).
School choice opponents continue to fear that the community control aims of these
parents fails to address the education of most inner city youth and argue that, at the same
time that choice offers a means of improving education for their children, it potentially
represents a further deterioration of our society's commitment to educating all students.
Research Goals and Questions
In an era of increased school choice, policymakers must consider the implications
of different choice programs for those students not participating. Given the growing
18


numbers of low-income, immigrant students, it is imperative to research their parents
experience of available choice programs and decision-making processes, in order to better
understand how choice programs can become effective in improving disadvantaged
students educational outcomes.
The main purpose of this dissertation is to explore how low-income, newly-arrived,
Latino immigrant parents experience the process of selecting schools for their children.
Specifically, this dissertation examines the various factors that influence parents in making
choices about the schools their children attend. These factors include differences in culture,
language, gender, prior educational experiences and expectations, and the form and content
of information provided by schools to parents. Additionally, other factors that may
influence school choice decision-making such as parents immigration and legal status
concerns are also examined. In sum, the research seeks to address the following questions:
Primary Research Question: How do low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant
parents experience the process of selecting schools for their children?
The sub-questions are:
1. Parent Expectations and School Choice: What prior experiences and expectations
about school and education do low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents bring
to the decision-making process?
2. Parents Experiences with Schools and Information: How do low-income, newly-
arrived, Latino immigrant parents obtain information about school choice options? What do
they obtain, from where, and what influences their decisions? What assistance and
information does the school district provide on school choice for low-income, newly-
arrived, Latino immigrant parents?
3. Choosing and Decision-Making: What factors influence low-income, newly-arrived,
Latino immigrant parents choice of schools for their children?
4. Low-Income, Newly-Arrived, Latino Immigrants as Compared to Other Parents:
How is the experience and process of choosing schools for their children similar or
different, for low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents as compared to other
subgroups of Latino parents and other non-immigrant, and non-Latino low-income parents?
19


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
School choice and Rational Choice Theory (RCT) provide the theoretical framework
for this study that examines both the demand and supply sides of school choice. Since the
primary focus is on parent decision-making, two opposing theoretical perspectives on parents
and information, which have emerged from the school choice literature and articulated by
Teske (2005) and Schneider et al. (2000), are most relevant and are discussed in this section.
Issues related to the demand-side of choice focus on parents as citizens/consumers
and issues related to the supply-side of choice focus on schools and districts/providers.
Despite the significant scholarly research on both the demand and supply sides of school
choice, demand-side aspects of school choice reforms require further examination.
A common objection to arguments in support of a competitive system of K-12
schooling is that regardless of the supply of school choice programs and options parents lack
sufficient knowledge to become informed consumers of the service. According to Hill,
Pierce, and Guthrie, In education as in healthcare, consumers do not have as much
information as the professionals and are therefore at a disadvantage ... The only way markets
work effectively with asymmetric information is when consumers trust that suppliers are
likely to act in the consumers interest (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000, pp.
63-64). Similarly, sociologist Amitai Etzioni (1992) warns that There arc dangers in the
simplistic introduction of competition into areas of human services. In these areas, the
20


consumers knowledge is usually limited; it is more difficult for parents to evaluate education
than, say, a can of beans (p. xi). Overall, theoretical perspectives on the decision-making
process and capacity of parents seek to explain whether parents can be informed consumers
of education and are discussed below.
Theoretical Perspectives on Parents,
Information and School Choice
The school choice literature on parents access to and processing of information
includes two opposing theoretical perspectives. The first theory is highly optimistic with
regard to parents ability to rationally choose appropriate schools for their children. In
contrast, the second theory offers a pessimistic perspective by claiming that a large subset of
disadvantaged students parents without or with little formal education cannot be expected to
make well-informed choices for their children and that if they are granted the authority to
choose their childs school they will likely make a misguided or ill-informed decision. Yet,
other scholars (i.e., Teske, 2005) propose a third, more realistic, perspective that falls
somewhere between these two opposite perspectives. They argue that Some low-income
parents will respond to the incentives of choice and obtain enough information to make
informed choices, while others will not or will not be able to do so. Thus, the latter require a
much more aggressive set of public policy outreach strategies, if school choice is to serve
their needs effectively (Teske, 2005, p. 4).
21


The Glass is Half-Full: The Optimistic Perspective
According to the optimistic scenario, parents are presumed to respond effectively to
the incentives of choice, as argued by Chubb and Moe (1990). When granted the authority or
opportunity to choose a school for their child, they will gather the pertinent information
needed to make an appropriate decision. This approach is based on the assumptions of
market behavior and consumer responsiveness to choice in accordance to the basic tenets of
neoclassical economics or RCT.
RCT in this context suggests that, Parents are utility maximizers who make
decisions from clear value preferences based on the calculations of the costs, benefits, and
probabilities of success of various options, that they are able to demand effective action from
local schools and teachers, and that they can be relied upon to pursue the best interests of
their children (Fuller et al., 1996; Goldthorpe, 1996; Bosetti, 1998; Hatcher, 1998) (Bosetti,
2004, p. 388). Bell (2005) also acknowledges that research on parental choice is often
conceptualized using RCT. She writes:
Applying RCT to parents, researchers assume that parents value good
schools and that good schools may differ from one another. One may have a
good arts program, another high test scores. These assumptions resonate with
research that suggests that some parents select academically superior schools
(Armor & Peiser, 1997; David, West, & Ribbens, 1994; Witte, 2000).
However, these assumptions are inconsistent with other research, including
interview studies (Wells, 1993), evidence from the U.K. (David, et al., 1994),
and actual parents behavior. Some parents do not prefer what others call the
best schools. Thus, choice may be more complicated than has heretofore
been assumed (pp. 4-5).
22


Overall, RCT is an approach used by social scientists to understand human behavior.
The approach has long been addressed in economics, but in recent decades it has become
increasingly used in other social science disciplines such as sociology, psychology, political
science, and anthropology. The wide spread application of RCT beyond economics has been
discussed by Becker (1976), Shepsle and Weingast (1981), Radnitzky and Bernholz (1987),
Hogarth and Reder (1987), Swedberg (1990), and Green and Shapiro (1996).
RCT draws from neoclassical economic theory, utilitarian theory, and game theory
(Levi et ah, 1990). Its core premise is that social interaction is mostly an economic
transaction guided by the rational choices of actors choosing among alternative outcomes
(Zey, 1998; see also Friedman & Hechter, 1988). The individual decision maker is
puiposive, intentional, and will choose an action rationally, according to a fixed set of
preferences (values, utilities), that will maximize his or her utility or ultimately satisfy his or
her needs and wants. Rational individuals undertake rational actions under the constraints of
resource scarcity, opportunity costs, institutional norms, and information availability. Social
outcomes reflect the optimal equilibrium reached by the aggregation of utility-maximizing
individual actions by self-interested rational actors (Friedman & Hechter, 1988). Overall,
RCT analyzes micro-level individual rational choices viewed in economic terms to explain
macro-level organizational and social phenomena.
RCT assumes that utility is maximized; preferences are structured; decisions are
made under conditions of uncertainty; individuals are the unit of analysis; and individual
behavior is central to the understanding of organizations. For RCT, individual rationality is
largely a matter of choices based on preferences and collective rationality is defined as the
aggregation of individual actions producing an outcome that is socially beneficial. RCT is
23


based on utility theory, a normative theory that posits what choices should be made, namely
rational, but does not concern itself with the substance of choices (or positive theory, e.g.,
what is). As long as choices fit within the guidelines of consistency, completeness, and
transitivity, they are rational. Context is irrelevant (Zey, 1998) and self-interest, in terms of
utility maximization, is the single motivation that explains all human behavior, economic and
otherwise.
While the RCT approach has basic assumptions, the method itself has been widely
applied. As Zey states, The term rational choice is common within the lexicon of many
disciplines, there is no clear and distinct set of criteria for delimiting the axiomatic tenets of
this theory that is accepted as canonical (1998, p. 1). Thus, RCT approaches have been
labeled differently by each discipline and have been widely applied.
Several applications of RCT exist; a well known example that addresses RCT is
Graham Allisons classic Essence of Decision (1971). According to Allison, Defining
characteristics of rational choice consists of the following intellectual steps: 1) goals and
objectives, 2) alternatives, 3) consequences, and 4) choice (p. 29). First, a rational actor
recognizes a problem (or a set of problems), and then determines goals and objectives. These
goals and objectives of the agent are translated into a payoff or utility or preference
functions. The second step consists of listing alternatives. Rational actors list possible
alternatives in a given situation to achieve their goals and objectives, who then, in the next
step, examine possible consequences for each alternative. The final step is the choice
process. According to Allison (1971), Rational choice consists simply of selecting that
alternative whose consequences rank highest in the decision makers payoff function (p. 30).
24


In recent years, RCT has been extended in application to education. For example,
Bell (2005) also uses RCT to gain an understanding of parents school choice decision-
making. In applying the RCT approach to school choice, Bell states:
Three constructs underlie rational choice models: information, constraints,
and preferences. If we treat information as a constraint, individual choices
hinge on constraints and preferences. The constraints that have the most
significant influence on parents choices include educational attainment,
family income, information, and the childs prior academic record (David et
al 1994; Gauri, 1998; Schneider et ah, 2000; Wells, 1993; Witte, 2000).
Preferences include, but are not limited to, parental desires that fall into the
categories David et ah (1994) describe as the three Ps the academic
results or performance [italics in original]; the atmosphere/ethos or pleasant
feei, and the schools location or proximity to home (p. 136). Scholars who
investigate these preferences conclude that parents prefer schools which
perform better, are welcoming and inviting, are close to home, match their
values, and have high levels of parental involvement both in school and out
of school (Armor & Peiser, 1997; David et ah, 1994; Godwin, Kemerer, &
Martinez, 1998; Lee, Croninger, & Smith, 1996; Wells, 1996) (Bell, 205, p.
5).
While RCT can be applied widely, RCT approaches also utilize several analytic
policy tools, including cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses, as well as rational choice
game theory models (zero sum or non-zero sum game). Game theory was first developed in
the 1920s by French mathematician Emile Borel, and was further developed in J. Von
Neumann and Oskar Morgenstems 1944 Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour as a
method for analyzing competitive situations in economics, warfare, and other areas of
conflicting interest where players or actors attempt to achieve maximum gains.
Different RCT models have various strengths and weaknesses. The rational decision-
making model, Enables decision and game theorists to structure problems of choice
(Allison, 1971, p. 30). Therefore, the model forces individuals to think structurally or
25


systematically, perhaps preventing error that may result from making intuitive and hasty
decisions. Furthermore, the model entails:
1) accurate, comprehensive information, 2) clear definition of interests and
goals, 3) exhaustive analysis of all options, 4) selection of an optimal course
of action for producing desired results, 5) effective statement of decision and
its rationale to mobilize domestic support, 6) careful monitoring of the
decisions implementation by bureaucracies, and 7) instantaneous evaluation
of consequences followed by correction of errors (Kegley & Wittkopf, 2006,
p. 72).
Some of the limitations of RCT stem from the complexity of reality. Instead of
accurate and comprehensive information, at times information is distorted or incomplete.
Moreover, personal motivations and organizational interests may bias goals. Instead of
exhausting all alternatives, it is possible that only a limited number of options are actually
considered and/or are not thoroughly analyzed. Since complex problems often confront
decision makers, responses often become a series of incremental decisions rather than any
overarching solution. Instead of selecting an optimal course of action, political bargaining
and compromises may affect the selection. Instead of providing effective statements of
decisions and their rationale to mobilize support, confusing and contradictory statements of
decisions may be provided, often framed for media consumption or political gain. Instead of
carefully monitoring the implementation of decisions, bureaucracies may neglect the tedious
task of managing such implementation. Instead of engaging in methodical evaluation of
consequences and the consequent correction of errors, decision makers may engage in
superficial policy evaluation, uncertain responsibility, poor follow-through, and delayed
correction and/or termination (see Kegley & Wittkopf, 2006, p. 72).
26


Overall, the rational choice model is impeded by tendencies of human behavior
including 1) bounded rationality, the term Herbert Simon (1982, 1997; see also Kahneman,
2003) coined to explain how decision-makers capacity to choose the best option is often
constrained by many human and organizational obstacles; 2) satisficing behavior, what
Simon (1957) described as the tendency for decision-makers to choose the first available
alternative that meets minimum acceptable standards, rather than optimize, since they
frequently face difficult choices that preclude satisfaction across competing preferences, only
available choices that appear good enough are often selected, and costs and benefits are not
carefully calculated (Levi, 1990); 3) cognitive dissonance, a theory Leon Festinger (1957)
developed to explain the general psychological tendency to deny discrepancies between ones
pre-existing beliefs (cognitions) and new information; in other words, humans are
psychologically prone to block out dissonant, or negative, information and perceptions about
their preferred choice and look instead for information that justifies that choice; 4) prospect
tbeoiy, formulated by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, which states that
decision-making is constrained by formed opinions and tendencies to overreact in crises,
decisions tend to be based on the perceived prospects of choices to fulfill objectives, and
policy makers engage in risk-averse behavior in making choices; 5) Lindbloms (1979)
muddling through, or the tendency for leaders to make policy decisions by trial-and-error
adjustments in an attempt to cope with challenges; and 6) group think (Janus, 1982) the
propensity for members of a group to accept and agree with the groups prevailing attitudes,
rather than voicing their true beliefs and the tendency to reach consensus prematurely for the
sake of group unity and cohesion without examining choices carefully, with its opposite
being multiple advocacy, in which better and more rational choices are made in a group
27


context that allows advocates of differing alternatives to be heard, so that the feasibility of
rival options receives critical evaluation, which may or may not create a deadlock of delay in
decision-making. A disadvantage of the rational choice model is that it stops at the stage of
making a choice, while the policy process continues beyond choice through the stages of
implementation, evaluation, and termination. The feasibility and other considerations of
implementation usually have implications for choice and thus, the rational choice models
limited scope serves as a major weakness.
It is expected that the optimistic perspective is more applicable to highly-educated,
higher-income parents. In its extreme version, the optimistic perspective suggests that,
When given the opportunity to choose, many parents become encyclopedic gatherers of
information, using the kinds of methodical information collection described by Hassel and
Ayscue-Hassel in Picky Parents (2004), which defines the types of information sought by
carefully discerning parents who pursue the maximum benefits of a competitive school
market (Teske, 2005, p. 2). But some argue that not all parents need to exemplify such
behavior in order to cause supply-side improvements. According to Teske, In one view, not
all citizens or parents need to be highly informed to propel the benefits of a competitive
market, only a group of marginal consumers (Teske et al., 1993; see also Schneider et al.,
2000, in Teske, 2005, p. 2). Furthermore, he argues that, Their careful shopping around
will force supplier schools to become better, providing enhanced choices for even less
informed parents who may stumble into their own individual choice (2005, pp. 2-3).
Moreover, in terms of some parents low-information rationality, Teske (2005) explains that,
while imperfect, information can help inform parents decision-making: This suggests that
studies may not find that many parents hold considerable amounts of highly accurate
28


information, but that does not mean they cannot make an appropriate choice. Much like
voters can use party identification as a general brand or guide, parents can use heuristics to
determine whether a school meets their needs or not (p 3).
Gary Cox makes a similar argument about the assumption of perfect information and
processing capacity: First, although it is clearly unrealistic, that fact alone should not lead
us to reject theories based on such an assumption. Second, competitive pressures will, in
certain contexts, lead to better information processingwith perhaps a sufficiently close
approximation of the perfect benchmark so that models based on that assumption are useful
(2002, p. 7). In considering how competitive pressures can improve actual information-
processing capabilities closer to the theoretical optima, Cox (2002) argues, Competitive
pressures in social contexts may mean that the hard rational choice assumption about
information processing is sometimes reasonably well approximated.... That is, there are
choice contexts in which persons have relatively simple information processing tasks to
perform and have trained in them, so that their performance is nearly optimal (p. 7).
Similarly, according to Teske (2005), Rather than seeking encyclopedic information from
formal sources, parents can take advantage of their existing social networks to get
information on the cheap by talking to more knowledgeable people that they know in their
regular routines at work, at church, and in their neighborhoods (2005, p. 3). Thus, though
many parents may not gather comprehensive information, they may actually utilize
techniques that business marketing studies have shown many consumers utilize and that
many voters use in the political realm to make reasonably appropriate choices (Schneider et
al., 2000). According to Cox (2002):
29


Information processing systems that have evolved under competitive
pressures may mimic first-best information processing, even if the systems
actual processing of information cuts corners, makes not-fully-justified
mathematical inferences, economizes on storage and so forth. We may not
want to see how sausages (beliefs) are produced but in the end they are pretty
good and might even be approximately Bayesian (p. 7).
The Glass is Half-Empty: The Pessimistic Perspective
The pessimistic perspective emerges from doubts about the assumptions of the
rational-choice decision-making model and questions about the abilities of a segment of
society to access and process information. As Teske (2005) explains:
Incentives matter, a subset of consumers will respond to help shape a market,
and others will use information short-cuts to do well enough in making
choices. While this can be a reasonably convincing case for middle and
high-income parents, it still leaves open some doubts about the choice-
making abilities of lower socioeconomic status (SES) parents and citizens
(2005, p. 3).
The pessimistic perspective reflects the skepticism about the feasibility of a well-
functioning competitive educational market, that is, some parents cannot be expected to make
informed educational choices for their children and must instead leave such important
decisions to education professionals or make poorly informed choices. When faced with
school choice, a significant number of parents either fail to become informed about schools or
base their choices on poor criteria. This has been observed for the population as a whole
(Wells & Crain, 1992) and also for specific groups such as the poor or the poorly educated
(Kozol, 1992; Levin, 1991; Payne, 1993). Scholars note that large subsets of low-income
parents are not likely to be informed consumers as a result of their poor levels of English
proficiency, literacy, and information processing skills. In addition, some parents may feel
30


uncomfortable interacting with schools and may lack knowledge of school procedures. As
literature reveals, the ability to obtain appropriate information is strongly correlated with
ones education level, networks, and familiarity with the school bureaucracy. According to
Teske (2005):
Lower SES parents have smaller social networks that are not linked to people
with better knowledge, they are likely to feel somewhat inefficacious about
whether their choices actually matter, they may know that slots are often not
available in the better schools for their children, limiting their actual
incentives to gather information, and they may not know how to follow the
several steps in a bureaucratic school system that are required to follow
through a choice process (p. 4).
On the premises of this pessimistic perspective immigrant parents may also be
expected to lack the information-gathering and processing skills necessary to effectively
choose schools for their children. As some scholars argue (i.e., Gershberg, 2001), immigrant
parents most likely face the same challenges as poor and poorly educated parents, but they
also face language and cultural barriers, as well as an even more severe lack of institutional
knowledge and access to information. Policymakers, schools and education officials often
assume that parents understand how the U.S. K-12 public school system works. However,
As with school governance, immigrant parents often come primarily from countries where
this kind of relationships with the school system is unfamiliar (Gershberg, 2001, p. 11).
Their educational experiences and expectations, which influence their decision-making
process, are likely to be different from those of native parents, and thus, a more aggressive set
of outreach strategies may be necessary to provide them with additional or different
information and more support to help them make the most informed choices possible. This
less-studied aspect of school choice is of an ever-increasing importance at a time that reforms
31


relying more heavily on parent choices such as charter schools and magnet schools are
growing. In addition, recently proposed changes in the way English-language learners
(ELLs) choose among available schools (i.c., Freestanding English as a second language
(ESL), Bilingual Education, and Dual Language programs) will place an even greater
responsibility on parents to actively make choices for their children (see Zehr, 2001), as
school choice becomes more of a requirement rather than an option.
School Choice Evidence: The Effect on Student Achievement
The jury is still out regarding the effect of the school choice reform movement on
student achievement. While there is evidence that test scores in some choice schools are
indeed higher than in traditional schools, preliminary research suggests that voucher
programs, magnet schools, open-enrollment programs, and charter schools result in varying
levels of academic achievement1.
Since the 1990s, there have been a considerable number of studies and empirical
evidence on voucher demonstrations, differences in achievement between public and private
schools, choice patterns, and costs that can be used to partially examine these issues. It was
1 The term school choice describes a wide array of programs aimed at giving families the opportunity
to choose the school their children will attend. As a matter of form, school choice does not give
preference to one form of schooling or another, rather manifests itself whenever a student attends
school outside of the one they would have been assigned to by geographic default. The most common
options offered by school choice programs are open enrollment laws that allow students to attend other
public schools, private school, charter schools, tax credit and deductions for expenses related to
schooling, vouchers, and home schooling. The term has also been used to describe the usage of market
forces in order to improve public schools in the United States. Choice school in this dissertation refers
to non-neighborhood school or a school other than the zoned/assigned school by geographic default.
32


on the basis of preliminary evidence that both proponents and opponents of vouchers based
most of their arguments. For example, the case for vouchers and tuition tax credits was
significantly bolstered by James Colemans famous and greatly disputed 1982 study, which
found that private high schools, including Catholic schools, provide a better education and are
more integrated than public high schools (see Coleman & Hoffer, 1987; Hoffer, 1986). One
of the founding fathers of the voucher movement is Terry Moe, who, along with John Chubb,
provided the academic manifesto of the modem school voucher movement in Politics.
Markets and Americas Schools (1990). which helped to put vouchers on the political and
intellectual radar in this country through its revolutionary call for a complete reframing of
school reform. What separated Chubb and Moes work from previous entries in the school
reform debate was its call for radical change. They contended that, The specific kinds of
democratic institutions by which American public school have been governed for the last half
century appear to be incompatible with effective schooling (Chubb & Moe, 1990, p. 2).
According to Moe (1995), evidence suggests that there is a genuine demand for vouchers
among low-income individuals, who respond enthusiastically and in large numbers when
given the opportunity to participate in such programs, even when they are asked to pay half
the cost: Free to choose, they distribute themselves across a wide variety of private schools;
these schools, contrary to the prevailing myth about private sector elitism, appear only too
happy to take them in (p. 32).
In Private Vouchers: The Case for School Choice (1995), Moe examined evidence
from the PAVE Program in Milwaukee, the CEO Program in San Antonio, the Golden Rule
Program in Indianapolis, and the Student-Sponsor Partnership Program in New York City.
However, at the time of his study, these programs were too recently implemented to be useful
33


for evaluation. Indianapolis had no achievement data and the preliminary evidence from
Milwaukee and San Antonio revealed that students in the voucher programs scored higher on
standardized tests than their peers in public schools, but the researchers had yet to control for
other factors, aside from vouchers and private school attendance, that might account for the
difference. The most dependable data in support of superior performance was provided by
the New York City Program, in which 90% of its graduates went on to college (Moe, 1995, p.
29). However, Moe admitted that The Student-Sponsor Partnership Program in New York
aside, the jury is still out when it comes to the issue of student performance, and it will be for
some time. More experience with choice programs, better students and better data are
necessary and private voucher programs, assuming they continue, will help make this
possible (Moe, 1995, p. 29).
Indeed, later studies that attempted to link vouchers to improvement in student
achievement yielded contradictory results. Studies by Kim Metcalf (1999) and John Witte
(1996, 2000) found no differences in achievement gains in either reading or math for the
Cleveland and Milwaukee children who had utilized vouchers compared to their counterparts
in public schools. In contrast, Peterson, Greene and Noyes (1996) found positive effects on
the Milwaukee test scores after three years. By the fourth year, Peterson et al. found that
among voucher students, math scores increased by 11 points and reading scores increased by
five points. But after reanalyzing the data, Princeton University Professor Cecilia Rouse
(1998) found gains in math scores for Milwaukee voucher students but not in reading.
Overall, the various studies indicate that results are sensitive to methodological approach.
The differing conclusions arc largely attributable to variations in comparison group selection
and data analysis.
34


While the impact of vouchers on student achievement remains an unresolved issue,
the debate over the impact of magnet schools on student achievement is not as controversial,
but the evidence is also more limited. A study of magnet school student achievement in
California conducted by Policy Analysis for California Education found that learning gains
far exceeded those of similar students in public schools (Policy Analysis for Education,
1999). However, the greater selectivity of magnet programs and their emphasis on high
academic achievement may skew the studys results. Furthermore, the amount of per pupil
spending in magnet schools is higher than in other public schools and also the same study
found that magnet programs attract better-qualified teachers.
In contrast to magnet schools, the effects of open-enrollment programs on student
achievement are mixed and the debate over their overall impact is more controversial. For
example, in Colorados Boulder Valley School District open enrollment is seen as a zero-sum
game a situation in which some schools do better only at the expense of others doing worse
(Eisenhart & Howe, 2000). The controversy over open-enrollment programs stems from the
concern that well-performing schools will attract a greater number of high-achieving
students, thus concentrating underperforming students in underperforming schools and
further expanding the achievement gap among schools.
Finally, and despite a growing charter school movement and the significant attention
it has received from both policymakers and the public, as of yet there are no definitive results
about the effectiveness of charter schools. Questions remain about whether charter schools
are generating the administrative and curricula innovations, and subsequent improvements in
achievement, that their supporters claim (Lubicnski, 2003). Studies examining standardized
test scores as a measure of school effectiveness have also produced mixed results. Some
35


studies have indicated that charter school students have experienced improved achievement
(Greene et al., 2003; Hoxby, 2004; Solmon & Goldschmidt, 2004). Studies conducted in
Arizona found that charter school students showed stronger gains on reading tests than their
counterparts in public schools (Solmon ct al., 2001; see also Solmon & Goldschmidt, 2004).
However, other studies have found that charter schools demonstrate lower levels of student
achievement than traditional public schools (Crew & Anderson, 2003; Miron & Nelson,
2000; Nelson et al., 2004). For example, Miron and Nelsons (2000) study in Michigan,
found that charter school students actually performed below traditional school students on
statewide exams. Also, another study in Florida found that, Students in regular schools
outperformed those in charter schools in every grade level in every subject (Crew &
Anderson, 2003, p. 198), but the authors acknowledged that the majority of Florida charter
schools serve non-traditional student populations. Other studies have found mixed results or
no difference in performance between charter and traditional public schools (Buddin &
Zimmer, 2003, 2005). Greene, Forster, and Winters (2003) address the difficulty of
measuring charter school performance and argue that more research is needed to better
understand the impact of charter schools on school effectiveness and student achievement.
Factors that Influence Parents Choice of Schools
While the first part of this literature review focused on research studies examining the
impact of school choice on school reform and student achievement, the attention in this
section shifts to factors that influence parents choice of schools. As Schneider et al. (2000)
argue, While early school choice reforms were mostly concerned with expanding parents
36


ability to choose the schools their children attend, over time the choice movement evolved a
theoretical perspective that calls for enhanced parent involvement and control over a whole
host of other school-related activities (p. 39). To sum up the two theoretical perspectives,
the first focuses primarily on the supply-side of school choice, or the schools and school
districts, while the second focuses on the demand-side of such the school choice market
setting, the parents and students who choose among schools and districts. According to
Schneider et al. (2000), School reforms seek to energize the market-like arena not only by
changing the behavior of schools, but also by changing the demand behavior of parents -
giving them incentives to become better shoppers and unleashing the competitive forces
associated with comparative shopping in an expanded and diversified market (p. 39). They
contend that arguments in favor of school choice rest on the assumption that positive effects
will result from interactions between actors on both the supply and demand-side of market-
like settings.
The demand side consists of the information that the parents (and increasingly
students) desire and need in order to participate effectively in a choice system, while the
supply side includes the information that schools and districts make available to parents.
The Demand-Side of Parent Information
While the most comprehensive study of low-income parent decision-making comes
from Schneider et al. (2000), scholars and policy makers are actually still learning about how
parent-consumers learn about the quality of schools, what sources they use to gather
information, the quality of available information, and how parents use it to identify and select
37


an appropriate school for their children. There is still much to be learned about the extent to
which school choice actually provides incentives for parents to become more involved in and
informed about their childrens schools. Schneider et al.s (2000) work narrowed the
literature gap on how patterns of behavior are influenced by demographic factors such as
racial and socioeconomic characteristics, but much more research is still needed. In
particular, little is known about immigrant parent decision-making, which represents an ever-
growing segment of K-12 education consumers. Thus, scholars (Gershberg, 2001) have
called for additional research and emphasize the importance for both policy and political
circles to clearly outline immigrant issues and delineate them from issues that impact all poor
or disadvantaged populations, an expanding portion of whom are immigrants. First, the
literature on low-income parents decision-making is reviewed followed by an examination of
the literature on factors that influence immigrant parents decision-making.
Objective Information
Student test scores, school demographics, matching childrens characteristics to
schools. Schneider et al. (2000) found that, in general, most parents have relatively limited
knowledge of and access to objective information about their childs school, including test
scores and demographics either in absolute terms or even relative to other schools in the same
district. Van Dunk and Dickmans (2004) evidence from Milwaukee also supports this
finding. On the other hand, some parents are very knowledgeable. According to Teske
(2005):
38


These correspond to the market mavens often noted in the broader
consumer marketing literature, and, as marginal consumers, by themselves
put some competitive pressure on schools to respond to them. These parents,
who tend to be higher SES, are more likely than others to place their children
in schools that are high on the attributes they report to be important to them
rank high on criteria and factors they report to be important to them (pp. 4-5).
Collegeville parents interviewed in Michael Manley-Casimirs study (1982)
selected schools that seemed to offer their children greater opportunity for success. However,
he found that these parents did not appear to believe that most schools offered the same sort
of instruction; instead, They believed that schools are qualitatively different and that their
task was to select the school in which parents held views most compatible with their own
about how children should be treated and which seemed to offer their child the most
educational potency (p. 95). While the extent to which parents think carefully about the
specific needs and strengths of their children and match a school to their needs and
aspirations is greater among many middle-class and higher SES parents, it is still unclear
whether lower-income parents also do this (Teske, 2005).
Social Networks and Heuristics
Schneider et al. (2000) also found that higher SES parents have extended and better
networks (e.g., they are more likely to have a direct, regular connection to a knowledgeable
person the most important are Parent Teacher Association (PTA) members, parents in the
same school, and neighbors) and they utilize them more. On the other hand, lower SES
parents have lower quality and thus they tend to rely relatively more upon formal school
and other sources (Schneider ct al., 2000). Also, lower SES parents do show some evidence
39


of reaching out to more educated informants than those in their networks when they have
choice options, but they do not make large substantive changes in their networks (Teske,
2005).
While having choice options does not increase the objective knowledge of lower SES
parents, those who made a school choice for their children gathered some additional, basic
information specifically, they were more likely to know the name of the principal of their
childs school (also found by Van Dunk & Dickman, 2004). But choice also improved the
objective school knowledge among higher SES parents (Teske, 2005).
While many parents rely upon heuristics (short cuts) in making school decisions, and
especially for some aspects of schooling (e.g., safety), Schneider et al. (2000) found that
while these heuristics (graffiti, broken windows, etc.) are not bad predictors of school safety,
a small number of indicators cannot correlate with several different dimensions of school
quality. In other words, random indicators cannot substitute for a comprehensive set of
quality criteria.
School Quality
Academics, safely, teacher quality, composition of student body. In addition to
objective information and social networks, school quality, income, and education are also
influential factors in parents choice (Armor & Peiser, 1998; Darling-Hammond & Kirby,
1985; Elmore, 1990; Greene et al., 1998; Kleitz et al., 2000; Nault & Uchitelle, 1982;
Schneider et al., 1998; Vanourck et al., 1998; Williams ct al., 1983). Even among those
40


attending private religious schools, parents often report academic quality to be the paramount
decision-making criterion (Convey, 1986; Goldring & Bauch, 1995; Nelson, 1988).
Elmores (1990) nationwide household survey found that about half of public school
parents reported that school quality influenced their choice, 18% cited it as the most
important factor. Parents with higher income and more education were more likely to
consider school quality in their choice of residence; Black parents were less likely (Elmore,
1990, pp. 300-301). In contrast, other studies revealed that low-income parents in the
Milwaukee voucher program cited academic quality as the most important reason for using a
voucher (see Witte et al., 1992, 1993).
School quality can encompass various aspects of school performance that may be
important to parents when choosing a school, including academic quality, safety issues,
teacher quality, and composition of the student body. When questioned about what aspects
of schools were important to them, Schneider et al. (2000) found that nearly all parents report
that some aspect of academic quality is very important not surprisingly, lower SES parents
focused more than upper SES parents on safety issues, indicating that it can be a real problem
for their children. Table 2.1 provides a comparison of some recent studies with regard to
what school aspect low-income parents say is most important to them (Teske, 2005, p. 6).
41


Table 2.1
School factors important to low-income parents
Van Dunk and Dickman (2001) Milvvaukee/Clevcland Schneider, Teske, and Marschall (1997) New York City Buckley and Schneider (2002) Washington, DC
School program 59% Teacher quality 28% Teacher quality 34%
Teacher quality 45% Safety 21 % Academic environment/ Curriculum 16%
General outcomes 35% Test scores 17% Parent involvement 13%
School character 31 % Discipline 10% Discipline/Safety 12%
Discipline/Safety 28% Diversity 10% Class/School Size 9%
Test scores 15% Values 8% Administrators 7%
153 parents 800 parents 1,012 parents
Despite some variance, the results are consistent. Teacher quality ranks very high on
parents lists, but this may be somewhat problematic since determining teacher quality is
difficult. For example, verbal skills and content knowledge seem to matter more to parents
than more easily measurable credentials and experience. According to Teske (2005):
It is unlikely that lower-income parents can identify schools with higher-
quality teachers. On the other hand, most parents are able to determine
program or curriculum elements fairly easily, safety is measurable and
parents can utilize visual heuristics to some degree, and access to test scores
is easier today, although whether they arc adjusted for income or expressed
as value-added complicates the issue further (p. 7).
There is also evidence that parents stated preferences on surveys may be misleading
because they may not reflect actual parent behavior. Parents may implicitly be limiting their
choice sets in ways not apparent to the researcheds), or they may tailor their responses to fit
social norms. For example, they may over-report the importance they place on academic
42


quality and under-report their potentially discriminatory views on the racial composition of
schools, saying that race is not important to them in their school choice, although choice
schools are often segregated and Internet website searches show that many parents utilize
racial information and are less likely to make further visits to website information about
schools with more Black students (Buckley & Schneider, 2007; see also Schneider &
Buckley, 2002). Glazermans (1997) study of a school choice program in Minneapolis found
that while test scores mattered in driving parent choices, parents tended to avoid schools in
which their childrens racial group represented less than 20% of all students. One
explanation for such behavior is social acceptability, that is, most parents are likely to report
being more thoughtful about making school choices than they may actually be in practice.
For example, Howell (2004) found that 44% of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) parents eligible
to make a choice, due to failure of their current school, opted for another school that also does
not meet NCLB standards.
Moreover, Even though most parents report that academic issues matter to them,
this does not mean that all parents are able to find and place their children in such schools
(Teske, 2005, p. 7). Van Dunk & Dickman (2002) not only asked parents to report what they
valued in schools, but also tested their knowledge of those characteristics at the school their
children were attending. A majority of parents reported that they actually sought out
information on the school elements that are important to them, but one-third did not report
seeking out information on those school attributes (Van Dunk & Dickman, 2004).
43


Income and Education
Bridge and Blackman (1978) provided early evidence that income and education are
strong factors that influence parents choice of schools, but experience and information can
shift their choices. They found that parents in Alum Rock, California, many of them from
low-income, minority, and non-English-speaking backgrounds, started off with poor
information about their choice options but seemed to quickly gain an understanding of their
choices over time. As their information levels improved, the knowledge gap between
advantaged and disadvantaged parents was reduced (Henig, 1994, pp. 119-120; also see
Lines, 1994). Initially, the majority of parents chose schools based primarily on geographical
proximity/location rather than educational program, but as they became more experienced in
the choice process and their children grew older, the proportion choosing schools outside
their neighborhood doubled from 11% to approximately 22% from the first to the third year
of demonstration (Bridge & Blackman, 1978; Heckman, 1990). Teske, Schneider, and
Minstrom (1993) also found that parent knowledge about schools increased over time as a
result of experience and exposure to information.
Similarly, Michael Manley-Casimirs study (1982) found that many parents were
unaware that they had a choice and identified a strong relationship between awareness and
educational levels. Data indicated that, The less educated parents tended to be less aware of
their options (p. 89). In addition, Henigs (1996) survey of parents in Montgomery County,
Maryland, found that even among parents whose children attended magnet schools many,
especially minority parents, responded that they had never heard the terms magnet school
or magnet program. Furthermore, when those parents were asked to describe how they
44


gathered information on the schools available to them, Manley-Casimir (1982) found that the
less affluent parents were also less likely to have spent time visiting the schools before
making a decision:
Eighty-three percent of the twenty-three parents in the highest two social
class categories reported that they had visited at least one of the schools.
Only 46% of the thirteen parents in the lowest two categories had made a
similar visit. The numbers are small and the pattern only suggestive. These
data indicate, however, that just as the less well-educated and well-off
parents in the populations were less likely to have been aware that they had a
choice; parents of lower socioeconomic status who were aware they had a
choice also were less likely to have investigated the schools directly before
making a decision (pp. 88-89).
Howell (2006) provides further evidence that many parents do not recognize the
range of their choice options. Howell surveyed parents in the 10 largest districts in
Massachusetts and found that only 29% of parents with children learning in a low-performing
school, as defined by NCLB standards, actually knew that fact. Bridge (1978) called the lack
of parent information levels the Achilles heel of voucher systems and argued, If socially
disadvantaged target groups lack the information to make informed decisions, they will make
choices based on educationally irrelevant grounds, and the social equity objectives of the
program will be missed (p. 506). The concern over parent information levels has prompted
many critics of school choice to argue that because less-educated parents will have the
greatest difficulty making informed decisions, choice will exacerbate social stratification (see
Boyer, 1992; Bridge, 1978; Cattcrall, 1992; Henig, 1994; Levin, 1989; and Rose-Ackerman,
1992).
The debate over school choice has focused on parent characteristics due to a
significant body of research demonstrating that better educated parents are more likely to
45


participate in choice programs and to consciously choose their childrens schools. In addition
to Bridge and Blackmans studies, the findings of first-and second-year evaluations of
Milwaukee Public Schools Parental Choice Program, which enabled low-income families to
send their children to private schools at district expense, indicate that, on average, choice
parents were better educated than non-choice parents (Witte, 1991; Witte et ah, 1992).
Religious Orientation
Finally, there is evidence that parents religious orientation may be related to their
choice behavior. A study of Minnesotas tuition tax credit found that parents who sent their
children to private schools emphasized moral and religious instruction (Darling-Hammond &
Kirby, 1985). In addition, a survey examining the potential impact of a federal tuition tax
credit (Williams et ah, 1983) and a study of five successful, inner-city Catholic high schools
(Bauch, 1992) reveal that Catholic parents are more likely to choose private schools for their
children (see also Convey, 1986; Nelson, 1988).
The Supply-Side of Parent Information
While the former section focused on the demand-side of parent information, this
section discusses the supply-side aspect, the content and delivery method of information that
schools and districts make available to parents. As a result of a nationwide trend for
increased accountability, many states have required public school districts to provide report
card-like information to parents on various aspects of school performance. Additional
46


school-based sources of information include district or school newsletters, teacher letters sent
to parents, and the teachers and other school personnel themselves. However, information
dissemination remains a challenge for many public schools. Many parents are not provided
with or do not access information about choice, test scores, teaching qualifications, and
curriculum the information many parents claim they want the most (Teske, 2005). Van
Dunk and Dickman (2004) found that even in an advanced choice system such as
Milwaukees, most choice schools do not easily provide such school information to parents.
For example, researchers sent trained parents to visit voucher schools in Milwaukee and
about one-third of the schools were not very responsive or helpful in providing information.
This dissertation seeks to further what and how schools provide information to parents.
Information Formats
Other studies have looked at the way information is provided to consumers, what
presentation formats are effective. In Organizational Report Cards (1999), Gormley and
Weimer reviewed report cards used in both public and private sectors. Their study contained
information about the structure and impact of organizational report cards from a number of
various substantive fields, from education to health care to airline safety. The evidence they
provide suggests that while some still believe that a full set of comprehensive information is
most useful to consumers, too much information can also be overwhelming and
counterproductive to facilitating decision-making (see also Schwartz, 2003).
For example, Experiments suggest that a report card between two to four pages in
length seems most appropriate for most parents. Many consumers find A, B, C type
47


grading systems, as in the Education Week reports on the states education systems, are easier
to understand than even slightly more complicated assessments, like above average, average,
below average (Teske, 2005, p. 8).
In looking at when it makes sense to use report cards and how to structure them
effectively, Gormley and Weimer (1999) also found that seemingly trivial design issues are
important. For example, Putting all relevant comparisons on a single page that can be
viewed at once helps consumers considerably. There is also added value when counselors
explain report cards to consumers (in person or on the telephone), but the degree of parent
trust in that person is obviously important (Teske, 2005, p. 8).
With regard to the use of the Internet to present information, Gormley and Weimer
(1999) express enthusiasm for the Internet as a user-friendly presentation format for
organizational report cards, since it can allow both wide and deep information availability to
browsers, however, Buckley and Schneiders (2007) study of District of Columbia parent
usage of the Internet for school information is less encouraging. While the Internet provides
a wealth of information, they found that many lower-SES families do not utilize the Internet
to obtain information on schools.
Van Dunk and Dickman (2004) find that a range of stakeholders (including teachers
and administrators, not only parents) believe that an unaffiliated privately-run parent
information center would be the best venue to provide unbiased information to parents, with a
state education department coming in a close second.
48


Contributions from Other Disciplines
In contrast to the rather simplistic assumptions of neo-classical economics and RCT,
psychologists have long argued that not all consumers arc rational decision-makers and that
complex decisions often lead to decision patterns that do not necessarily yield optimal
outcomes. While heuristics can be useful shortcuts, they can also lead to biases that do not
allow consumers to make appropriate decisions (Tversky et al., 1988; Schwartz, 2003).
Evidence from psychology suggests that having too many choices, especially if complex,
may complicate the decision-making process for consumers. Schwartz (2003) notes that
consumers can become flooded, frozen, overwhelmed, not make any choices at all, or even
throw up their hands and make a choice randomly. Afterwards, because of the dizzying array
of choice options, they may also feel that that they made a poor or under-informed choice,
and thus experience more regret and buyers remorse. Other studies in behavioral economics
have found that consumers make better decisions when choosing among a more manageable
number of options. For example, Gormley and Weimer (1999) found that it was easier for
consumers to choose health insurance plans or 401 (k) retirement plans from three to four
plans than say a daunting 20 plans. They describe the confusion that occurred when
Minnesota residents were presented with an overwhelming amount of information in a state
booklet that compared 38 various health plans across 20 dimensions.
In general, psychology research indicates that the integration of different types of
information and values into a decision is a difficult cognitive process (Tversky et al., 1988).
49


Furthermore, Slovics (1995) theory of constructed preferences suggests that consumers are
highly influenced by the actual presentation of information. Overall, the evidence is clear,
how information is presented matters.
Implications for School Choice Research
Research clearly demonstrates that type and format of information affect the choice
process. The insights from education scholars, as well as other fields indicate the
implications for school choice research. According to Teske, School districts should utilize
more evaluable displays of information to lower the cognitive capacity and effort required by
parents e.g., comparison tables that rank different schools clearly on different dimensions
from best to worst, or cheapest to most expensive (2005, p. 13). This would help transform
the infonnation into a good/bad scale, which provides emotional content, allowing parents to
do some weighting of characteristics (Slovic et al., 2002). For example, districts could rank
school test scores by the poverty level of students.
Furthermore, Teske states, In addition to the improved presentation format of data,
narratives provided by the schools, perhaps describing the typical student or classroom
experience, and/or narratives provided by students or parents themselves might help other
families make better choices. Required parent visits might also reinforce such narratives and
provide memorable visual cues valuable to parent choices (2005, p. 13). At the same time, it
is important for schools and districts to take into consideration the evidence that, despite a
shrinking digital divide, the Internet can be a powerful means for providing information but
this does not yet serve low-income parents well (Buckley & Schneider, 2007).
50


Factors that Influence Immigrant Parents Choice of Schools
Language and Cultural Issues
Research shows that newly-arrived immigrant parents experience difficulties in
selecting schools for their children related to cultural and linguistic differences (Gershberg,
2001; Sikhakhane, 1997). Immigrant students have special needs and challenges that require
both adequate resources and special skills to address them properly. Among such needs,
English proficiency is the most prominent, but high rates of residential mobility, emotional
stress, acculturation difficulties, health issues, and poverty are among the many challenges
these students face. In addition, many immigrants come from rural, war-tom and other
difficult or stressful home country situations that also present significant adjustment
challenges. Furthermore, immigrants experience high rates of separation from their families,
which may lead to a loss of a sense of community or other emotional problems. Although
non-immigrant students may also encounter similar challenges, they are particularly prevalent
in immigrant communities and the availability of means for addressing them is substantially
less to immigrant than to non-immigrant disadvantaged students. Schools are the institutions
charged with educating immigrant students and thus they are the venues in which successful
strategies and programs help support immigrants in their adjustment processes.
With language skills serving as a major barrier to educational success for immigrant
students, improving the training of non-ESL (English as a second language) teachers is
imperative. Many public schools and districts are realizing the importance of providing
teacher training that includes both pedagogical techniques and cultural awareness to better
51


serve their growing immigrant student populations. However, some states, like California
and Arizona, have dismantled their bilingual education programs and have mainstreamed
their ESL students through new so-called English Immersion programs, but research shows
that post-Proposition 227 a language policy replacing bilingual education with one year of
English Immersion in California some non-ESL and Emergency Permit Teachers (EPTs)
were unprepared to handle this challenge adequately (see Attinasi, 1998; see also Rubio &
Attinasi, 2000).
Immigrant students are also far more likely than their native peers to have
experienced interrupted schooling and often they come from countries with deficient
education systems. The current system does not take this factor into consideration, but
instead places all students, including immigrants, primarily by age, regardless of how much
formal schooling they may have had in their homeland. According to Gershberg (2001):
Despite all the attention being paid to immigrants and education, in policy
circles the attention is mostly indirect. Most states do not have any
significant, coherent education policy strategy for immigrants, particularly
new immigrants, and the same can be said for the Federal Government and
local school districts. The policies in place that impact immigrants, such as
bilingual education, are aimed at Limited English Proficient (LEP) students
and are focused exclusively on teaching them English. While this strategy
addresses one critical issue relevant to immigrants and education, it may not
be focused enough to optimize the myriad strategies for teaching new
immigrants, other LEP students, and native students (p. 2).
As Schwartz and Gershberg (2000) argue, there is significant, but not complete, overlap
between the immigrant and the LEP student populations, with only about two thirds of the
recent immigrants being LEP and the other one third being fluent in English. Thus, language
and cultural issues remain significant factors that may influence immigrant parents choice of,
52


or more frequently, placement in particular schools. For example, Sikhakhane (1999) found
that access to schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts for immigrant parents and their children
was more limited for several reasons. Among them, a language test was the initial tool used
by Parent Information Center (PIC) administrators to control the new students choices, and
as a result, all immigrant children who spoke a language other than English at home went
through language tests. The PIC administrators would then suggest to the parent that a
student should go to a transitional bilingual or ESL program. Sikhakhane found that
immigrant parents often desired to opt out of bilingual education programs out of their belief
that such programs would delay the speed of their childrens learning and that by placing
them with mainstream kids they would learn English faster. Thus, language was a limiting
factor for immigrant families as a result of the PICs practice of language grouping upon their
arrival.
School-Based Management, Immigrants and
Parent Involvement in School Governance
The popular term for family intervention and parent education programs is parent
involvement. Strong parent involvement in schools has been advocated by a range of
practitioners and researchers due to claims about its positive effects on student achievement
(see Becker & Epstein, 1982; Bennett, 1986; Clark, 1988; Cummins, 1986; Diaz-Soto, 1988;
Epstein, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1991; Epstein & Dauber, 1991; Henderson, 1987; Simich-
Dudgeon, 1986; Wahlberg, 1984) among low-income and minority students, developing
parents abilities to help their children, fomenting positive attitudes by children and parents
toward teachers and schools, reducing absenteeism and dropout rates, and increasing home-
53


school communications.6 While widely recognized as being important for quite some time,
parent involvement has become an explicit public policy goal of local school districts only in
recent years, with districts actively employing various strategies in an attempt to engage
parents.7 Nevertheless, teaching immigrant parents to participate in their childrens school
activities and supporting them as they begin to do so is both important and difficult.
Gershbergs (2001) study of new immigrants and school governance in New York
highlighted the fact that many immigrants come from cultures in which it is not proper to
interact with school teachers, who are viewed and even revered as authority figures. Thus,
being involved in their childs school on any level, let alone participating on a school council,
is a new and potentially uncomfortable experience for these parents:
One telling remark from an interview with a guidance counselor was It is
inconceivable that an immigrant parent would go to a teacher and say you
are not stimulating the creativity of my child. An advocate at a Community
Based Organization (CBO) captured a broadly-held sentiment among all our
interviews: Most [immigrants] come from cultures where you just trust the
teachers and leave them alone. A school principal said, Immigrants are
intimidated by the school as an institution. Finally, an ESL teacher at a
Newcomer school said that parents needed training to know how to be
involved and how not to be intimidated by teachers or the principal
(Gershberg, 2001, p. 7).
Despite efforts to make parents more proactive, rather than reactive, about their
childrens education, immigrant parents often come from countries where they were
generally not expected to be actively involved in their childs school experience.
Sikhakhanes (1997) doctoral dissertation research focusing on Newly-Arrived Parents
(NAPs) participating in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, controlled choice program found that
their culture (Chinese, Haitian, and South African) and previous experiences with people in
54


authority influenced their decision-making. Many NAPs had no experience in expressing
their opinion with public officials and thus accepted recommendations provided by
administrators at the Cambridge Parent Information Center without exploring other options.
In addition, the time constraints of long work hours and inflexible schedules pose
another obstacle to parent participation. Even without language and cultural banders, it is
probably unrealistic to expect high levels of immigrant and or low-income parent
involvement at schools due to their limited time availability. As Gershberg argues,
Nevertheless, if the School Leadership Team (SLT ) is being given an important role in
school governance, then an argument can be made that the Board of Education (BOE) and the
State have an obligation to make outreach efforts more consistent and better supported across
schools and over time (2001, p. 8). Overall, school-based adult literacy and improved ESL
instruction were cited in Gershbergs study as being effective in improving immigrant parent
participation.
Immigration and Legal Status Concerns
While language and cultural barriers are factors that hinder immigrant parent
involvement, immigrant parents may also have fears stemming from their legal status that
affect their willingness and ability to participate effectively in their childrens schooling.
Gershberg (2001) found this was true despite the fact that not a single interviewee knew of an
incident in which immigration law, the Immigration Naturalization Service (INS), or the legal
status of an immigrant parent was raised or otherwise adversely impacted by school staff:
55


One teacher told us not to underestimate the fact that the first person parents
see when they enter a school is a uniformed guard or police officer, and that
immigrants (legal or illegal) from authoritarian regimes may naturally try to
avoid notice from officials. A legal advocacy group also told us that schools
often (illegally) ask for proof of legal guardianship if immigrant children are
living with a relative and that Community Based Organizations (CBOs) can
play a critical role in the realm of legal issues since they often arc trusted by
the immigrants themselves. Several advocacy CBOs we interviewed had
informative material in relevant languages teaching parents about their legal
rights, the schools expectations of them as parents, and the importance of
their getting involved. In fact, most CBOs we interviewed named training
parents to participate in their childrens schooling as one of their chief goals
and activities. In addition, most referrals to advocacy groups that support
immigrants with legal claims against the school system come through a local,
ethnic-based CBO (p. 8).
Information Dissemination
Information dissemination is critical in parent choice and even greater for immigrant
parents. According to Gershberg, Perhaps the single most important issue in school-parent
relations is the translation of materials sent by the school into the appropriate language
(2001, p. 8). Gershbergs team of researchers encountered this issue in nearly every
interview with advocates, the Board of Education (BOE), and school staff, and concluded that
much material is not sent home in any language other than English. And even when it is
translated, this is done on an ad hoc basis by bilingual teachers themselves. Issues
surrounding information dissemination is less of an issue for Spanish speakers who now
constitute the majority of minority groups in many communities but information
dissemination gets more difficult for less prevalent languages as languages get more obscure.
Gershberg observed that in many cases, the children themselves were asked to translate
school-provided information for their parents, which is clearly problematic. In addition to
students not translating notices about PTA meetings and other events for their parents, they
56


also failed to translate notices regarding a student being held back or experiencing other
difficulties at school:
A particularly poignant example is the story of a Chinese student in Los
Angeles who, in a meeting between the school principal and his parent, was
asked to translate the fact that he was being suspended from school. He said,
roughly, Because I have been so successful in school, I am being allowed to
take some time off. For another example, a Legal Advocacy Nonprofit
Governmental Organization (NGO) representative told us: Chinese are the
second largest immigrant group, but there are no translation resources for
them at schools and no possible communication with parents. The best that
school staffs do is usually a notice in the home language saying, This is
important. Please get it translated (Gershberg, 2001, p. 8).
Despite the growing awareness among school districts about the need for and importance of
translating materials to increase the involvement of immigrant parents in both their childrens
education and SLTs, Gershberg and his research team found that this practice is not
sufficiently implemented.
The Importance of Location, Information, and
Social Networks to Immigrants
Anecdotal interview data seem to suggest that, in general, immigrant parents, like
low-income parents, are more likely than natives to send their children to the closest
neighborhood school (Gershberg, 2001; Sikhakhane, 1997). Sikhakhane found that many
NAPs preferred neighborhood schools or schools close to where they lived because a school
that is close to home provided a sense of safety. He describes one case in which the citywide
coordinator, tiying to meet the needs of a NAP who had a problem, made transfer
arrangements with the principal of another school and also school bus transportation
57


arrangements to satisfy that parent and child. This was not enough: 1 had everything in
place for her, the citywide coordinator said, but, she has made the decision that being close to
home is more important than anything (1997, p. 12). This example was consistent with
findings of the 1992 Carnegie Foundation report on school choice, which pointed out that
despite the 14 Cambridge Public Elementary Schools being racially balanced, poor,
immigrant, non-English speakers remain relatively isolated in one or two schools, and
minority students are generally overrepresented in special education and underrepresented in
the honors program (p. 36).
Gershberg (2001) found that school-level actors did not believe parents were aware
of the choices available to them and that the concept of school choice was foreign to many
immigrant groups. Sikhakhane (1997) also found that some of the NAPs had difficulties in
selecting schools for their children. While many of their problems were related to cultural
and linguistic differences, inadequate parent information was a major challenge for
immigrant parents, especially since they were even less familiar with the public schools
bureaucracy, which operates differently in their home countries. For example, In South
Africa, the principal bears the ultimate responsibility for the enrollment of every pupil in
accordance with the regulations laid down by law. A guide for principals of schools says,
No person shall be admitted as a pupil to any school by the principal unless the principal is
satisfied that school regulations are being fulfilled (South African Department of
Education and Training, 1991, pp. 14 & 17 in Sikhakhane, 1997, p. 7). Therefore, South
African NAPs arriving in Cambridge may well expect school officials to make these
decisions for them (Sikhakhane, 1997, p. 7).
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While inadequate information about the American public school system may be
problematic, lack of knowledge about how a particular districts policies and functions further
hinders their involvement. Sikhakhane found that most parents did not understand the
constraints of the Cambridge system of controlled school choice, creating conflict among PIC
administrators and NAPs when some NAPs did not understand that their choices were
controlled by racial balance to meet desegregation requirements: The NAP who insisted that
her child be assigned to a traditional program did not understand that if the PIC added more
students to the traditional program, that school would be racially identifiable, violating
Massachusetts state law and causing Cambridge to forfeit the money it receives from the
state. The Hardship Appeals Committee declined her request and she was extremely angry
(1997, pp. 11-12).
Sikhakhane (1997) also found that NAPs interpreted the meaning of school choice
differently and were confused by concepts like minorities and racial mix used by the PIC,
school officials and native parents. For example, some NAP parents commented that the
African-Americans and Hispanics, who are known as minorities in the U.S., were the
majority in the public schools they visited. Furthermore, the timing of information
dissemination to parents about school choice put NAPs at a disadvantage, since they came at
varying times during the year and thus, did not get information in a timely manner.
While Gershberg (2001) also found that many immigrant parents were unaware of
the choices available to them, this was less true of students leaving the two newcomer schools
they studied in New York that supported students in their efforts to find the best match at
both middle and high school levels.8 Guidance counselors at these schools helped teach
parents how to apply for a variance for their child to attend a school outside of their zone or
59


community district.9 Newcomer schools appear to play an important role in this regard,
often encouraging [students] to enroll in schools outside their neighborhoods (Schnur, 1999).
Another explanation for the low enrollment of immigrant students in public choice
schools may be attributed to the schools themselves. It is possible that schools that do not
want immigrant students discourage them from attending or even make variances difficult to
obtain if the school is not in the students community school district. Certainly, as a result of
the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, the increased emphasis on school-level test
scores provides an incentive for some schools to try to keep low-scoring students out, and
schools may perceive immigrant, mostly ESL, students as potential low-scorers. For
example, public school districts around the country with a high proportion of English-
language learners (ELLs) and or special education students have not met adequate yearly
progress (AYP) and face being penalized, causing a community backlash. According to
Karen Hindman, Executive Director for School Improvement for Community Consolidated
School District 15 in Palatine, Illinois, some parents have voiced their opinions that the
public schools would be doing better if those kids [referring to ELLs and special education
students] were not in our schools.2 As one teacher at a newcomer school noted: Other
schools feel much greater scrutiny of their graduation rates and pass rates [than we do], so,
[our] kids look like a bad risk (Gershberg, 2001, p. 9). More troublesome was that many
interviewees mentioned the undue difficulty that the most talented and qualified immigrant
students face in gaining entry to gifted and talented programs: Three separate teachers
2 (personal communication, July, 8, 2005, Panelist for The 2005 National Forum on
Education Policy presented by The Education Commission of the States, Session #445: No
Child Left Behind Whats working? Whats not?).
60


mentioned that the Citys elite public high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science have
no capacity or classes for supporting ELL students (Gershberg, 2001, p. 9).
Many districts schools also publish an annual directory of public schools that
provides detailed information. However, such directories may not always be available in
other languages. This is especially true for public school districts in states where government
documents can only be provided in English, making it illegal for schools to publish
information in any other language. Gershbergs (2001) study found that the annual
Directory of Public High Schools published by the New York Board of Education in
English and Spanish was nearly 400 pages long but translated versions available in four other
languages were only about one quarter the size for all four languages combined.
This had an impact in the schools immigrant students were encouraged to attend and
may have served as a sorting mechanism. Furthermore, Gershberg (2001) found that
immigrant-oriented CBOs (both faith-based and secular nonprofit organizations) played an
important role in helping parents choose schools and several offered translated literature to
better help them understand the relevant information for choosing schools. In addition, these
organizations provided support in areas where school-based guidance counselors may not
have been as culturally competent, or when the parents did not have the time or community
connections to address certain problems and needs. Overall, the quality of the choices made
by immigrant parents depends upon the quality and format of the information available. This
is equally true for all disadvantaged students, including non-immigrants, but immigrants face
added language and cultural barriers. Gershberg (2001) concluded that since nearly every
interviewee mentioned the translation of school information and communications as a top
61


concern, more must be done on the part of local boards of education and schools to improve
the means by which immigrant parents and students receive information.
The large number of CBOs and non-profit organizations that serve recent immigrant
students and parents play an important role in information dissemination and in educating
immigrants of their rights vis-a-vis the public school system. Yet, more research is needed to
understand how the involvement of the nonprofit sector supports immigrant populations. In
addition, more research is needed to determine the views of parents, students, educators and
other stakeholders about the role of CBOs.
As previously mentioned, Van Dunk and Dickman (2004) found that a range of
stakeholders believe that an unaffiliated privately-run parent information center would be the
best venue to provide unbiased information to parents, with a state education department
coming in a close second.
Currently, many school-operated parent information centers exist, but research shows
that immigrant parents have had negative experiences associated with such entities. For
example, Sikhakhanes (1997) study found that most NAPs stated that they were used to
enrolling their children directly in a school rather than dealing with a bureaucracy.
Ultimately, these intermediaries negatively affected some NAPs choices and they ended up
dissatisfied with the choices they had made.
Social Networks of Immigrant Parents
Similar to lower SES parents, immigrant parents tend to have smaller social networks
that are of lower quality, meaning that they arc less likely to be linked to other people who
62


have better information about schools than they have (Schneider et al., 2000). Nevertheless,
they seem to trust these informal networks of relatives, friends, co-workers, and people at
church, relatively more than formal school sources. Sikhakhane (1997) found that school
quality and education were not the factors which influenced the NAPs choices, and few
NAPs relied on the PICs information to make school choice decisions. Instead, most NAPs
selected schools based on the information they obtained from other parents who immigrated
to the U.S. before them. As a result, when they went to the PIC for registration, some NAPs
choices remained unchanged, even if language was an issue. Overall, some NAPs resisted
taking the PICs advice and recommendations and, consequently, they were able to select the
schools they liked. Sikhakhanes findings coincide with a broader study conducted by the
Public Policy Forum, a nonprofit research organization, which found that although most low-
income parents say they want information about teacher qualifications, student achievement,
and curriculum, they do not actually request or receive that information before making their
decisions, thus making a choice is based on something else (see Carr, 2005). According to
Anneliese Dickman of the Public Policy Forum: Parents want to make choices based on
measureable facets of school quality but they are not getting that information, and therefore
make a choice based on something else. Unfortunately, whats troubling about that is you
really do not know if your choice has been a good one or not until you have invested a lot of
time in your childs life in a school (Carr, 2005, p. 3). This study seeks to examine further
what information parents say is important to them and what information they actually seek
and obtain.
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CHAPTER 3
METHODOLOGY
Part I: Research Purpose, Research Questions and Research Strategy
Having reviewed the literature on school choice and the factors influencing both low-
income and immigrant parents choice of schools, in this chapter I discuss my research
purpose, questions, and strategy. I also discuss the data collection strategies used and how
data were collected and analyzed for this research.
Overall, this chapter is organized into two parts. First, part one reveals my research
purpose and the research questions this study seeks to answer. It also focuses on my research
strategy which utilizes mixed-methods. Second, part two describes the various data
collection strategies used. 1 describe how the data were collected and analyzed for this
research, and I identify all sources of data. In this second section, I also address issues of
validity, gencralizability, and reliability and I discuss the limitations and significance of this
study.
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Research Purpose
As stated earlier, the primary purpose of this research is to explore how parents
experience the process of selecting schools for their children. This study re-examined the
factors that influence parents choice of schools that emerged in the broader school choice
literature as well as examined the factors that specifically influence low-income, newly-
arrived, Latino immigrant parents choice of schools. Responses from surveys and interviews
were categorized for use in exploratory research.
Research Questions
As previously stated, the research seeks to address the following questions:
Primary Research Question: How do low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant
parents experience the process of selecting schools for their children?
The sub-questions are:
1. Parent Expectations and School Choice: What prior experiences and expectations about
school and education do low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents bring to the
decision-making process?
2. Parents Experiences with Schools and Information: How do low-income, newly-
arrived, Latino immigrant parents obtain information about school choice options? What do
they obtain, from where, and what influences their decisions? What assistance and
information does the school district provide on school choice for low-income, newly-arrived,
Latino immigrant parents?
3. Choosing and Decision-Making: What factors influence low-income, newly-arrived,
Latino immigrant parents choice of schools for their children? 4
4. Low-Income, Newly-Arrived, Latino Immigrants as Compared to Other Parents:
How is the experience and process of choosing schools for their children similar or different,
for low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents as compared to other subgroups of
Latino parents and other non-immigrant, and non-Latino low-income parents?
65


Propositions
The following propositions are based on the primary research question and seek to
examine some of the suggested differences between low-income parents and immigrant
parents as identified in the literature review:
Pi: Immigrant parents previous educational experiences influence their school choice
decisions.
P2: Immigrant parents familiarity/unfamiliarity with the U.S. public education system
influences their school choice decisions.
P3: Immigrant parents previous experiences with people in authority influence their school
choice decisions.
P4: Immigrant parents have limited access to choice documents, school information,
and communications.
P5: Immigrant parents have social networks that are of lower quality and as a result, they
trust informal networks comprised of relatives, friends, co-workers, and people at church
relatively more than formal school sources.
P6: Immigrant parents prefer neighborhood schools or schools in close
proximity to their homes or places of work.
P7: Some facets of school quality (academics) are not the primary factors influencing
immigrant school choices. Rather, immigrant parents school choice decisions are
influenced by a wide range of non-academic factors (i.e., culture, language, proximity,
relationships with people in authority, educational values, their own educational
experiences, and the experiences of other parents).
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Research Strategy/Study Design
Recognizing the limitations of any individual research methodology, 1 adopted a dual
quantitative-qualitative (mixed methods) methodology in the research design. This mixed
methods approach utilized the following multiple methods of data collection: 1) a survey of
200 metropolitan Denver area low-income parents; 2) interviews with low-income, newly-
arrived, Latino immigrant parents participating in school choice in an urban school district in
the metropolitan Denver area in Colorado (DPS); 3) observations of parent workshops (12
total of which 6 were most concerned with school choice) conducted by the Colorado
Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (CHCREO), a new local chapter of the
national non-profit group HCREO that advocates for school choice and means-tested school
vouchers; 4) interviews with community liaisons and DPS administrators (6 total); 5)
document analysis of school choice documents and; 6) to supplement, enrich, and examine
the survey findings in more detail, a total of 6 small focus groups (consisting of 6 to 10
members) were conducted to provide a holistic and contextual understanding of parent
decision-making and get deeper inside the process of choosing schools.
The justification of these methodologies is based on the nature of the investigation.
As a nonexperimental research design seeking to investigate attitudes, behaviors and opinions
of individuals and generate findings that can be generalized to the various factors under
examination, survey research is a very appropriate tool and one that can be successfully
employed within various constraints of limited time, financial and other human and material
resources (McMillan & Schumacher, 1997, p. 296 & 299). Interviews and focus groups,
while time-consuming and at times costly, are other appropriate methods for providing
67


contextual information, illuminating non-obvious parameters, achieving triangulation and
increasing the research findings validity and reliability.
Quantitative Research
Surveys
Initially developed from the hard sciences, quantitative research designs,
maximize objectivity by using numbers, statistics, structure, and experimenter control
(McMillan & Schumacher, 1997, p. 34). This study utilized a nonexperimental design and as
a result there was no manipulation of conditions. Rather, the researcher made observations or
obtained responses from subjects to describe something that has occurred (i.e., behavior,
attitude). In survey research, the researcher selects a sample of subjects and administers a
questionnaire or conducts interviews to collect data. Surveys are used frequently in
educational research to describe attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and other types of information
(McMillan & Schumacher, 1997, p. 38). Strength of survey research is that information
about a large number of people (the population) can be inferred from the responses obtained
from a smaller group of subjects (the sample). Surveys can describe the frequency of
demographic characteristics or traits held, explore relationships between different factors, or
delineate the reasons for particular practices (McMillan & Schumacher, 1997, p. 38).
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Qualitative Research
Since 1 am interested in exploring how parents experience the process of selecting
schools for their children, a qualitative approach was also appropriate in a study like this
since it allowed me to uncover and understand what lies behind the process that parents use
when they choose schools for their children (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992, pp. 29-33; Strauss &
Corbin, 1990, p. 19).
This study applied qualitative methods to explore how parents experience the process
of selecting schools for their children. As Creswcll (1998, 2003) outlines, the strategies of
inquiry involved with qualitative research designs vary and include biographical studies, case
studies, ethnographies, and phenomenological and narrative research. Overall, qualitative
research uses multiple methods of data collection that are interactive and humanistic.
Traditional methods of data collection in qualitative research involve open-ended
observations, interviews and documents (Marshall & Rossman, 1999). However, qualitative
methods can be distinguished from quantitative methods by several unique characteristics.
Qualitative research is conducted in natural, noncontrivcd settings rather than controlled ones
where humans use what they hear and feel to make meaning of social events and relies on a
variety of data collection techniques (Rossman & Rallis, 1998). Therefore, qualitative
designs are less structured than quantitative designs and are typically nonexperimental as
there is no manipulation of conditions or experience. Data collected in qualitative research
generally consists of text or words in the form of rich verbal descriptions of human behavior
and opinions rather than numbers (McMillan & Schumacher, 1997; Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
Traditional qualitative research is also distinguished by using a case study design, in which a
single case or group of people is studied in depth to understand the person(s) or
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phenomena (McMillan & Schumacher, 1997). Sampling procedures in qualitative research
are often purposive or theoretical rather than random or representative. The primary data-
gathering instrument is the human researcher rather than some inanimate mechanism (Lincoln
& Guba, 1985). Overall, The focus of qualitative research is on the participants perceptions
and experiences and the way they construct their own reality. Qualitative research allows for
the multiple realities individuals might construct in an environment (Lincoln & Guba,
1985).
Case Study Design
Utilizing a case study design is a useful way of developing an in-depth analysis of a
single case or multiple cases. Case studies represent an exploration of a bounded system or a
case (or multiple cases) over time through detailed, in-depth data collection. Case studies are
bounded by time and place (i.e., context). The case being studied is a program or event, an
activity, or individuals. Data collection must consist of multiple sources documents,
archival records, interviews, observations, and physical artifacts (Yin, 1989). Data analysis
includes description, themes, and assertions while the final write up is an in-depth study of
the case or the cases. Using a single district and or state for a case study is appropriate for a
study of K-12 education, despite the disadvantage of generalizing the research findings to
other districts and states. However, several school districts across Colorado and across the
nation face some of the same problems and serve similar demographics and therefore, a case
study of a single district may shed light on common phenomena.
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Setting/Site Selection
The dissertation research took place in the context of an urban public school district -
The Denver Public Schools (DPS) which has had a choice program in place since Colorados
open-enrollment law took effect in 1991, allowing students to enroll in any public school as
long as there was sufficient space and students had their own transportation. There are a
multitude of schools from which parents can choose to apply to. DPS is the second largest
school district in Colorado and operates a total of 151 (73 elementary, 15 K-8, 17 middle, 14
high, 19 charter, 6 other, and 7 alternative) schools with various intra- and interdistrict open
enrollment options, these include: 17 magnet schools, 19 charter schools, and 3 contract
schools.
Over the last decade that choice has existed within DPS, the school district and
individual schools have been permitted to develop, adapt, and change their strategies for
recruiting and admitting students. Also, following the passage of the No Child Left Behind
(NCLB) legislation, the district opened a new school of choice office (SOCO) to assure
compliance. Thus, I had the opportunity to describe parent choices within a mature system at
a time when many districts are beginning to consider choice options.
Furthermore, the district serves a diverse population of 73,399 total students (based
on October 1, 2006) of which 64.76% (or 47,536) of students qualify for free or reduced-
price meals and also serves a low percentage of Hispanic students enrolled in choice schools
vs. traditional public schools. Most importantly, DPS has a significant number of immigrant
students who enroll every year. While the district serves several different nationalities,
Hispanic students (57.3%) comprise the majority of the student body followed by 20.39%
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White students, 18.08% African-American students, 3.14% of Asian students, and 1.09% of
American-Indian students. Approximately 20% (or 14,450) of the total DPS student body of
73,399 are English-language learners, the majority (13,337) of whom are Spanish-speaking
students, while the other 1,113 students speak one of 86 other languages. The district
provides language instruction in at least 10 foreign languages including: Arabic, Chinese,
French, German, Italian, Japanese, Lakota, Latin, Russian, and Spanish.
According to a Rocky Mountain News analysis of DPS data, Hispanic students who
account for 57.3% of DPS enrollment are the least likely to leave their neighborhood schools
for a charter, magnet or other DPS school and about 80% of DPS Hispanic students are low-
income. Still, among Hispanic DPS students, a hefty 37% chose a school other than their
assigned neighborhood school during the 2005-2006 academic year. The figure was 52% for
Anglo students and 50% for African-American students and in general, interest in school
choice has accelerated among all students. Table 3.1 provides data for all ethnic groups who
did not attend their neighborhood schools for years 2000-2005. Since 2002, the percentages
of DPS students bypassing neighborhood schools have grown 10 percentage points for
African-American and Hispanic students and 6 percentage points for Anglo students
(Hubbard, 2007).
For all of the reasons state above, DPS proved to be a good site in which to study the
experiences of low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrants with school choice. Early on, I
met with and contacted administrators in the DPS school choice office to inform them of my
study and to seek their assistance. This school district although it is a single school district
was sufficient to allow me to describe and explain in detail the experience of low-income,
newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents when choosing schools for their children (McMillan
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& Schumacher, 1989, p. 182). While DPS offers considerable school choice options, when
compared to other cities with high levels of school choice like Milwaukee and Washington,
DC, Denver has a lower density of choice, meaning there are fewer choice options provided.
However, because of its low density, Denver is more typical of many other American cities
that are also starting to experiment with school choice proposals.
Table 3.1
Percentage of DPS students who do not go to their neighborhood schools
Year African-American Hispanic Anglo
2000 43% 29% 44%
2001 43% 28% 46%
2002 43% 27% 46%
2003 45% 29% 48%
2004 50% 32% 51%
2005 53% 37% 52%
Source: Denver Public Schools
Sample Selection and Parent Participant Profiles
The first stage of the study entailed locating and interviewing low-income, newly-
arrived, Latino immigrant parents making K-12 school choice decisions within this large,
urban school district in Denver, Colorado. Due to the size and diversity of the school
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complex, the schools of the children participating in the study varied somewhat by
geographic location, racial and ethnic composition, SES, linguistics, and achievement
proficiency. An attempt was made to select parents attending schools representative of some
of the choice options currently available to parents.
Selection of Interviewees
Selection of persons for an ethnographic study begins with a description of the
desired attributes or profile of a person who would have knowledge of the topic (McMillan
& Schumacher, 1997, p. 435). The first desired attribute is income or socioeconomic status.
I was particularly interested in interviewing low-income parents however, given that the
surveys had been collected using the criteria of an annual gross income of $50,000 or less
parents, I decided to use the same criteria for consistency. The second desired attribute was
birthplace. I was interested in interviewing newly-arrived immigrant parents who were born
outside the U.S. and who have lived in the U.S. less than 10 years. Given that approximately
57% of the Denver Public Schools student school enrollment is comprised of Hispanics or
persons of Latino origin or descent, a particular subgroup of parents interviewed were
Spanish-speaking immigrants. Therefore, another desired attribute of parent interviewees
was race/cthnicity of Hispanic or Latino origin or descent. To get diversity in both
linguistic range and prior educational experiences, other desired attributes of parent
interviewees included Spanish as a first language and educated in Latin countries outside of
the U.S. but are now educating their children in the U.S.
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To select interviewees, a diversity strategy (Murphy, 1980, p. 39) is useful to
compile a sample of immigrant parents who bring different prior educational experiences to
their school choice decisions. Due to the high cost of interpretation and transcription
services and a scarcity of financial resources, immigrant interviewees were limited to a small
number of Spanish-speaking parents from Latin countries (while most immigrants were from
Mexico, the district also serves several students from other Latin countries such as Puerto
Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Central or South America, the Caribbean, or other
countries with other Latin backgrounds and a few of these parents were also included in the
sample). My bilingual capability allowed for the transcription and translation of the
interviews from Spanish to English as necessary.
Locating possible interviewees for ethnographic research can be done through the use
of records, informal networks, or nominations. When each person does not interact in face-
to-face situations with others known to have similar experiences, snowball sampling is
essential in locating possible interviewees (McMillan & Schumacher, 1997, p. 435).
Snowball sampling (also called Network sampling) is a strategy in which each successive
participant or group is named by a preceding group or individual. Participant referrals are the
basis for choosing a sample. The researcher develops a profile of the attributes or particular
trait sought and asks each participant to suggest others who fit the profile or have the
attribute (McMillan & Schumacher, 1997, p. 398). Snowball sampling is often used in
studies of social networks, where the object is to find out who people know and how they
know each other. It is also often used in studies of difficult to find populations and in
studies of populations who would rather not be exposed (Bernard, 2000, p. 79).
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I sought the assistance of administrators of organizations who frequently work with
parent groups such as the DPS School of Choice Office, The Denver Classroom Teachers
Association, Bilingual Program Directors, The Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition, The
Colorado Parent Information Center (CPIRC), Metro Organizations for People (MOP), Focus
Points Family Resource Center in Five Points, The Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE),
Seeds of Flope Charitable Trust of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, and The Latin
American Research and Service Agency (LARASA) to obtain the names and contact
information of Latino immigrant parents who had made school choice decisions. I then asked
this initial group of chooser parents to identify others they knew of who had also recently
selected schools for their children. Initially, I intended to use snowball sampling to obtain
my initial sample of respondents. Flowever, as I began interviewing my first interviewees it
became apparent that I would have to employ additional strategies to obtain more participants
because they did not know many other newly-arrived parents whom they could recommend.
In fact, the less time they had been in Colorado and the U.S. was predictive of their lack of
contacts and social networks. Several of the parents I met were just starting to meet other
families and build friendships and acquaintances in their respective communities. So, in
order to find a diverse sample of low-income, newly-arrived, Latino parents willing to discuss
their school choice decisions, it was helpful to seek help within the community, from
nonprofit groups and administrators and parent/family liaisons who work more directly with
Latino parents. In this way, interviewees were nominated by reputation among non-school
personnel of strong parental involvement but not by school teachers or principals.
In addition, I introduced myself to existing nonprofit organizations serving Latino
families and several Latino parental involvement groups (i.e., Colorado Hispanic Council for
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Reform and Educational Options (CHCREO), Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE),
Group Overcoming Handicaps and Disabilities with Love/Grupo Vcnciendo Incapacidades y
Dcsabilidadcs con Amor (Grupo VIDA), Padres Unidos, and Flores Indigenas) to solicit
voluntary parent participation in the research. These organizations and groups proved to be
my greatest resources in identifying parents for this study. Yet, I was also able to select
potential interviewees by attending events or community meetings hosted by such parent
groups.
Ethical Considerations
Ethical considerations must be taken into account by the researcher, especially when
designing a qualitative research study (Creswell, 2003; Merriam, 1998). Given that this study
proposed to investigate the experiences and processes of low-income, newly-arrived, Latino
immigrant parents with urban public school choice, I had the obligation to respect the rights,
values and opinions of the participants in the study. Therefore, I fulfilled this obligation of
protecting and informing participants of their rights as a research participant by utilizing the
following procedures: 1) the research, objectives and procedures were articulated in clear
written language and translated from English to Spanish so that they were understood by all
parent participants; 2) 1 obtained written permission from all individuals to participate in and
be included in the research before the research began; 3) an informed consent form was filed
with the Human Subjects Research Committee (HSRC) at my home institution The
University of Colorado Denver (UC-D); 4) procedures for assuring the confidentiality of all
data were clearly articulated to all research participants. I made an effort to ensure
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confidentiality by making certain that the data cannot be linked to individual subjects by
name through the use of pseudonyms for individual participants and positional titles for any
administrators interviewed; 5) the voluntary and no risk participation was clearly articulated
to each participant; 6) I provided each participant a copy of the informed consent form, my
contact information as the principal investigator of this study, and the contact information of
the HSRC. Each participant also received an invitation to address any concerns or questions
that they may have had regarding their participation in the study; and 7) each participant was
invited to receive upon request a copy of my findings following the completion of the study.
See Appendix D for the written document provided to all participants addressing the
procedures outlined above.
After the following descriptive account of representative respondents profile, 1
discuss my experience with study participants in greater detail. I also discuss some of the
problems and barriers I had to deal with while collecting data.
Respondents Profile
In this section, I briefly describe the characteristics of my participants. I conducted
10 individual interviews with these parents. I reveal more detailed information about their
gender, approximate age, marital status, area of local residence, countries of origin,
immigration status, length of time in the U.S./Colorado, primary language and ability to
speak English, highest level of education attained, the types of schools attended as a child,
level of parental involvement in childrens education, employment status, occupations,
number of children and their ages, grades their children were in at the time of the interview,
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type of school choice made on behalf of the child, the type of school the child currently
attends. From this section readers can derive greater insight of the background of some of my
informants.
While the majority of parents comprising my parent sample were from Mexico, there
was some diversity by nationality (some participants in the qualitative focus groups were
from Columbia, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela), but also by education, gender, marital status,
immigration status, culture and experience. What they all had in common was their Latin
heritage, Spanish as their first language, had lived in the U.S. for 10 years or less, and were
working families with modest incomes. In response to introductory and demographic
questions, and questions about their previous experience with and expectations about schools,
the participants offered a variety of responses which are provided in Table 3.2. The
following respondents profiles are also provided in narrative form in Appendix E.
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Table 3.2
Profiles of parents and families interviewed
Parent Name Approx. Age Marital Status Country of Origin Education English Ability Child/ Children Made A Choice For Nature of Choice
#1 Rosio Late Forties Married Mexico 6lh Grade *Pri maria* Middle School Attended Public Schools in Mexico Very Little English Girl Age 14 in 8lh Grade Other Children: Age 18 Age 21 DPS Public Choice IB School Attended DPS Public Schools
#2 Cynthia Mid Thirties Single/ Divorced Columbia Earned Bachelors Degree in U.S. Attended Public Schools in Columbia Fluent in English And Spanish Two Girls: Age 11 in 6lh Grade, Age 5 in Grade K Girls Attend Same DPS Public Choice School
#3 Bianca Late Thirties Married Mexico 8th Grade Attended Public Schools in Mexico Some English, Speaks Mostly Spanish Four Children: Boy Age 16 in 10'h grade, Boy Age 15 in 9,h grade, Girl Age 8 in 3rd grade. Boy Age 4 in Grade K Private High School, DPS High School, Denver Charter School DPS Elem School
#4 Lola Mid to Late Forties Married Mexico Earned Bachelors Degree from Private College in Mexico Attended Public and Private Schools in Mexico Fluent in English and Spanish Three Boys: Boy Age 18 in College Boy Age 16 in ll1" Grade Boy Age 10 in 4lh grade First Year Private Catholic College, Catholic High School, Catholic Elem School
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Table 3.2 (Cont)
#5 Carlos Mid to Late Thirties Married Mexico 6lh Grade Attended Public Schools in Mexico Very Little English Two Girls: Age 8 in the 3rd grade, Age 6 in the lsl grade Girls Attended a DPS Public but Now Attend Denver Charter School
#6 Juana Mid 10 Late Thirties Married Mexico Finished High School Attended Public Schools in Mexico Very Little English One Girl in Grade K and 1 Boy in 8th Grade Children Both Attend Same K-8 Catholic School Son will go HS.
#7 Joaquin Mid to Late Forties Married Mexico Finish Middle School Attended Public Schools in Mexico Good English Four Children: One Girl Age 15 in 1 Olh grade. One Boy Age 12 in 7,h grade Other Older Children: Boy, Age 24. Boy Age 21 Girl and Youngest Boy Switched From DPS Publics To Catholics Two Older Sons Age 21 and 24 Attended DPS
#8 Marisol Mid to Late Twenties Single/ Divorced Mexico Finished 6,h Grade Attended Public Schools in Mexico Some English 1 Boy, Age 6 in the l5' grade Son Attends a DPS Public Choice School
#9 .luan Late Twenties Married Mexico Some College in Mexico Attended Public Schools in Mexico Some English 1 Boy Age 7 in the 2nd grade Son Attends DPS Public School
#10 Lupe Mid to Late Twenties Single Mexico Finished High School Attended Public School in Mexio Little English 1 Girl Age 8 in the 3rd grade DPS Public Choice School
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Barriers to Data Collection
I now discuss my experience with study participants in greater detail. I also discuss
some of the problems and barriers I had to deal with while collecting data. While in the end,
I was able to speak with parents and administrators who provided a variety of responses, data
collection proved to be challenging. These challenges, which provide greater insight into the
social and organization settings in which I conducted my research, are discussed below.
At first, I thought that establishing a relationship with the DPS School of Choice
Office would ensure me access to my target population and any necessary data. However, in
practice, gaining access to some individual parent respondents and school administrators
proved to be more difficult than I had originally anticipated. 1 experienced a variety of
difficulties with respondents when collecting data and on several occasions I had to devise
contingency plans to overcome these barriers. While the management of the DPS School of
Choice Office was cooperative, some of the DPS parent and family liaisons proved hesitant to
grant me an individual interview on the record and referred me back to the very managers
that I had already talked with.
The other organizations and community groups previously mentioned proved to be
great resources in providing access to parents but on several occasions, I was provided such
access with the understanding that 1 would assist these organizations with some of their own
work also concerning school choice. For example, I assisted CHCREO with first and second
year evaluation efforts for a grant they received from a local private foundation to assess the
impact of the Univision/CHCREO Yo Creo: Cambio, Accion y Education, English
translation: 1 Believe: Change, Action, and Education, campaign on parents who joined
82