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Asking What Parents Want from Schools, Fordham Offers Interesting Market Niches

Once upon a time, there was a boring chick flick called What Women Want (don’t ask me what it was about, but I needed an easy segue). Today the Fordham Institute has taken a slightly different tack, with the release of the paper What Parents Want. They worked with Harris Interactive to conduct an extensive marketing survey to see what families might be looking for when they choose a school.

The idea is an interesting one, and the report really worth studying if you’re looking to start a school, especially in more populated areas. In the end, Fordham’s team identified six major categories, or “market niches,” that emerged, with certain characteristics of parents more likely to fit into one or more of the following:

  1. Pragmatists: If any of the six is being underserved by the current range of school options, my instincts tell me it’s this one more than any other.
  2. Jeffersonians: No, smart aleck. We’re not talking about those interested in upward mobility, particularly in relation to popular 1970s sitcoms. Think about a different century.
  3. Test-Score Hawks: Being young and occasionally naive, my hopes were dashed. Apparently, it’s not referring to a new, cutting-edge group of comic book heroes for education policy geeks.
  4. Multiculturalists: This group might include people upset that Denver Public Schools went back on its radical teacher evaluation policy language.
  5. Expressionists: If the term conjures up images of an art gallery or concert hall, let me just say you’re on the right track in understanding what they’re getting at here.
  6. Strivers: Not just limited to a recently renamed network of successful Denver charter schools serving low-income Hispanic students. More than a coincidence, though; some overlap seems likely.

Read the report to get the serious scoop. For me, it begins with the clever cover animation, where we see a cartoon mom pushing a grocery cart with a child riding inside as she attempts to select from a number of cereal boxes that carry the six labels above. As my Education Policy Center friends long have sought to do with the user-friendly School Choice for Kids website, perhaps we are seeing more parents become educated and savvy school “choosers.”

Even so, you’ll still always have the grumpy naysayers. If you can spare 24 minutes of your life, not to mention a calm and clear mental state, then check out this recent Choice Media TV interview with Confessions of a Bad Teacher author John Owens. Among other tenuous arguments, he compares school choice with letting people drive on whatever side of the road they want to:

And don’t get him started on comparing schools to cereal shopping! If he were a parent choosing a school (but why should they be allowed to?), I guess he’d be much more inclined to fit into Market Niche Number 4 than, say, Number 3. But then again, you probably don’t want to burn away so many precious minutes of your life watching him talk just to confirm my observation.

Anyway, Fordham’s new paper gives some potentially valuable insights to those of us who believe choice is a good thing. Now I await the sequel: What Young Edublogging Prodigies Want. I’m waiting by the phone for my own personal market survey. It could be a long time….