Market research on how Oakland families pick schools

A group of students from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business want to know why some families chose an OUSD education for their children (and exactly how they arrived at that conclusion) and why others opted for charter, parochial or independent schools.

Their online survey is open until midnight Sunday for all Oakland residents with children who are 22 or younger. You can take it in English or Spanish.

The survey asks questions about perceptions of safety, cleanliness, enrichment programs and school demographics at each of the schools the family considered. It will be interesting to see those findings, as well as the resulting recommendations to the Oakland school district about its “messaging” strategy and public image.

Michelle Florendo, one of the student-researchers, pointed out a consequence of school choice that we’ve discussed on this blog before: “A lot of public school principals are finding themselves in a position where they need to market their schools.”

This leads me to two sets of questions:

What are your top factors when choosing a school for your child? How much of your decision rides on a school’s reputation?

Should public schools be spending more of their time and resources on marketing than they do now? Do they have a choice, under current policies?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://montclairoak.com MontclairOak

    We look forward to learning the findings here, and whether there will be surprises or not. How do you market against current perceptions as well as realities? In the hills, there’s a hang-wringing about public vs. other options. You know the perceptions: “okay” for elementary schools; “depends” for middle school; and “question marks” for high school.

  • Oakland Educator

    If the plan is to only provide the survey online, then I think the research will be severely limited because many/most families in the flatlands don’t have access to computers. Sure they could go to a public library, but this is unlikely. These are the families who are the most disenfranchised and the least heard from. The research is much needed and I commend the efforts, but I’d also like to encourage the researchers to consider ways they could broaden their sampling.

  • Leslie

    I filled out the survey, but came to a glitch, I think, with the next to last page, where I was not permitted to enter more than 3 (or 4, maybe) answers but yet could not go on to next, requiring me to exit the survey or, as I discovered, click on all answers, but in a “ladder” sort of arrangement. Ms. Murphy, have you had other feedback reqarding this question? Was it just my computer? It was very odd.

  • Sue

    Interesting survey. Since they were asking for most recent school decision, I filled it out from the perspective of deciding which middle shcool my now-7th grader would attend. I’m seriously thinking of repeating the survey from the perspective of deciding which high school would best serve my now-senior son with autism would be attending.

    The point about researchers needing to broaden their sampling is a very good one, Oakland Educator.

    And Leslie, I didn’t have any problem with the ranking-the-factors survey question, but maybe there was a problem with it earlier, and they fixed it before I got to it.

  • amom

    Interesting. I had no problem filling it out. I thought it strange that a business school did not include cost as a factor in school choice when choosing between OUSD, parochial, and private schools. It certainly was a huge factor in our decision about where to send our son for high school next year.

  • Joan Ferrari

    I am an Oakland resident with two children in OUSD schools? Why is it that I only know about the survey after reading Katy’s blog?

  • Michelle Florendo

    Oakland Educator: Thanks for your comment, as we had thought through the exact point you mentioned. For this project, we are only fielding the survey online due to limited resources, and will recognize how this impacts our sample in our findings. Hopefully if the findings are really useful, we’ll be able to get the resources we’d need to do another project where we can field a paper survey.

  • WestOaklandRez

    I really hope no REAL action will be taken from a survey such as this. It might be FUN to read but how valid can it actually be – when most oakland parents/guardians don’t even know about it and since it is online only – many can’t even access it. PLUS – whats to stop a stranger from filling it out falsely. Some might say – who would do such a thing – but i’ve seen worse and there’s lots of out of work – bored and/or blaming people out there.

    Good luck to their research, I get the need for a degree but i really hope OUSD doesn’t go pay thousands of dollars for something that’s not very inclusive or verifiable. Or even if its free info – doesn’t make changes based on outcomes from this – again might be a fun read as long as the right questions are asked about who was or was not included or what was or was not asked.

  • Joan Ferrari

    I just spent 45 minutes trying to do the survey, but it’s not letting me answer some of the fields, and won’t let me skip them. Is there someone to contact, to let them know?

  • http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us Rebecca Hopkins

    OUSD is paying nothing for the survey. The Haas students are volunteering a significant amount of time to this project. While imperfect, the data they collect will provide us with a start and we are grateful for their work.

  • Donna

    For those having problems with the survey: Very near the end is a page where you have to rank things like safety, test scores, school appearance, and the like. You cannot rank any variable with the same degree of importance (or lack thereof) even if you feel they are of equal importance. Hope this helps.

  • Gordon Danning

    Rebecca Hopkins:

    “[T]he data they collect will provide us with a start”? Really? It appears that even an 8th grader should know otherwise: http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:Gvc4B-Vacf0J:www.glencoe.com/sec/math/prealg/prealg04/add_lesson/using_sampling_pa1.pdf+%22voluntary+response+sample%22+why+invalid&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShCG2MSYHvF0OYtFAAsPdlLWG1XO5JP2aOBukVfg16rDkHaBs8RqDVKrSsggl33E7zaYG5k7BzipruLVAZWeHkCRqRk1QDzDTRgwcWIFBSdS88kYUM9kH96egOtzF_gs_rspNRp&sig=AHIEtbQSr7H-ov8g_fXO59yvdK6QLlZ15A

    Do you have any evidence that a voluntary response sample such as this one has any value? BTW, a citation to a legitimate source re: statistics is required for an adequate response.

  • Joan Ferrari

    Donna- thanks for the tip about ranking things toward the end of the survey. I was able to get through to the end.

  • CarolineSF

    Michelle and colleagues, are you specifically studying Oakland, or studying issues around parent school choice in general? Here in San Francisco*, our district has been all-choice for several years, and the public-private debate has heated up as a trend has grown for advantaged families to return to public. In my time (my kids started SFUSD in 1996 and 1999), the overall climate was for private-school families to scorn and pity public-school families, But now those who choose private school are generally on the defensive (for the obvious reasons — questions of racism, elitism and status-seeking, plus the looming question of whether this is a smart consumer decision).

    The organization Parents for Public Schools-San Francisco, which started up in 1999, has been a big influence — http://www.ppssf.org. Another source is the high-traffic blog TheSFKFiles, http://thesfkfiles.blogspot.com/

    *I read Katy Murphy’s blog because Oakland is such a hotbed of “school reform,” which I follow with a highly skeptical eye.

  • CarolineSF

    …Just to be clear, it’s not that only families with resources matter, obviously. But when those families — who have the full range of choices, unlike disadvantaged families — are increasingly choosing public, that has impact on public education overall, and on all students.

  • AC Mom

    I cosign to Response #2. Although the researchers may intend to do a broader sampling, there have been many instances where “preliminary” research has been used to justify broad policy changes. That is not the fault of the reseachers, but it is something that gives me pause.