NEPC Review: School Sector and Satisfaction: Evidence from a Nationally Representative Sample (Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, October 2019)
School Sector and Satisfaction: Evidence from a Nationally Representative Sample, a report published by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, argues that private and charter schools have a strong effect on parents’ reported satisfaction with their children’s education. It explains this effect by pointing to competitive pressures and the importance of reducing the monopoly power of the traditional public school system. The report’s analyses are based on a nationally representative sample from the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES). However, the report suffers from two major flaws. First, it saturates the important analyses with over 230 covariates. This amounts to a “garbage can” regression modeling approach that obscures more than it illuminates; variables are misspecified and results are sensitive to the oversaturation of the regression model. A reader versed in statistical modeling will have no confidence in the substance of the findings. Second, and even more importantly, the report’s decision to focus on just the “very satisfied” overstates the effect of private and charter schools on parent satisfaction. Almost 90% of public school parents are satisfied with their child’s education, and the report’s decision to focus on just the “very satisfied” appears to be a deliberate modeling choice to greatly overstate the purported effects of private and charter schools on parent satisfaction. This appearance is confirmed by the report’s problematic use of past research literature, again suggesting an interest in findings that will support advocacy for curtailing the supply of public education. For each of these reasons, the report is of little or no use to policymakers and others with an interest in understanding parent satisfaction associated with school choice.