Providence City Survey, September 2001

Why Providence Parents Send Their Children to
Private Schools, and What Would Bring Them Back

By Darrell M. West

Taubman Center for Public Policy
Brown University
September, 2001

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Methodology
  • The Population of Private School Attendees
  • Why Children Are Sent to Private Schools
  • Past Attendance at Public Schools
  • Future Participation in Public Schools
  • Public School Changes That Would Attract Private School Attendees
  • Appendix: Survey Questions and Responses

Executive Summary

According to records maintained by the Providence School Department, there were 4,614 children living within the city last year who attended private schools. This figure represents nearly 20 percent of the current public school population within Providence. In order to investigate why parents sent their children to private elementary and secondary schools, we undertook a telephone survey on September 22 to 24, 2001 of 423 Providence parents who send children to private schools. The survey was commissioned by the Providence School Department.

Our survey investigated a number of different questions such as what were the factors that influenced city residents to place their child in a private school, what their experience had been with public schools, whether they would consider sending their children to a public school, and what public school changes would encourage them to put their child in a Providence district school.

Among the highlights of our findings were the following:

  1. of the 4,614 Providence students who attend private schools, the most popular private schools are Bishop McVinney with 275 students attending, Wheeler with 229 students, LaSalle with 196 students, Henry Barnard with 194 students, Blessed Sacrament with 194 students, and Moses Brown with 193 students.
  2. 68 percent of survey respondents indicate that there are changes in Providence schools that would make them consider sending their children to a public elementary or secondary school
  3. the changes that would encourage them to send their children to a public school include smaller class sizes (20 percent), safer schools (15 percent), and better trained teachers (9 percent)
  4. 8 percent opt out of the public schools during preschool or kindergarten, 41 percent do so during grades one to five, 28 percent do so during grades six to eight, and 22 percent do so during grades nine to twelve
  5. the most important factors in decisions to send their children to private schools were teacher quality (90 percent), the personal attention their child receives (89 percent), the child's safety (86 percent), the overall academic reputation of the school (84 percent), and the school's responsiveness to parents and students (83 percent)
  6. the category showing the biggest difference between males and females was the importance attached to religious education. Women were more likely than men to rate this factor as very important to their decision to send children to private schools
  7. minorities were more likely than whites to say class size, having diverse courses and a diverse staff, student mix, religious education, extra-curricular activities, good building facilities, bilingual education, and sports programs were very important to their school choice decisions
  8. 43 percent of parents indicated that at least one of their children had attended a public school in the past
  9. only 7 percent said they had applied to a Providence public school but been denied admission
  10. when asked whether they planned to send their child to a Providence public school in the future, 26 percent indicated they planned to do so
  11. of those who said they wanted to rely on a public school in the future, 45 named Classical, 4 said Mt. Pleasant, 4 said Hope, 3 said Edmund Flynn, 3 said Nathanael Greene, 2 said Gilbert Stuart, 2 said Kennedy, 1 said J.B. Clinton, and 1 said Martin Luther King, Jr.
  12. the most popular general change in public schools that would attract private school students was programs for gifted students (named by 58 percent of parents), followed by reading programs (48 percent) after school programs (42 percent), and new computers and Internet access (25 percent).

Methodology

This survey was undertaken at the John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University. Respondents were drawn from a data base compiled by the Providence School Department of city residents who sent their child during the academic year 2000-2001 to a private school. From the 4,614 Providence children who attended a private elementary or secondary school, we drew a sample and conducted interviews with 423 parents of private school attendees. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish (where relevant) in order to reach as many respondents as possible. The interviews occurred on September 22 to 24, 2001. Overall, the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

As shown on the table below, the survey sample approximates the overall population of individuals based on sex and race. Fifty-one percent of the sample was male and 49 percent was female. In terms of race and ethnicity, 62 percent were white, 19 percent were black, 13 percent were Hispanic, 1 percent were Asian, and 5 percent were not identified


Sample

Population

Sex

   

-male

51%

51%

-female

49%

49

Race

   

-white

62

57

-black

19

20

-Hispanic

13

20

-Asian

1

3

-Am Indian

0

0

-Unknown

5

0

The Population of Private School Attendees

Before proceeding with a description of the survey results, we tabulated the Providence numbers for the population of 4,614 private school students as a whole to see where they were attending school during the academic year 2000-2001. As shown in the following table, the most popular private schools among Providence residents were Bishop McVinney with 275 students attending, Wheeler with 229 students, LaSalle with 196 students, Henry Barnard with 194 students, Blessed Sacrament with 194 students, and Moses Brown with 193 students.

Dispelling the idea that Providence residents who attend private schools are part of a "white flight" phenomenon, data collected by the School Department demonstrate that only 57 percent of city dwellers who attend private elementary or secondary schools are white, while 20 percent are black, 20 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent are Asian. There is little difference based on gender as 51 percent of Providence residents attending private schools are male, while 49 percent are female.

Number of Providence Students Attending Various Private Schools

Bishop McVinney

275

Wheeler

229

LaSalle

196

Henry Barnard

194

Blessed Sacrament

194

Moses Brown

193

Holy Ghost

166

Gordon

164

St. Patrick

148

St. Pius

133

St. Matthew

128

Holy Name

126

Paul Cuffee

124

St. Ann

124

St. Bartholomew

109

St. Mary-Bayview

108

St. Mary

105

Community Prep

105

Lincoln

96

St. Augustine

96

Met Sch-Dexter St

93

Prov Hebrew Day

90

St. Thomas

90

Schechter

88

St Paul-Cranston

76

UCAP

76

St. Rafael

76

Out of State

64

Met Sch-Downtown

61

Highlander

61

San Miguel

45

Prov Country Day

44

Bradley Hospital

42

Prov Head St-Cianci

30

Prov Head St-McMi

30

St. Mary-Pawtucket

30

Sophia Academy

29

St. Rocco

28

RI Sch for Deaf

28

Bishop Hendricken

24

Meeting St

23

School One

22

St. Mary-Cranston

22

St. Mary Campus

22

Day Spr Christian

21

Valley C Comm

20

Bishop Keough

19

Montessori

19

Harmony Hill

19

Barrington Christian

17

Prov Head St-Frnsh

17

Wellspring

17

Valley P1

15

Sacred Heart

15

St. Andrews

15

Valley P2

14

Ctr Ind Training

14

Spurwink

13

St. Margaret-Eprov

13

Groden

11

Cranston Center

12

Ocean Tides

10

Project Vision

10

Cranston-Johnston

10

Other Schools

106

 

In looking at the grade level of these private school attendees, 8 percent opt out of the public schools during preschool or kindergarten, 41 percent do so during grades one to five, 28 percent do so during grades six to eight, and 22 percent do so during grades nine to twelve (see table below).

Grade Level of Private School Attendees

Grade Level of Private School Attendees

Percentage

Morning Preschool

0%

Afternoon Preschool

0

All Day Preschool

3

Morning Kindergarten

0

Afternoon Kindergarten

0

All Day Kindergarten

5

1

8

2

8

3

9

4

8

5

8

6

10

7

9

8

9

9

6

10

5

11

5

12

6

Eighty-eight percent of these private school children are enrolled in regular classrooms, 10 percent are in special education programs, and 2 percent are in bilingual or English as a Second Language educational programs.

Why Children Are Sent to Private Schools

Given the number of students leaving public schools, we wanted to inquire why parents choose private schools over public ones. As part of our survey, we asked Providence parents to tell us how important each of 16 factors were in their decision to send their children to a private school. The following table shows the percentage of parents indicating that each feature was "very important" in their schooling decision. The most important factors were teacher quality (90 percent), the personal attention their child receives (89 percent), the child's safety (86 percent), the overall academic reputation of the school (84 percent), the school's responsiveness to parents and students (83 percent), class size (78 percent), diverse courses (64 percent), diverse staff (52 percent), student mix (46 percent), religious education (45 percent), extra-curricular activities (42 percent), building facilities (40 percent), location (39 percent), bilingual education (28 percent), sports (26 percent), and other (16 percent).

Sixteen percent said there was some other reason behind their decision to rely on private schools. Among the factors cited by particular individuals were having an arts program (3 people), preferring single-sex schools (2 people), school uniforms (2 people), being Catholic (1 person), expectations and demands placed on students (1 person), gang activity at the public school (1 person), and more structure and discipline (1 person).

In looking at the breakdowns by gender, we found few significant differences by sex. As shown below, the category showing the biggest difference between males and females was in the importance attached to religious education, with women being more likely than men to rate the factor as very important to their decision to send children to private schools. But for most of the other categories, differences between males and females were within a few percentage points of one another.


Male

Female

Teacher Quality

93%

90%

Personal Attention

90

90

Safety

87

88

Academic Reputation

88

83

Responsiveness

86

83

Class Size

79

78

Diverse Courses

65

64

Diverse Staff

55

52

Student Mix

45

50

Religious Education

42

50

Extra-Curricular

41

44

Bldg Facilities

39

43

Location

39

40

Bilingual

26

31

Sports

28

24

In contrast, white and minority parents showed more significant differences in factors seen as important to their school choice. For example, minorities were more likely than whites to say class size, having diverse courses and a diverse staff, student mix, religious education, extra-curricular activities, good building facilities, bilingual education, and sports programs were very important.


White

Minority

Teacher Quality

92%

90%

Personal Attention

90

90

Safety

88

88

Academic Reputation

85

86

Responsiveness

84

86

Class Size

74

86

Diverse Courses

61

72

Diverse Staff

44

71

Student Mix

44

54

Religious Education

40

58

Extra-Curricular

35

56

Bldg Facilities

33

54

Location

37

44

Bilingual

24

36

Sports

23

32

There were few significant differences in factors seen as important to school choice between elementary, middle, and high school levels. Religious education was rated as a more important factor in elementary than middle or high schools. Extra-curricular activities were seen as most important at the high school level.

Elementary

Middle

High School

Teacher Quality

90%

90%

96%

Personal Attention

92

86

85

Safety

90

84

85

Academic Reputation

83

86

92

Responsiveness

86

81

88

Class Size

79

75

85

Diverse Courses

63

64

77

Diverse Staff

55

54

42

Student Mix

49

49

50

Religious Education

53

43

36

Extra-Curricular

40

38

54

Bldg Facilities

45

39

38

Location

40

42

42

Bilingual

30

23

19

Sports

22

27

19

Past Attendance at Public Schools

Forty-three percent of parents indicated that at least one of their children had attended a public school in the past, while 52 percent had not. When asked which public school they had gone to, 22 said public schools outside of Providence, 20 said Martin Luther King, Jr. 16 said Classical, 9 said Robert Kennedy, Jr. 9 said Edmund Flynn, 5 said Henry Barnard, 5 said Gilbert Stewart, 4 people said Broad Street, 4 said Pleasant View, 3 said Mary Fogarty, 3 said Mt. Pleasant, 2 said Nathan Bishop, 2 said Nathanael Greene, 2 said Veazie St., 2 said Fox Point, 2 said Windmill St., 2 said George West, 1 said Hope, 1 said Feinstein, 1 said Central High School, 1 person mentioned Asa Messa, 1 said Vartan Gregorian, and 1 said Webster Avenue.

We asked how long their child had attended the public school. Nine percent said one year, eight percent said two years, and 10 percent indicated three or four years. Three percent had attended public schools seven or more years.

One Year

9%

Two

8

Three

5

Four

5

Five

4

Six

4

Seven

1

Eight

1

Nine or More

1

No Answer or Had Not Attended Public School

62

Only 7 percent said they had applied to a Providence public school but been denied admission. Eighty-seven percent indicated they had not applied to a public school and been denied, while six percent gave no answer. Of those who had been denied admission, 12 people said the school they wanted their children to attend had been Classical, 6 named Greene, 3 people said it was Flynn, 2 said Kennedy, and 1 said Mt. Pleasant.

In looking at the breakdowns by sex and race, the parents of minority students were more likely than whites to say their children had attended public school in the past. The parents of male students were more likely than females to say their children had applied, but not been admitted to a public school.

Have Attended Public School in Past

 

-male

44%

-female

44

-white

40

-minority

51

Applied but Not Admitted to Public School

 

-male

11%

-female

4

-white

7

-minority

7

Parents of students at the high school (48 percent) and middle school (51 percent) were more likely than those in elementary school (35 percent) to indicate they had children who attended a public school in the past. Elementary school parents (4 percent) were less likely than middle (8 percent) or high school parents (8 percent) to say they had children who applied but were not admitted to a public school.

Future Participation in Public Schools

When asked whether they planned to send their child to a Providence public school in the future, 26 percent indicated they did plan to, 55 percent said they did not, and 19 percent were unsure. Of those who said they did want to rely on a public school, 45 named Classical, 4 said Mt. Pleasant, 4 said Hope, 3 said Edmund Flynn, 3 said Nathanael Greene, 2 said Gilbert Stuart, 2 said Robert Kennedy, Jr. 1 said B. J. Clanton, and 1 said Martin Luther King, Jr.

There were no differences in sex between parents saying they planned to send their child to a public school. Twenty-five percent of males said they did, the same as females. However, minority students (34 percent) were more likely than whites (20 percent) to have parents who said they would send their child to a public school in the future.

Parents of middle school children (35 percent) were most likely to say they planned to send their child to a public school in the future, compared to elementary school parents (25 percent) or high school parents (16 percent).

Public School Changes That Would Attract Private School Attendees

Sixty-eight percent said that there were ways that the public elementary or secondary schools could change that would lead them to consider sending their children there. Twenty percent said there were not such ways to change, and 12 percent were unsure.

There were no significant differences by sex or race. Seventy percent of males and females said there were changes that would allow them to think about sending their children to a public school. Seventy-one percent of whites and 68 percent of minorities reported the same sentiment.

Few differences emerged based on grade of the student. Seventy-two percent of parents of high school children said they would consider sending their children to a public school, compared to 68 percent of parents of middle school children, and 71 percent of parents of elementary school children.

As shown in the following table, 20 percent said smaller class sizes when asked what that change would be. Fifteen percent said safer schools and 9 percent said better trained teachers.

Changes That Would Bring Private School Attendees Back to Public Schools

Smaller class sizes

20%

Safer Schools

15

Better Trained Teachers

9

More Attention to Children

5

More Parental Involvement

2

Better Neighborhoods for Schools

1

We also asked whether any one of four changes (special programs for gifted students, programs for enhancing reading skills, after school programs designed to add to the educational experience of students, and new computers and Internet access) would encourage private school parents to send their child to a Providence public school. The most popular change was programs for gifted students (named by 58 percent of parents), followed by reading programs (48 percent) after school programs (42 percent), and new computers and Internet access (25 percent).

When looking at these factors broken down by sex and race, there were several important differences by race. Minorities were more likely than whites to say they would consider public schools if there were programs for gifted students, reading programs, after-school programs, and new computers and Internet access.

Would Consider Public School if Gifted Programs

 

-male

60%

-female

61

-white

53

-minority

75

Would Consider Public School if Reading Program

 

-male

49

-female

50

-white

40

-minority

69

Would Consider Public School if After School Programs

 

-male

42

-female

47

-white

35

-minority

63

Would Consider Public School if New Computers and Internet Access

 

-male

29

-female

22

-white

19

-minority

39

Parents of high school children were the least likely to say reading programs or after school programs would lead them to send their children to a public school, compared to middle or elementary school parents.

Would Consider Public School if Gifted Programs

 

-elementary

61%

-middle

60

-high school

52

Would Consider Public School if Reading Program

 

-elementary

50

-middle

51

-high school

24

Would Consider Public School if After School Programs

 

-elementary

45

-middle

45

-high school

32

Would Consider Public School if New Computers and Internet Access

 

-elementary

23

-middle

30

-high school

20

Appendix: Survey Questions and Responses

How many children do you have who attend an elementary or secondary school? 42% 1 child, 40% two children, 12% three children, 6% four or more children

How many of these children attend public elementary or secondary schools? 74% none, 17% one child, 6% two children, 1% three children, 2% four or more children

How many of these children attend private elementary or secondary schools? 7% none, 54% one child, 31% two children, 7% three children, 1% four or more children

We are interested in finding out why you send your child to a private school. Please tell us how important each of the following factors are to your decision to send your child to a private school: 1) very important 2) somewhat important 3) not very important 8) don't know 9) no answer

a) quality of building facilities: 40% very important, 37% somewhat important, 20% not very important, 3% don't know or no answer

b) class size: 78% very important, 16% somewhat important, 4% not very important, 2% don't know or no answer

c) child's safety: 86% very important, 8% somewhat important, 3% not very important, 3% don't know or no answer

d) Teacher quality: 90% very important, 7% somewhat important, 1% not very important, 2% don't know or no answer

e) Student mix: 46% very important, 34% somewhat important, 16% not very important, 4% don't know or no answer

f) Location close to home: 39% very important, 32% somewhat important, 26% not very important, 3% don't know or no answer

g) Sports program: 26% very important, 37% somewhat important, 33% not very important, 1% don't know or no answer

h) Overall academic reputation: 84% very important, 12% somewhat important, 2% not very important, 23% don't know or no answer

i) the personal attention your child receives: 89% very important, 7% somewhat important, 1% not very important, 3% don't know or no answer

j) extra-curricular activities: 42% very important, 36% somewhat important, 19% not very important, 3% don't know or no answer

k) bilingual programs: 28% very important, 33% somewhat important, 36% not very important, 3% don't know or no answer

l) availability of religious education: 45% very important, 19% somewhat important, 32% not very important, 4% don't know or no answer

m) school responsiveness to parents and students: 83% very important, 12% somewhat important, 1% not very important, 4% don't know or no answer

n) diverse courses in the curriculum: 64% very important, 27% somewhat important, 5% not very important, 4% don't know or no answer

o) diverse staff and administration: 52% very important, 30% somewhat important, 14% not very important, 4% don't know or no answer

p) other: 16% mentioned some other factor

Have any of your children who attend private school ever attended a public school? 43% yes, 52% no, 5% don't know or no answer

If yes, which public school did they attend? (see report)

How many years did they attend public school? 9% one year, 8% two years, 5% three years, 5% four years, 4% five years, 4% six years, 1% seven years, 1% eight years, 1% nine years, 62% no answer or didn't attend public school

Did your child apply to a Providence public school but not gain admission? 7% yes, 87% no, 6% don't know or no answer

If yes, which public school was that? (see report)

Do you plan to send your child to a Providence public school in the future? 26% yes, 55% no, 19% don't know or no answer

If yes, which one? (see report)

Are there any ways that the public elementary or secondary schools could change that would lead you to consider sending your child there? 68% yes, 20% no, 12% don't know or no answer

If yes, what would those changes be? (open-ended responses coded into the following categories) 20% smaller class sizes, 15% safer schools, 9% better trained teachers, 5% more attention to children, 2% more parental involvement, 1% better neighborhoods for schools

Would it encourage you to send your child to a Providence public school if the school had new computers and Internet access? 25% yes, 65% no, 10% don't know or no answer

Would it encourage you to send your child to a Providence public school if the school had after-school programs designed to add to the educational experience of students? 42% yes, 46% no, 12% don't know or no answer

Would it encourage you to send your child to a Providence public school if the school had special programs for enhancing reading skills? 48% yes, 42% no, 10% don't know or no answer

Would it encourage you to send your child to a Providence public school if the school had special programs for gifted students? 58% yes, 31% no, 11% don't know or no answer

Darrell M. West