• Practical Political Consulting/Marketing Resource
▫ Develop sample process
▫ Do the door to door survey
• Qwaku & Associates
▫ Research design
▫ Focus group facilitation
▫ Data analysis
▫ Final report
• Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications
▫ Coordinate activities
• Traditional phone survey not possible
• Needed to go door to door
• PPC developed random sample of 500 census
• Screened for children
• Survey teams visited 292 blocks during summer
• Gathered data on 1,073 households, 1,699
• Survey found focus group potentials
Unprecedented data about family
school shopping behavior
• 1,073 families; 1,699 school age children
• Sample looks much like we would expect based
on census, other sources of information
• Would never have obtained this relevant a
sample using any other methods
• Can be broken into zip code, other geographic
and demographic cohorts
Race and Ethnicity
DPS 11/2009 2010 Census Our
Student ages 5 -19 sample
African 88 83.9 85.2
Latino 8.3 8.4 8.6
White 2.5 4.6 2.6
Respondents household income
All Assigned DPS
$10,000 or less 27.4% 31.3%
$10,000 - 20,000 25.6% 30.7%
$20,000 - 30,000 15.1% 12.6%
$30,000 - 50,000 21.0% 16.8%
$50,000 or more 10.8% 8.6%
Respondents education attainment
All Assigned DPS
Less than High School 15.3% 20.3%
High School/GED 29.7% 32.1%
Some post secondary/ 29.1% 29.3%
Associates Degree 15.2% 12.4%
Bachelors Degree or more 10.5% 5.9%
Respondents time at address
Time at Current Address %
Less than six months 4.7
Six months to a year 5.6
A year to three years 23.9
Three years to five years 27.2
Five years or more 38.6
Survey Answered Key Questions:
• How many parents are shopping for schools in
Detroit, allowing school managers to efficiently
provide options for children?
• What are the socio-demographic characteristics of
• When and how do parents shop for schools?
• What do parents look for in a school?
• What are the likely barriers to shopping for some
• How can interested stakeholders better serve all
Profile of shoppers
• Veteran: Have enrolled child in an alternative
to assigned Detroit public schools in the past
and present, and reported that they are highly
likely to consider multiple
options, public, charter or private.
• Emerging: Currently have a child in an
alternative to assigned DPS, but did not report
shopping for schools in the recent past.
Profile of non-shoppers
• Potential: Never shopped for alternatives, but
have characteristics that predict future school
• Unlikely: Never shopped; do not display
characteristics that predict school shopping in
What market looks like today
Current school attending Percent
Assigned Detroit Public School 55.0
Detroit public magnet school 5.1
Public charter school 22.5
Public school outside of Detroit 15.2
Private or home school 2.5
What market looks like today
Current school PreK- 6-8 9-12
Assigned Detroit Public 55.2 % 44.1 % 60.4 %
Detroit public magnet 2.4 9.3 6.6
Public charter school 27.3 26.7 12.8
Public school outside of 13.7 16.5 16.9
Private or home school 1.3 3.4 3.3
When are decisions made?
• Parents generally shop for schools between
May and August.
• Most parents begin the school shopping
process during the late spring and make their
final decision during the summer.
• Non-shoppers begin the process later; many do
not make final decision until just before school
What do respondents think about their
Item Very Sat Dis Very
In General 34.9 % 51.8 % 7.6 % 5.6 %
Teacher Quality 34.8 53.3 7.5 4.4
Academic Performance 38.0 48.4 9.4 3.7
Safety & Discipline 38.6 45.0 10.9 8.1
Interaction with Parents 38.1 46.3 10.1 5.4
Accommodate student 35.0 49.0 10.4 5.7
Extracurriculars 35.4 47.7 10.5 6.4
Location/Transportation 40.5 46.1 8.6 4.8
What do parents shop for?
“Top 3” characteristics combined
Academic performance 61.3
Safety and discipline 49.9
Academic program 45.3
Extra-curricular activities 37.2
Convenient location 32.8
School and class size 16.1
What do parents shop for?
Most important characteristic
Academic performance 39.8
Safety and discipline 14.8
Academic program 12.9
Convenient location 10.0
Extra-curricular activities 9.0
School and class size 5.7
What do parents shop for?
What can help your child succeed?
None: Children are doing their best 11.0
Better quality teachers 17.2
Better quality school 15.8
Extra tutoring 14.9
Smaller class sizes 8.9
After school/extracurricular program 9.2
Improved discipline 9.2
Better school facilities 7.4
Language assistance 3.2
High School Students Influence
• 11.7 percent of high school students were the
primary decision maker about the school they
• High school students value a school’s theme,
advanced placement courses or programs, a
college-readiness focus, internships or workplace
visits and safety.
• Receiving literature in the 8th grade, attending
open houses motivated them to choose schools.
Sources of information when
• 61% of respondents said they spoke to other
parents when choosing a new school for their
• 49% said they said considered school
• 38% said they attended a school fair
• 31% said they obtained information from some
other source such as a website or school guide
Focus group conversations
• Combined “Veteran” and “Emerging” shoppers
into an “Ever” shopper category
• Did a separate group with Latino parents in SW
• Tend to look at three or more schools before
making a decision
• Start shopping process earlier (May/June) and
complete earlier (August)
• Reputation counts highly, particularly among
• Use friends, family, other parents as info sources
• Emphasize importance of teachers and
connection with them
• Test scores/grades not as important
• Homework can be as important a measure as
grades or test scores
Some parents know what they want
• Ever and potential shoppers knew the kind of
school they wanted for their child before or
during selection process
• Unlikely shoppers tended to figure it out after
child was enrolled
Defining quality? All said:
• Safe and secure environment; good discipline
• Active communications with parents
• Good teachers
• Small class sizes/one-on-one attention
• High academic standards and performance
Some interesting comments
• 2/3rd of Potential/Unlikely focus group
participants said union representation
▫ Only 1/3rd of Ever shoppers
• Security is tricky
▫ Some parents said metal detectors/uniformed
guards are off-putting
Resources that might help
• Widespread feeling little up-to-date objective
• Web is a tool – but not meeting needs
• School visits seen as important, but
appointments a problem
Barriers to Shopping:
Two Types of Non-Shoppers
• Those who are unhappy with their children’s
schools but were not aware of or confident in
the other options available to them.
• Those who are generally aware of other options
and who are not particularly satisfied with their
child’s current school but are either very loyal
to DPS or face resource constraints that
prohibit them from pursuing alternatives.
Loyalty to Failing Schools
• High degree of satisfaction with current school
• Fear that high achieving schools won’t prepare
students to be tough enough for city living.
• Loyalty to teachers unions
What Will Help Parents Shop?
• Parents want to have mentors who can help
them navigate the shopping process. We should
connect veteran shoppers with emerging and
• Potential shoppers were especially interested in
visiting schools and observing teaching and
These families are eager to find the best
Veteran educational opportunities for their
59% New school operators must help this group
• Wolf Stewart page 5
better understand quality schools.
These families appear to be eager to shop, particularly
Emerging for public schools. They conduct a limited search and
seek schools with characteristics commonly associated
with private or high performing public schools – small
12% class sizes, high academic standards and safety.
With better information about quality
Potential educational options for their children and
adequate support to pursue them, these
8% families are very likely to consider new
For a variety of reasons, including lack of
reliable information, transportation and family
Unlikely resources, and loyalty to DPS, most members
of this group currently lack motivation and
21% wherewithal to pursue new school options for
Michigan Future Schools President Louis Glazer assembled a team to determine how best to do the research, and then how to analyze the data obtained. Marketing Resource Group, a Lansing communication firm with a strong polling operation, and Practical Political Consulting, a Lansing firm that does political list procurement and survey work, developed a process for drawing a good sample of blocks that teams could go door to door to during the summer of 2011, asking an extensive battery of questions. The work went well; most families were very interesting in participating and eager to provide information that could help improve schools in the city.Qwaku & Associates were engaged to develop the questionnaire, and then analyze the results and prepare a final report. The firm has researched shopping habits within Milwaukee and the District of Columbia, particularly among charter school families.Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, which has worked with Michigan Future on a variety of projects, helped coordinate activities.
The team early on decided that traditional phone survey work would not be helpful, given the large number of Detroit families who are not using landlines today. Practical Political Consulting randomly selected 500 census blocks from around the state, and then used its data bases to determine which were unlikely to have children due to commercial development, abandoned housing, government facilities and other factors. Survey teams were send to 292 blocks, and ended up gathering data from 1,073 households, with 1,699 children. We asked those surveyed if they would be willing to participate in follow up focus groups. Many said yes.We determined at the end of this process that Southwest Detroit had been under sampled, and developed a process to obtain surveys from additional families there, along with focus group participants.This summary will use words like “households” and “parents” for the sake of brevity. Many of those who participated were grand parents or other care givers. The goal of the process was to reach the primary decision maker who determined where the child or children in the home attended school.
The results of this process is an unprecedented wealth of data about family school shopping behavior in a large American city. The Qwaku team reported that in their literature searches, nobody has tried to gain this degree of insight using door-to-door techniques with such an extensive battery of questions. As we reviewed the data at the end of the process and compared it to Census, Detroit Public School and other sources, we found that our efforts to gain a representative sample of the city’s families with school children had worked. We have retained some information that helps us break the information down to geographic areas smaller than the city as a whole, which should be useful for school leaders who are interested in the characteristics of a particular neighborhood.This overview is intended to give a flavor of the kinds of information available in the rich flow of data obtained through the survey and subsequent focus groups. That data is the important piece of the project.
One key factor in determining the validity of the sample is to see if it matches other known data about the school age population in the City of Detroit. Race and ethnicity was one measure we used; our sample was appropriate.
We asked respondents to estimate their household income. In a phone sample, we believe we would have missed many low income families. The door-to-door method was an important improvement over that. We are also able to sort the data in a way that lets us compare, for instance, those families who are sending a child to the “assigned” Detroit public school that would have been the norm in the past to the full sample – or to charter schools, or to DPS magnet schools, or to public schools outside of the city of Detroit. This chart shows that those families sending a child to the “assigned DPS” schools tend to have lower income than the sample as a whole.
We have collected a substantial amount of demographic information on those who participated in the study. This chart looks at the education attainment of the sample as a whole, and compares it to those families who are sending a child to the assigned DPS school in their neighborhood. It shows those who have children in an assigned DPS school tend to have lower education attainment.
As noted, we have information on a large number of key matters that could assist in understanding parent behavior or how best to reach a parent. Access to a vehicle is important if a family would like to send a child to a school not within walking district. This shows nearly 80 percent of parents say they have access to a vehicle all or nearly all the time.
We also asked how long families have been at their current address. Less than 40 percent of families in this survey have been at their current location for five or more years.
The demographic information is only the start of data obtained from the survey. Our goal was to answer these questions.
By looking at where parents said their children were attending school at present or had attended school in the past, we were able to determine that 71 percent of Detroit households had some degree of experience in shopping for a school. In other words, at least one of their children was currently or had been in a school other than the traditional “assigned DPS” school that they would otherwise be attending.
Using several questions, the researchers assigned respondents into four categories, two for “shoppers” and two for “non-shoppers.” Veteran shoppers are those who have demonstrated clear evidence that they are ready to look for the school they think can meet their children needs. Emerging shoppers have a child in an alternative to their assigned DPS school, but haven’t shopped recently.
Non-shoppers also were put into two categories: Those who haven’t shopped in the past, but indicated a “potential” to consider alternative schools in their answers, and those who have not and are “unlikely” to shop in the future.
We found 59 percent of shoppers are veterans, ready and able to put their children into alternative schools.Emerging shoppers made up 12 percent of the sample. Added together, that makes 71 percent of Detroit families ready to consider alternatives to the traditional assigned Detroit Public School in their neighborhood.Potential and unlikely shoppers added up to 29 percent of those interviewed.
Looking at students, it turns out that while 71 percent of families have showed willingness to shop, 55 percent of students in this sample were still in their assigned DPS school. This is an indication that some families may choose a non-traditional school for one or more of their children while still sending a child to the local assigned DPS school – or that some parents may have tried an alternative, but moved a child back into their assigned DPS school. Still, 45 percent of Detroit children in this survey were enrolled in an alternative school, with charter schools and public schools outside of Detroit the two most important options selected.
The richness of the data available can be seen by our ability to break it into school areas. This can be of assistance to school leaders who are at elementary, or a junior high only school, for instance. The move by most charter schools in to the elementary and junior high school grades is readily seen in this chart. One can also see that the older a student is, the more likely he or she will be attending a public school outside of the city.
The survey examined a number of issues that help us better understand parents as shoppers: What they are doing now, what they say they are looking for in a school, some insights into how and when they make the important decision of what school their children will attend.
In the City of Detroit, mothers are the key decision makers in where a child will attend school.
Parents tend to shop for school in the late Spring and Summer. We found that those we defined as “Shoppers” move more quickly in their research and decisions; those who are “Non-shoppers” tend to wait until later.
Most Detroit parents report they are satisfied with their children’s current school, with more than 85 percent reporting they are “very satisfied” or “satisfied.” They also seem to be pleased with teacher quality, and with the academic performance of the schools their children are attending.
We asked parents to give us three characteristics they use to select a school. Academic performance was clearly the leader, followed by safety and discipline and academic program.School and class size and transportation fell down in this list.
Then we asked parents to select just the most important of those three characteristics. When forced to focus on just one issue, academic performance was the clear leader. Extra curricular activities, school and class size and transportation were lower priorities.
We wanted to know what parents thought could best help their children succeed. Better quality teachers and schools led the list.
High school students are somewhat important decision makers in the school selection process, with 11.7 percent of families saying their high school student made the choice of which school he or she attended.
To reach parents with a marketing effort, it is important to know where they get their information on school selection. Other parents are key, as is school performance and reputation. School fairs were used by 38 percent of families.
Parents say they are quite willing to travel relatively long distances to put their child in a school that meets their needs, with more than half saying they will travel more than three miles.
We asked parents whether they were willing to participate in focus groups to help better understand their decision making processes. We ended up combining those who were “Veteran” and “Emerging” shoppers into an “Ever” shopper focus group. We also had focus groups of “Potential” and “Unlikely” shoppers.Due to language issues and other factors, we did separate focus groups of Latino parents in Southwest Detroit.
Those we called “Ever” shoppers told us they were rather intense about their decision making, looking at three or more schools, starting early to ensure they could get children into schools that may have a waiting list, and seeking to place their children into schools with good reputations.
These shopping parents also said they wanted their children in schools where teachers were making connections with them and their children. There seemed to be a level of distrust about test scores and grades. Having children bring home a certain level of homework was an important indicator of a school’s quality to these parents.
The “Ever” and “Potential” focus groups indicated they went into the school shopping process with a set of goals in mind – they kinds of schools they wanted for their children.The “Unlikely” shoppers, by contrast, seemed to be less focused, and were more likely to decide whether a school was good or not for their child only after they had been enrolled for a certain time and had experienced the school.
All of the parents shared some indicators of quality schools:Safe with good discipline.Active communication between parents and teachers and administrators.Quality teachers.Small class sizes that allowed close teacher-student interaction.And high academic standards and performance.
Focus groups also provide some interesting insights that are worth considering. For instance, two-thirds of those parents in the “Non-shopper” category said that they thought it was important that teachers be represented by unions; that was far less a concern for “Ever” shoppers.While security ranked high among concerns of all parents, some are put off by schools that use metal detectors or have uniformed guards.
The focus group participants generally felt at sea in their efforts to make decisions. They indicated they felt they had little access to up-to-date, objective information. The web was used, but parents said they felt it was not meeting all their needs. And while school visits are important tools in making decisions, parents said they sometimes had trouble making an appointment to tour the school of their choice.
The focus groups and other data provide insights into those who are choosing not to choose – the “Non-shoppers.”One group doesn’t like their child’s current school – but say they don’t have information about alternatives, or lack confidence in those alternatives.Another group is not pleased with their current school situation, but remain loyal to the Detroit Public School system. Or they may face constraints, such as transportation, that bind them to their local DPS school.
Some parents say they are satisfied with the quality of their local schools. Others are worried that moving their children from their local school will make their children less prepared for life in Detroit. And as noted earlier, some are loyal to teacher unions as a positive entity.
What can help turn “Non-shoppers” into “Shoppers?”Parents said they want mentors who know how to navigate the process. Linking parents who have already been engaged in the process of shopping to those who have not could be a good tool.Schools need to be more open to allowing parents in to observe how they work, gaining confidence of “Non-shoppers.”
A host of challenges – and opportunities – are revealed in this study. Each group has its own traits and characteristics waiting for school operators to better engage them into the process of shopping for a school. The Michigan Future Schools data should help those interested in reaching parents do a better job of helping them find the right school for their students, to provide better educational opportunities for Detroit students.