As the nation's education crisis deepens, especially in terms of the achievement gap, school choice has emerged as a growing education reform movement, proponents of which argue may help improve educational attainment among underserved populations.
Using a mixed methods approach that combines survey, interview and focus group data, this dissertation examines the experiences of low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant parents with school choice, focusing primarily on their decision-making. By investigating the factors that influence these parents' decisions, such as culture, language, gender, prior educational experiences, expectations, and legal status, the study seeks to explain how they choose schools for their children. Furthermore, the study explores the process through which parents become aware of existing public and private school choice systems and how information influences their choices.
While low-income, newly-arrived, Latino immigrant families face additional challenges in learning about and exercising school choice, as compared to their low-income peers, they are very capable of becoming informed consumers. Initially, these parents draw heavily upon past educational experiences in their native countries, which are largely shaped by their interaction with teachers and other authoritative school figures in a system where they had limited or no access to school choice. However, over time, these parents learn about and exercise their choice options. But due to their limited English proficiency, they rely upon their children to translate and utilize information either obtained from or provided by authoritative school officials, who serve as their primary source of information, given their weak and small social networks. Even though at first these parents have a limited amount of information, as their involvement in their children's schools increases, they gather additional information about an expanded set of options to help them make improved choices.
Parents value academic quality, school curriculum, location/convenience, but safety and a welcoming school environment are especially important. Similar to other parents, they attempt to match a school to their children's needs, they take into consideration several factors as part of a complex decision-making process, and they report a high level of satisfaction with their choice, which reflect a consideration of both the children's and the family's well-being.