Niche 2020 Survey of Parents Searching for K-8 Schools

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Family researching schools online.

This fall, Niche surveyed parents to learn about their school search experience over the past 12 months. The survey was open from October 15 – November 15 and posted to Niche, sent to registered parents, and shared in the Niche Parents Facebook group. Results were segmented into preschool searches, K-8 searches, high school searches, and college searches. For K-8 school searches, we received 170 responses from parents whose child started at a school last fall.

Takeaways and Lessons:

  • 82% of parents reported that the quality of local schools was important when deciding where to live.
  • 11% of parents chose to change schools because of the pandemic and another 7% had to change schools because their child’s school closed permanently.
  • Half of the parents feel that their remote learning is effective. That’s quite a bit less than 63% of those in hybrid models or 83% with children learning in-person.
  • 71% of parents would consider transferring their child to a new school. The most common reasons are for academic opportunities and safety.

School search considerations

Parents who have looked for K-8 schools in the past year were heavily influenced by local schools when deciding where to live, 82% factored it into their decision. The most important factors that parents consider when looking for a school are safety, teacher qualifications, and how challenging classes are. Schools tend to tout their ranking, and while 72% of parents considered that important, teacher qualifications and safety both topped 94% considering them important. Many schools also place an emphasis on athletics and arts, but these were the second and third least important elements to parents. Fine and performing arts were more important than athletics, and they were more than twice as likely to say that athletics were not at all important in their decision – 23% to 10%.

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The majority of parents did consider multiple schools, the most frequent response was three with a median of four. Only 12% of parents only considered their local public schools when searching for a school, so there is a high degree of opportunity for earning families’ consideration. A third of parents reported that they didn’t start looking for a school until 6 months or less of starting school, with about the same starting more than a year before. Only 18% of parents considered an online school; public options outpaced their private or for-profit peers in consideration nearly 4:1. The only school type that earned more than one-third of parents’ considerations was their local public school at 86%. The next closest were private or independent schools with a religious affiliation (29%), charter schools (26%), and private or independent schools without a religious affiliation (20%). The most interesting specialization for parents were STEM programs at 42%, followed by liberal arts programs at 20% considering.

Enrollment and re-enrollment

Public schools were the top choice by a wide margin, traditional public schools enrolled the most students followed by charter, magnet, and online public schools. At the consideration phase STEM programs were quite popular, but when it came to enrolling only 16% of parents surveyed chose a STEM program. Of the parents who chose to enroll in a religiously affiliated school, half chose a Catholic school and 20% chose an Evangelical Christian school.

Two-thirds of parents considered cost important, and 78% report not paying anything for their K-8 school. For those who are paying, most are covering the cost with income and savings with only 6% taking on a loan to cover the costs.

Most parents would consider changing schools for a variety of reasons, only 29% said that they would not. Half of parents would consider changing schools for better academic opportunities. Safety is the second most common reason that parents would change schools, followed by a lack of counseling or support staff and cost.  Again, we see that arts opportunities are more important to families than athletics, 14% would change schools for better fine and performing arts and only 12% for athletics.

Effect of COVID-19

Only 28% of respondents said that the pandemic has not affected their family. Half said that they’re having difficulty handling remote learning, which is two-thirds of all those who reported that their children were experiencing either fully remote or hybrid learning. There were 18% who said that they changed their child’s school; half of which were because of concerns with the way their school responded to the pandemic, 7% because their child’s school closed permanently, and 2% because of new issues with paying for their education.

Just over half of parents reported that their child was fully remote learning with another 24% hybrid and 24% fully in-person. Most parents were very comfortable with the precautions being taken by their school; 80% of those experiencing in-person education agreed and 76% of those with hybrid learning did. Only remote education was rated as ineffective, mirroring what parents reported in the spring. It does not appear that more time to prepare and adapt has made much of a difference in their experience.


Read more Niche survey results and data dives.

Will Patch

Will Patch is the Enrollment Marketing Leader at Niche and helps clients with their enrollment strategies and digital outreach. He also shares insights and research on the Enrollment Insights blog and through webinars and a monthly newsletter. Prior to coming to Niche in the summer of 2019, he served Manchester University for 9 years in roles including Digital Strategist, Social Media Coordinator, and Associate Director for Admissions Operations. Outside of Niche, Will also coordinates the #EMChat community on Twitter, with weekly chats Thursdays at 9:00 PM Eastern.