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Upper-Class Parents Support Diversity, Quality of Public

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Schools, Study Finds By Mark Walsh

New York City--Nearly half of upper-income parents say they would send their children to public schools instead of independent or parochial schools, even if cost were not a factor, a new national survey has found.

If given a choice, 47 percent of parents in households with annual incomes of at least $100,000 said they would still send their children to public schools.

Asked why, they cited a belief that the quality of public education is good and that the public schools provide a more diverse mix of students and more exposure to the real world.

The findings, part of a study commissioned by the National Association of Independent Schools, were released at the association's annual convention here last week.

Eight hundred adults with children age 14 or younger and living in households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more were questioned for the survey, conducted by the research firm Belden & Russonello of Washington.

Thirty percent of the parents in the survey said they would send their children to private, non-parochial schools, even if cost were not a factor; 17 percent said they would send their children to parochial schools.

"We have learned from this poll, and focus groups which preceded it, that there is solid public support for private alternatives in elementary and secondary education, but that our schools need to be more effective in putting our message across to parents," said John W. Sanders, vice president of the nais

Those parents who would choose private schools cited the belief that such schools offer a better education or smaller classes and more individual attention.

Nearly half of those who would choose parochial schools said they would do so because they desired a religious influence for their children; 30 percent said they would choose such schools because they offer a better education, and 24 percent said they offer better discipline.

The survey found that 65 percent of the respondents had considered sending their children to non-public schools.

Despite the degree of support expressed for public schools, when asked to compare public schools with private, non-parochial schools, the survey respondents said they believed private schools were better in several key areas.

For instance, 62 percent of those surveyed said private schools do a better job of preparing students academically for college, compared with 11 percent who thought public4schools do a better job.

Roughly 8 out of 10 respondents thought that private schools do a better job of giving students individual attention and of maintaining discipline in the school.

Fifty-two percent said private schools are better at involving parents in the schools, compared with 20 percent who said the public schools are better.

About 6 in 10 parents surveyed said the public schools are better at providing enough athletics and physical education.

The survey results are the first to be released from a long-term research effort into public attitudes toward independent education in the United States, nais officials said.

While parents at all income levels were surveyed as part of the larger effort, officials said, the data on higher-income families were analyzed and released first because such families are the "natural market" for nais-member schools.

"Most such middle- and upper-income parents in this country have their children in public schools," Mr. Sanders said, "and their attitudes about the need for education reform will be very influential in bringing about change."

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