"Give Me a Montessori Military School ... with Daycare and Post-Graduate Options." By William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre. School and College. September 1994.


by William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D. and
President & CEO, SchoolMatch

and Steven M. Sundre, Ph.D.
Executive VP, SchoolMatch

... with daycare and post-graduate options.

Recently, we were helping a fast-growing corporation relocate its headquarters from Chicago to Denver. To provide local expertise, we engaged Dr. Richard Koeppe, former Superintendent of Schools in Denver and Cherry Creek (CO), as a consultant. Parents were waiting in line to talk with Dick or one of us. A "fast-tracked" vice president walked up and said, "Just tell me what the best school is in greater Denver. I need to get over to check on a mortgage in a few minutes." Dick tried to explain that it would be helpful if we knew something about the executive's children, their schooling history and their interests. The guy just simply didn't seem to get it. He just wanted us to tell him what the best school was in Denver. Thankfully, his wife shooed him away, and worked very reasonably through the selection process with us.

In our previous lives as a school system superintendent and college dean, we thought we had some idea of the level of parents' knowledge of what goes on in their children's schools. Oh yes, we knew there were some parents whose own lack of education made what we now call school coaching difficult. We were also aware that some well educated parents got quite emotional when it came to school and college decision-making for their own children. What we didn't anticipate was the gap that apparently exists in understanding the diversity of schools on the part of large numbers of parents.

Since 1986, we have talked with thousands of parents who contact us as consumers or as employees of hundreds of corporations. We ask them to describe their preferences in schooling priorities on a questionnaire. The instruments have twenty-two items on public schools and thirty-three on private schools (including areas such as tuition, uniform requirements, religious orientation, etc.). We field tested the survey in focus groups and have continually refined it over the years. The answers are normally straightforeward and produce effective results when matched against our database on U.S. schools. Many times, however, requests come in for schools to match personal preferences which totally boggle the mind.

One example comes in the area of 'size'. Many parents are very tuned into the concept of 'class size' (ie, pupil/teacher ratio). When we ask them about 'school size' and explain we are talking about the enrollment in a particular building, we frequently get a response indicating no understanding of the difference in environment between a 200 student or 2000 student school.

'Test scores' provide all sorts of interesting examples of lack of understanding. We find parents and their realtors who have attempted to "average" SAT and ACT scores with no regard for the totally different base of calculation. Likewise, they will ask for results on "that test ... you know the one that all the children take ..." implying the existence of some sort of nationally normed achievement test in all schools.

Respondents who've had a good dose of indoctrination from the "religious right" have told us they want schools with no guidance counselors at all. On the other end, we recently fielded a call from a woman who wanted to know if there was a convent that would take her 13 year old daughter. People call seeking boarding school placements for 3-5 year olds, as well. Many see little or no value in information about school accreditation status or expenditure priorities of a school district.

Contradictions abound. For example, we field many requests for schools where students do extremely well on national scholastic tests, where high per pupil instructional expenditures exist and teachers are well paid. Yet, the same individuals seek these generally high cost results in a school system with a low tax base.

Parents may also complete the questionnaire describing an 'average' school and then later lament the fact the computer search did not match them with the schools where test scores are highest.

One of the most disconcerting situations occurs when a relocating family relies on the advice of someone they meet at their new work location. Frequently, the newcomer has no idea of the ability or interests of their new colleague's children nor does the veteran who "had a good experience" with a school know anything about the newcomer's situation. For that matter, they don't even know much about the values or expectatons of person with whom they are speaking. Lack of knowledge notwithstanding, they will listen to a recommendation about a "good school" and take the advice as gospel.

While many school systems, private schools, parent associations and professional groups are making concerted efforts to better inform parents, a check of our telephone logs indicates a huge need continues to exist.


Drs. Bainbridge and Sundre head SchoolMatch, a Columbus, OH, research firm assisting corporations with school data and consulting services.