Evidence from a recent study conducted by Texas A&M University researchers Nathan Favero and Kenneth Meier suggest that parents are capable of making sound judgment about the quality of a school. The research findings result in two major implications: an empowerment of citizens’ views in public administration and the reinforcement of the validity of survey evaluations.

Prompted by Meier, the Charles H. Gregory Chair in Liberal Arts and a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M, the study addresses the issue of assessing the performance of public organizations.

“It’s important for us to know how to evaluate public organizations and assess public services so that we can determine what works and what doesn’t,” said Favero, a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M.

In response to the salience of the issue among urban public schools, Favero and Meier used data collected from New York City schools, which employ the controversial school choice systems.

“The premise of the school choice systems is that parents create the demand,” Favero said. “It’s like a reward mechanism.”

According to Favero, many opponents of school choice systems are concerned about parents’ ability to make meaningful judgments about the quality of schools and, in turn, their competence in deciding where to enroll their children—but the research findings prove otherwise.

The study compared parent and teacher evaluations to government records of the schools’ characteristics and performance. It found that parents provided favorable evaluations of schools that not only had high standardized test scores and low violence rates, but also other indirect measures such as positive feedback from teachers and professional auditors.

In addition, the study shows that survey evaluations conducted by citizens can provide useful information in determining the performance of public programs and services. In the case of public education, these opinions add an extra dimension of assessment.

“They go beyond the numerical measures of standardized test scores, which are limited to assessing a very narrow and specific set of skills,” Favero said of the survey evaluations. “They help us learn things that are difficult to measure objectively, like the quality of counseling and how helpful the advisors are—these are important educational concerns that need to be addressed.”

From its beginnings as Favero’s honors thesis and grad program writing sample to its presentation at a conference in Seattle a year ago, the study has made its way into the journal Public Administration Review and can be viewed at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/puar.12022/abstract.