Date of Award

Summer 8-26-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

EdD Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Christopher Tienken, EdD

Committee Member

Barbara Strobert, EdD

Committee Member

James Calleroz White, EdD


School Choice, Private School Advantage, Parent Decision Making, Value of Private School Education, Millennials as Parents, Consumerism in Education


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to describe parents’ reasons for choosing a competitive, private high school (National Association of Independent School (NAIS) member school), over available free, public options. Independent schools have long held a strong presence in the nation’s educational landscape. However, as more families consider how they will pay for college, independent schools are facing new realities and challenges. This study expands upon previous research, which predominantly focused on school choice, by examining a less studied sample–the private school parents. What are parents' reasons for choosing to send their child or children to a NAIS member high school over free, public-school options?

The study used a qualitative case study approach because it focused on NAIS high schools and parents of students in grades 9-12 from New York City. I conducted semi-structured, individual interviews with a dozen parents of students at the high school division of several NAIS member schools that serve grades K-12.

The research results encompassed three overarching themes that emerged from the interviews: (1) Affordability, (2) Perceived Value, and (3) the Private School Effect/Advantage. In addition, several sub-themes were identified: (1) parents' pro-public-school attitude, (2) the perceived failings of the public school system, (3) the challenges of private schools, and, ultimately, identifying (4) the best match school based on each child’s needs. These themes overlapped and created an intricate and interwoven framework from which to answer the research question.

From my findings I concluded that even parents who choose to pay for a private high school for their children voice concerns, complaints, and share a longing for more public virtues. The main disparity between private and public options is the absence of socio-economic diversity.

Given the qualitative nature of this study, some limitations include that the sample may not generalize to other schools. In addition, the sample is also limited to parents of students currently in high school so may not generalize to other generational/age groups. The sample may also not generalize to schools outside of New York City.

One recommendation for practice is for independent schools to expand focus on life-long learning in the form of adaptability for future careers (many may not even exist yet given how fast technology changes compared with what most parents experienced in their own lifetime) and on living a purposeful and meaningful life. This can be accomplished by shifting attention away from the college list, standardized testing, and grades as a measure of student success, and towards creating innovative programs that help high school students apply their knowledge across disciplines, especially in areas of technology and science, along with the arts and humanities. One recommendation for future research is to examine if and how public schools can replicate what parents seek in private schools.

Keywords for this study include school choice, school choice options, history of school choice, market theory in education, consumerism in education, private schools, private school advantage, Millennials as parents, value of private school education, parent decision making.