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Case Study

Parent and Student Voices: School Choice in Baltimore


Annie E. Casey Foundation






Symphonic Strategies conducted a five-month mixed method focus group study as part of the Casey Foundation’s ongoing education initiative. The engagement focused on understanding the “school choice” thought process and behavior of families with children attending schools in Baltimore City. Given the dropout rates, and other challenges associated with high school, we explored how families are reacting to their “high school options.” Ultimately, the outreach focused on an area of Baltimore with a high concentration of high school dropouts.

We answered the following research questions: What do families know about their school choice options? What information and other resources are, or could be, most helpful? What school characteristics are most important to families? How involved are students in the process? How can interested stakeholders use this information to improve outcomes for students?


Through our work with this client, we demonstrated a number of our core business capabilities. The research and consulting engagement included: (1) an extensive literature review and benchmarking analysis of other studies that focused on the experiences of students and parents in educational systems that include school choice; (2) focus groups using remote keypads with 40 students and their parents from the Harlem Park community in Baltimore; (3) data analysis; and (4) a written, publications-ready final report.


Our unique cultural competencies, non-traditional outreach strategies, and unconventional information gathering techniques enabled us to engage respondents from the target populations and extract valuable information from them. We provided the Foundation and city officials with recommendations based on primary research that detailed how they could better serve low-income students and parents in the city. In addition, those recommendations were then used by the Foundation to advocate for improvements to the school choice system in Baltimore.