ASIS&T 2005 START ConferenceManager    

Information-seeking by parents regarding school choice: an application of the sense-making approach

Charles M. Naumer PhD Student, The Information School, University of Washington Box 352840, Seattle, WA 98195-2840

Sparking Synergies: Bringing Research and Practice Together @ ASIST '05 (ASIS&T 2005)
Westin Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 28 - November 2, 2005


The determination of school quality by parents is particularly important given the increasing number of school systems moving to policies that support school choice. One of the arguments for school choice contends that a competitive “market based” accountability system will cause schools to improve as they are forced to compete for students. Arguments for “market based” accountability within school systems rest on parents’ ability to make good choices. Parents’ decisions on where to send their children to school determine which schools remain open and which schools are either closed or reformed. For this type of accountability system to be effective, it becomes critical that parents determine school quality accurately. Current research efforts have focused on developing indicators to measure school quality. These indicators are used to inform the public and parents on the quality of schools. Although developing good indicators of school quality is important it is also important that we understand how parents seek and use this information for decision making purposes.

An extensive body of research exists regarding the issue of how to best determine school quality. However, the ways in which parents seek and use information to form a perception of school quality has not been thoroughly researched. (Schneider and Marschall, 2000) This research study is not concerned with how to measure school quality but with how parents seek and use school information.

Also relevant to this study, is research on the information seeking behavior of citizens regarding community information. Community information is often broadly defined as information pertaining to human services, such as healthcare, financial assistance, housing, transportation, education, and childcare services. School information in the context discussed in this study is a subset of the larger category of community information. Of particular interest to this study, are the findings in the research that citizens rely on informal as well as formal sources of information. (Fisher, 1996) To investigate the question of how parents seek and use information regarding school quality Dervin’s sense-making approach was used (Dervin, 1983). Dervin’s sense-making approach has been widely adopted as a way to study how people construct sense of their worlds. This approach is particularly useful in understanding how individuals construct information needs and uses in the process of sense- making. The following research questions are addressed: 1) What are parents’ information needs regarding schools? 2) How do parents seek information regarding schools? 3) How do parents use information regarding schools?

The research findings of this study suggest that the social exchange of information is a primary method for the framing of issues regarding school choice. Furthermore, the findings indicate that parents rely heavily on the affective aspects of information. These findings suggest that information dissemination approaches by school districts regarding school choice might better incorporate ways in which information might be exchanged socially among parents. They also suggest that the way parents frame the issue of school choice may play a pivotal role in determining their information seeking behavior throughout their decision making process.

Dervin, B. (1983). An overview of sense-making research: Concepts, methods and results. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dallas, TX, May.

Pettigrew, Karen E. (1996). Nurses’ Perceptions of Their Needs for Community Information: Results of an Exploratory Study in Southwestern Ontario. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Volume 37, Number 4. 351-360

Schneider, Mark P. T. and Marschall, Melissa (2000). Choosing Schools: Consumer Choice and Quality of American Schools, Princeton University Press.

START Conference Manager (V2.49.6)