Recent government education policies seem to assume that academic achievement as measured by test scores is the primary objective of public education. A prime example is the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools to bring all of their students to “proficient” levels on math and reading tests by 2014. Many state accountability plans judge schools on the basis of these tests alone, and some states and school districts are considering tying teachers’ compensation to student test results. Yet education historically has served a variety of functions (e.g., socialization, civic training), and public support for music and art in school suggests that parents value things beyond high test scores.
Are test scores the educational outcomes that parents value most? We tackle this question by examining the types of teachers that parents request for their elementary school children. We find that, on average, parents strongly prefer teachers whom principals describe as best able to promote student satisfaction, though parents also value teacher ability to improve student academics. These aggregate effects, however, mask striking differences across schools. Parents in high-poverty schools strongly value a teacher’s ability to raise student achievement and appear indifferent to student satisfaction. In wealthier schools the results are reversed: parents most value a teacher’s ability to keep students happy.