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Where Teachers Enroll Own Children Tracked

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In many cities, public school teachers are significantly more likely than the public at large to send their children to private schools, a study released last week concludes.

In 71 of the nation's 100 largest cities, the percentage of public school teachers whose children attend private schools exceeds that of the general public, according to the study by the education analyst and consultant Denis P. Doyle. He based his findings on 1990 U.S. Census data.

His report, "Where Connoisseurs Send Their Children to School," argues that the same choice of schooling should be provided to low-income students.

"The poor are trapped in institutions few middle-class Americans would tolerate for themselves," the report asserts. "If private schools are good enough for teachers, they might be good enough for poor children."

In exploring where teachers send their children to school, Mr. Doyle has revisited a long-simmering issue.

In the fall of 1993--as Californians prepared to vote on a statewide voucher initiative--the syndicated columnist George Will touched off a furor when he wrote that "about half" of urban public school teachers sent their children to private schools.

The number came from a 1986 study by Mr. Doyle and Terry Hartle that examined 1980 U.S. Census data from 13 states and 25 cities.

The Wall Street Journal seized on the figure to argue in support of vouchers that could be used by families to send their children to private schools.

The leaders of both national teachers' unions argued that the statistic was untrue.

But Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in an October 1993 article that, "if the figure were accurate, you'd have to take it seriously."

Census Data Analyzed

According to Mr. Doyle's new study, a higher percentage of teachers, compared with parents over all, send their children to private schools in many of the biggest cities, where public education systems often are under severe strain.

For example:

In Boston, 44.6 percent of public school teachers enrolled their children in private schools, compared with 28.9 percent of all families.
In Denver, 26.7 percent of public school teachers chose private schools for their children, while only 17.7 percent of the general public did.
In Detroit, 32.7 percent of public school teachers chose private schools, compared with 17.1 percent of all families.

Nationally, however, public school teachers are slightly less likely than the general public to choose private schools--12.1 percent compared with 13.1 percent. But in 19 states and the District of Columbia, Mr. Doyle found that public school teachers were more likely than the general public to use private schools.

The new report is based on 1990 Census data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the nation's 100 largest cities.

"There is clearly a phenomenon at work in which very large numbers of discerning and sensible teachers see that the schools around them are not suitable for their own children," Mr. Doyle said last week. "That's about as tough a measure as you can get."

Public school teachers in suburbs, he added, chose private schools less often than the public at large.



Alternative Explanations

Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the A.F.T., said last week that the urban figures likely reflect local traditions and teachers' individual preferences.

Boston, he noted, has a strong tradition of Roman Catholic schools. Other teachers may be reluctant to see their children bused, fear for their children's safety, or think classes are too large in urban schools, he suggested.

"I don't think this holds true across the board," Mr. Horwitz said.

Charles Ericksen, a spokesman for the National Education Association, said the union's researchers had not yet had time to analyze Mr. Doyle's data. But he noted that a union study using some of the same data yielded different results.

An N.E.A. analysis of 1990 Census data, completed last year, concluded that 24 percent of teachers living in central cities sent their children to private schools, nearly equal to the 25 percent of the general public in cities who made that choice. Suburban teachers used private schools at the national average of 12 percent, the N.E.A. research showed.



Income a Factor

Mr. Doyle's study also examined teachers' income and how it affects their choice of schools for their children. Contrary to widespread opinion, he asserts, teachers are relatively well off compared with the public at large.

Middle-income teachers--those living in families earning between $35,000 and $70,000 a year--were more likely to use private schools than households with the same income levels in 49 of the 100 largest cities, his research showed.

Teachers in households earning $70,000 or more, however, chose private schools at a lower rate than other similarly well-off families. Upper-income teachers in 24 of the 30 largest cities, for example, were less likely to have their children in private schools than other residents at that income level.

Mr. Doyle argues that public policy has excluded poor children from the freedom to make the same choices that are available to people with more money. The poor should be given the same chances as the well-off, including the right to attend religiously affiliated schools, he said.

The study was financed by the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee and is being distributed by the Center for Education Reform, based in Washington.

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