School Choice & Charters

More Students Taking Advantage Of School Choice, Report Says

By Lynn Schnaiberg — September 22, 1999 2 min read

Nearly a fourth of K-12 students nationwide are not attending their neighborhood public schools, opting instead for an array of public and private school options, according to a recent report.

In 1993, the proportion of students eschewing their neighborhood public schools was one in five, according to Policy Analysis for California Education, a research institute based at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

For More Information

Copies of “Abundant Hopes, Scarce Evidence of Results” are available from PACE for $20 each by calling (510) 642-7223.

Most of the increase since then is due to a growing interest in public-school-choice programs, rather than a rise in private school enrollment, the institute found.

“The public-choice growth is not surprising, especially in light of the incredible public enthusiasm around charter schools in many states,” said Luis Huerta, one of the report’s co-authors.

An estimated 1,684 charter schools are expected to enroll roughly 350,000 students in 32 states and the District of Columbia this school year, according to the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based organization that supports school choice. Six years ago, there were fewer than 40 such public schools, which operate free from certain state rules in exchange for being held accountable for student results.

Tracking Effects of Choice

The number of students attending some type of public choice school grew by 1.4 million between 1993 and 1996, from 5.3 million to 6.7 million. Such students in 1993 made up 11 percent of all K-12 students enrolled in public and private schools nationwide; that share grew to 13 percent in 1996 , the most recent year for which data are available.

For private schools, the number of students over the same time period grew by roughly 800,000, from 4.4 million to 5.2 million students. Private school students in 1993 made up 9 percent of the nation’s total school enrollment and 10 percent in 1996, according to PACE.

The PACE analysis is drawn from new data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, based on telephone surveys of roughly 20,000 parents of K-12 students.

The data do not specify what kind of public school alternatives parents are choosing for their children instead of neighborhood schools, said Chris Chapman, a statistician with the NCES. The assumption is that they include charter schools, magnet schools, and district schools that students attend under open-enrollment policies, Mr. Chapman said. The private school tally does not include students who are home-schooled.

The California think tank estimates that if trends began in 1993 continue, the national share of students in public choice programs could rise to 15 percent this year. Despite the growth of privately financed voucher programs intended to help parents pay for private school tuition, PACE estimates the national share of private school students will remain at 10 percent.

The 98-page report also examines the aims and known effects of choice programs on students and schools.

While public and private school options have mushroomed in recent years, the report’s authors decried what they describe as a “scarcity of hard evidence backing advocates’ claims that school choice boosts achievement and pressures public schools to improve.”

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