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Trends in the Use of School Choice: 1993 to 2007
NCES 2010-004
April 2010

Executive Summary

This report updates two previous reports: Trends in the Use of School Choice: 1993 to 1999 (Bielick and Chapman 2003) and Trends in the Use of School Choice: 1993 to 2003 (Tice et al. 2006). Using data from the National Household Education Survey (NHES) of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), this report examines enrollment trends in public schools (assigned and chosen) and private schools (religious and nonsectarian), from 1993 to 2007, as well as the characteristics of students in these schools in 2007. Additionally, the report describes student enrollment in charter schools in 20071 and demographic characteristics of homeschooled students in 2007.2 The report also examines parents' satisfaction with and involvement in their children's schools.

Opportunities for school choice in the United States have expanded since the 1960s. In some localities, parents now can select from a wide range of public school choice options which expand alternatives beyond the public school their children would be assigned. There are interdistrict and intradistrict public school choice plans, charter schools, and magnet schools. Charter schools are public schools that provide free elementary or secondary education to students under a specific charter granted by the state legislature or other appropriate authority (Hoffman 2008). A magnet school is a school designed to attract students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds or to provide an academic or social focus on a particular theme (Hoffman 2008). Parents can also elect to enroll their children in private schools (religious or secular) or decide to homeschool them. Finally, in a few jurisdictions there are publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private schools.

This report represents the third in a series of reports from NCES that use data from the NHES to analyze school choice. The data presented here on school choice have been collected in five administrations of the NHES starting in 1993, then again in 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2007. The report provides information on the following six topics:

  • Trends in the distribution of enrollment in public schools (assigned and chosen) and private schools (religious and nonsectarian) between 1993 and 2007.
  • Demographic characteristics of students enrolled in public schools (assigned and chosen) and private schools (religious and nonsectarian) in 2007.
  • Demographic characteristics of students enrolled in public charter schools in 2007.
  • Demographic characteristics of students who were homeschooled in 2007.
  • Demographic characteristics of students whose parents report there are public school choice options available in their district in 2003 and 2007.3
  • Associations between the kind of school a student attends and parental satisfaction with and involvement in that school between 1993 and 2007.

Each NHES survey used for the analyses in this report is based on telephone interviews about students in U.S. households, with full samples ranging from 45,000 to 60,000 households. Please see appendix A for information about the survey methodology, response rates, and bias. Highlights from the report's findings are presented below.

All specific statements of comparisons have been tested for statistical significance at the .05 level using Student's t-statistics to ensure that the differences are larger than those that might be expected due to sampling variation. All comparisons reported are significant at the .05 level. Adjustments for multiple comparisons were not included. Many of the variables examined are related to one another, and complex interactions and relationships have not been explored. Estimates with a coefficient of variation greater than 30 percent are flagged in the tables and figures with the ! symbol.

School Enrollment Patterns and Trends from 1993 to 2007
From 1993 to 2007, the percentage of students enrolled in assigned public schools decreased from 80 percent to 73 percent. The trend away from attending assigned public schools was evident for White students; Black students; nonpoor students;4 students whose parents' highest level of education was some college or graduate or professional education; students in two-parent households; and students from all regions (East, West, Midwest, South) of the country. The trend away from attending assigned public schools was not shared by all types of students. No measurable difference was found in the percentage enrollment in assigned public schools from 1993 to 2007 for the following students: Hispanic students, near-poor and poor students, students in one-parent households, and students whose parents' highest level of education was a high school diploma or GED or less.

In 2007, there were enrollment differences in the types of schools attended across demographic groups. For example, a higher percentage of Black students (24 percent) than White students (13 percent) were enrolled in chosen public schools, and a higher percentage of non-poor students (4 percent)5 than poor or near-poor students (1 percent) enrolled in nonsectarian private schools.

Demographic Variations in Student Enrollment in 2007
Differences were also observed in the distributions of student characteristics for each school type in 2007 (assigned and chosen public schools and religious and nonsectarian private schools). For example, a higher percentage of students in assigned public schools than in any other school type had parents who had less than a high school diploma or GED (8 percent vs. 5 percent for students in chosen public schools, 1 percent for students in religious private schools, and 2 percent for students in nonsectarian private schools).

Demographic Characteristics of Public Charter School Students in 2007
About 2 percent of students in grades 1 through 12 were enrolled in charter schools in 2007. A higher percentage of charter school students were from cities6 (64 percent) compared with students in other public schools (30 percent).

Demographic Characteristics of Homeschooled Students in 2007
About 2.9 percent7 of all students ages 5 through 17 were homeschooled in 2007, most of them on a full-time basis. A larger percentage of students in two-parent households were homeschooled (3.6 percent) compared with students in one-parent households (1.0 percent). A greater percentage of students living in rural locales were homeschooled (4.9 percent) than were students living in cities or suburbs (2.0 percent vs. 2.7 percent, respectively).

Parental Perceptions and Considerations of Public School Choice Availability8
Between 2003 and 2007, the percentage of students in chosen public schools who attended their parents' first-choice school increased from 83 to 88 percent. In 2007, about 50 percent of students had parents who reported that public school choice was available, and 32 percent had parents who considered other schools. In addition, regardless of whether the school attended was chosen or assigned, 27 percent had parents who reported that they moved to a neighborhood for the school. There were no measurable patterns of difference by student and family demographic characteristics when comparing 2003 to 2007.

Parental Satisfaction and Involvement in Children's Schools
Overall, the majority of students in every type of school had parents who reported being very satisfied with all four measures of schooling across all years (with one 1999 exception—48 percent of students in public assigned schools had parents who were very satisfied with their schools). Generally, chosen schools (public or private) were associated with more parental satisfaction and involvement than assigned public schools. In 1993, 1999, 2003, and 2007, a greater percentage of students attending chosen public schools and both types of private schools had parents who were very satisfied with their schools than did students attending assigned public schools. A greater percentage of students enrolled in both nonsectarian and religiously affiliated private schools had parents who reported being involved in various ways in their children's schools than did students enrolled in both types of public schools.

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1 Charter school students are a subset of the students who are discussed in this report elsewhere as attending either assigned public schools or chosen public schools. A small number of students (0.3 percent) are reported by parents to be in assigned schools, which were later identified as charter schools. For these cases, it is not possible to verify whether or not, for example, the student was assigned to the charter school because of a special situation, the student had been assigned to a school that converted to charter status, or if this was a reporting error by the parent. Therefore, the data are presented as reported.
2 For additional information on the number of homeschoolers and reasons for homeschooling, see Bielick (2008).
3 The NHES provides data on parents' perceptions about the availability of school choice in their district. However, the NHES does not collect administrative data about the specific choice programs that districts offer.
4 Poor students are defined as those with household incomes below 100 percent of the poverty threshold; near-poor students as those with household incomes from 100 through 199 percent of the poverty threshold; and nonpoor students as those with household incomes at or above 200 percent of the poverty threshold.
5 In the tables and figures in this report, poor students are defined as those with household incomes below 100 percent of the poverty threshold; near-poor students as those with household incomes from 100 through 199 percent of the poverty threshold; and nonpoor students as those with household incomes at or above 200 percent of the poverty threshold. See the definition of the poverty status variable in Appendix A: Technical Notes.
6 Please see Appendix A: Technical Notes for details on how locale is defined for this report.
7 NCES report conventions for homeschooled students are to report percentage estimates to one decimal place.
8 Parental perceptions of public school choice availability were measured by responses to a question which asked, "Does your public school district let you choose which public school you want (CHILD) to attend, either in your own school district or another district?"


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