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Public and private school comparison

In what ways do public and private schools differ?


Below are a few selected dimensions that highlight some of the ways public and private schools differ.


Public elementary and secondary school enrollment rose from 49.3 million in 2008 to 50.0 million in 2013, an increase of 2 percent. Enrollment in private elementary and secondary schools in 2013 (5.4 million) was 5 percent lower than in 2008 (5.7 million). In 2013, private school students made up 9.7 percent of all elementary and secondary school students.

Teachers and Other School Staff

For public schools, the number of pupils per teacher—that is, the pupil/teacher ratio—was 16.1 in 2013. By comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was 12.2 in 2013.

In 2011–12, some 76 percent of public school teachers were female, 44 percent were under age 40, and 56 percent had a master's or higher degree. Compared with public school teachers, a lower percentage of private school teachers had a master's or higher degree (43 percent).

Public school principals tend to be older and have more advanced credentials than public school teachers. In 2011–12, some 98 percent of public school principals had a master's or higher degree, compared with 69 percent of private school principals. In both public and private schools, a lower percentage of principals than of teachers were female. About 52 percent of public school principals were female, compared with 76 percent of teachers. At private schools, 55 percent of principals were female in 2011–12, compared with 75 percent of teachers.

In 2013, there were 8 pupils per staff member (total staff) at public schools, compared with 6 pupils per staff member at private schools in 2011–12.

High School Graduates and Dropouts

About 3,506,000 high school students are expected to graduate during the 2015–16 school year, including 3,192,000 public school graduates and 314,000 private school graduates.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2015 (NCES 2016-014), Chapter 2.

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