What percentage of students are enrolled in school choice programs?
Today, charter schools are the archetypical form of school choice available to parents within the public education sector; however, there is also opportunity for school choice among traditional public schools. In 2016, the parents of 41 percent of all students in grades 1–12 indicated that public school choice was available to them. Also in 2016, some 20 percent of the students in grades 1–12 were enrolled in public schools chosen by their families. Of the remaining 80 percent of students, 71 percent attended an assigned public school and 9 percent attended a private school. Not all school choice options are equally accessible to all families—private schools require personal financial investments for tuition, while public choice options are more prevalent in urban districts—and there were differences by some characteristics in the percentages of students who attended public schools chosen by their parents and the percentages of students who attended private schools in 2016. For example, the percentage of students attending chosen public schools was higher for Black students (32 percent) and Hispanic students (25 percent) than for White students (14 percent). In contrast, the percentage attending private schools was higher for White students (11 percent) than for Black students (8 percent) and Hispanic students (6 percent).
There were also some differences in the percentage of students in chosen public versus private schools by different levels of parental educational attainment. A lower percentage of students whose parents had completed only a bachelor’s degree (18 percent) were enrolled in chosen schools, compared with students whose parents had not completed high school (23 percent) or who had only completed high school (21 percent). In contrast, the percentage of students attending private schools was higher for students whose parents had a bachelor’s degree (13 percent) or graduate degree (18 percent) than for students whose parents had less than a high school diploma (5 percent), only a high school diploma (4 percent), or only some college or a vocational degree (6 percent).
Compared with students in assigned public schools, a higher percentage of students in chosen public schools had parents who were very satisfied with some elements of their children’s education in 2016. Specifically, among students in grades 3 through 12, the percentage of students whose parents were very satisfied with their school was higher for students in chosen schools (60 percent) than for students in assigned schools (54 percent). Similarly, the percentage of students whose parents were very satisfied with their school’s academic standards was higher for students in chosen schools (60 percent) than for students in assigned schools (53 percent). Also, higher percentages of students in chosen schools than in assigned schools had parents who were very satisfied with school order and discipline (57 vs. 53 percent) as well as with staff interaction with parents (51 vs. 47 percent). There was no measurable difference in the percentage of students who had parents who were highly satisfied with the teachers in their school, whether assigned or chosen.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Digest of Education Statistics, 2019 (NCES 2021-009), Chapter 2.
|Percentage of students enrolled in grades 1 through 12 whose parents reported having public school choice, considered other schools, reported current school was their first choice, or moved to their current neighborhood for the public school, by school type: 2016|
|School type1||Public choice available||Considered other schools||School was parent's first choice||Moved to neighborhood for public school2|
|Public, chosen3||100.0||42.6||81.6||11.2||Private, religious||20.8||45.7||86.1||†||Private, nonsectarian||20.2||56.6||88.6||†|
† Not applicable.
1 In 31 cases, questions about whether a student's public school was assigned were not asked because parents reported the school as a private school, and it was only later identified as a public school based on administrative data. Due to the missing data, these cases were excluded from the analysis of public chosen and assigned schools.
2 This column shows percentages of public school students only. Private school students are excluded from the analysis.
3 Students who attended chosen public schools were automatically coded as "yes" for whether or not their district allowed public school choice.
NOTE: Data exclude homeschooled children.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Digest of Education Statistics, 2019 (NCES 2021-009), Table 206.40.
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