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Private Schools in the United States: A Statistical Profile, 1993-94 / Introduction


A Context of Choice

Private elementary and secondary schools in the United States have been an important component of the nations education system from the beginning and continue to play an important role, educating roughly one-tenth of the nations young people. Private schools reflect the basic principle of freedom of choice in America: although states mandate that all children should attend school, parents may choose schools that emphasize the religious, educational, or cultural values that they believe most important for their children to acquire.

Although a dramatic increase in the numbers of conservative Christian schools in the last quarter of the 20th century caught the attention of educational researchers and policymakers, other kinds of private schools, including Jewish schools, Montessori schools, and special education schools, have also multiplied since 1960, while others are more than a century old: one in nine currently operating private schools was in existence at the beginning of the 20th century.

Since 1980 there has been a growing interest among educational researchers in private schools as a potential source of information about ways to improve public education. There is no doubt that, on average, achievement scores of private school students exceed those of public school students. Even acknowledging that parents who invest earnings specifically in tuition for their childrens education may also send their students to school with more family support for learning, questions have been raised about what private schools do differently. Private schools are generally substantially smaller than public schools, but attempts to identify processes characteristic of private schools in general have found more diversity among private schools than similarity (Baker, Han, and Keil 1996).

Since the late 1970s, the (NCES) has developed survey systems for tapping the status of both private and public elementary and secondary education in the United States. In 1980, a report on Nonpublic Education of the Nations Children (McLaughlin and Wise 1980) was produced, based on surveys in 1976, 1977, and 1978. During the late 1980s, NCES produced Private Schools in the United States: A Statistical Profile, with Comparisons to Public Schools (Benson and McMillen 1991), based on surveys through 1985-86, and Detailed Characteristics of Private Schools and Staff: 1987-88 (McMillen and Benson 1991). In 1989-90, NCES supplemented its universe collection of public school data, the Common Core of Data (CCD), with a Private School Universe Survey (PSS). That survey was repeated in 1991-92, in 1993-94, and most recently in 1995-96. The results for the PSS are summarized in the NCES reports: Private School Universe Survey: 1991-92, and Private School Universe Survey: 1993-94 (Broughman, Gerald, Bynum, and Stoner 1994; Broughman 1996). The Current Condition of Education includes "Public and Private School: How Do They Differ?" (Choy, 1997)

The present report, based on the Schools and Staffing Survey of 1993-94, is designed to update the picture of private schools in the United States provided in Private Schools in the United States: A Statistical Profile, 1990-91 (McLaughlin, ODonnell, and Ries 1995).

Schools and Staffing Surveys (SASS)

In 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94, NCES conducted the first three in a series of nationally representative sample surveys of public and private schools, their teachers, and their principals. Approximately 10 percent of the nations elementary and secondary schools were contacted and provided responses to the survey, including 2,459 private schools in 1987-88 and new, but overlapping, sets of 2,620 private schools in 1990-91 and 2,585 in 1993-94. At these private schools, 2,436 principals and 6,764 teachers gave information about their backgrounds, school climates, and career plans in 1987-88; 2,757 principals and 6,642 teachers gave new information in 1990-91 (Gruber, Rohr, and Fondelier 1994); and 2,743 principals and 8,372 teachers gave new information in 1993-94 (Gruber, Rohr, and Fondelier 1996).

Through SASS, the nations educators have provided a picture of the status of elementary and secondary education. Teachers and principals have shared their rankings of educational goals and perceptions of problems in their schools and have provided a great deal of information about the backgrounds of the professional educators to whom the nations children are entrusted. This information enables policymakers to counter stereotypes about education through the use of data in the course of developing policy. While the information does not tell us about any particular school, it provides an important foundation to help educational administrators assess the status of their own schools; for teachers to analyze their own situations, satisfaction, and plans; and for parents to evaluate statements about their childrens school.

Sample of schools. Private schools were selected for participation in SASS in two different ways. First, a "universe" file of known private schools was assembled. For the 1987-88 survey, this file was obtained from a commercial source (Quality Education Data); for the 1990-91 and 1993-94 surveys, it was based on the NCES 1989-90 and 1991-92 Private School Universe Surveys. Second, to supplement the lists of known private schools, a series of areas, roughly of county size, were randomly selected around the country, and these areas were searched for private schools not on the existing lists. All tabulated figures in this report have been weighted to represent the population of private schools serving some grades from 1 to 12 and not operating in a private home.

Most private schools belong to some national group, and NCES consulted with those groups to develop a survey questionnaire that would address informational needs of the private school community. These groups recommended, for example, the importance of reporting statistics separately for the many different kinds of private schools, rather than aggregating private school data into the categories of Catholic and "Other." Seventeen leading private school organizations endorsed the survey, including the American Montessori Society, Christian Schools International, the Council for American Private Education, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Friends Council on Education, the General Council of Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, the National Association of Episcopal Schools, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the National Association of Schools for Exceptional Children, the National Catholic Education Association, Oral Roberts University Educational Fellowship, Solomon Schechter Day School Association, Torah Umesorah - National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, the U.S. Catholic Conference, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Staff of schools belonging to many other groups also contributed their time to the completion of this survey.

Categories of schools. To summarize the 1987-88 SASS results for private schools, NCES developed a nine-category typology (McMillen and Benson 1991), consisting of three types of Catholic schools (parochial, diocesan, and private order), three other categories of religiously oriented schools (conservative Christian, nationally affiliated, and unaffiliated), and three categories of nonsectarian schools (special education, special emphases, and regular). In response to recommendations of private school leaders, the present report supplements that typology with an 18-category affiliation typing, including Catholic schools, 4 categories of Lutheran schools, 5 other categories of Christian schools (Episcopal, Friends, Christian Schools International, Association of Christian Schools International, and Seventh-Day Adventists), 3 categories of Jewish schools, 4 categories of nonsectarian schools (Montessori, special education, military, NAIS members), and a large and diverse category labeled "other private schools." This finer grain reporting gives a better flavor of the diversity that exists among American private schools.

Notes on interpretation of the survey results. The quality of the data provided by respondents to SASS is quite high. Nevertheless, not all selected school principals and teachers responded to the survey; and those who did respond did not always answer all the survey questions. To facilitate appropriate interpretation of the data, NCES weighted the respondents data to represent the responses of similar nonrespondents, and individual missing item responses have been imputed based on relations to other responses, using a standard statistical method. In 1993-94, but not in earlier years of SASS, the weights of sampled private schools were adjusted to match totals available from the Private School Universe Survey. For this reason, comparisons of SASS private school results across years have not been included in this report.

Organization of this report. This report contains three sections: a Typology Profiles Section, a Tables Section, and an Affiliation Profile Section. The Typology Profiles Section consists of a series of two-page graphic profiles, one for private schools in aggregate and one for each of the nine NCES private school typology categories. For each typology of category of private school, the graphic profile is accompanied by a two-page text, using both information presented in the graphic profile and information presented in the Tables Section. When information from the Tables Section is used in the text, a reference to the table number is included in parentheses. The information presented in each text profile focuses on the corresponding type of private school, and to provide context for interpreting the data, it also highlights ways in which the particular type of private school differs from private schools in general. All such comparisons are supported by tests of statistical significance. To facilitate interpretation of the graphic profiles, a "guide," containing information about the item on which each graphic is based, is included at the beginning of the Profiles Section.

The tables in the Tables Section of this report, as well as accompanying "highlights," present 1993-94 data in four sections: separate sections on characteris-tics of schools (tables 1.1 to 1.11), students (tables 2.1 to 2.6), and staff (tables 3.1 to 3.16), and a section on goals, school climate, and outcomes (tables 4.1 to 4.7). The numbering and organization of the tables are virtually identical to tables presented in the 1995 publication, Private Schools in the United States: A Statistical Profile, 1990-91 (McLaughlin, ODonnell, and Ries 1995). Each table presents information for private schools in aggregate, for each of the 9 typology categories, and for each of 18 affiliation groups.

Following the Tables Section are graphic profiles for each of eighteen affiliation categories. The affiliation categories include schools that belonged to more than one organization, but each school was included in a single category, based on a rule specified in Appendix B. No profile was included for one of the affiliation categories, military schools, due to insufficient sample size. A profile is also included for all schools that were members of NAIS, including schools that were also affiliated with other organizations.

AcknowledgmentsAcknowledgments  Profiles of Private Schools in America: 1993-94