School Choice in the United States: 2019

School choice can describe a variety of things for different families. For some parents, school choice involves having other options within their public school system than their assigned school, including enrolling their children in a public charter school or a public school in a different district. For others, it can involve sending their students to private schools, which can be religious or secular, or deciding to homeschool their children.

Compiling data from a variety of sources and surveys from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, School Choice in the United States: 2019 provides a snapshot of educational options such as traditional and charter public schools, private schools, and homeschooling. It contains eight indicators on topics such as enrollment, homeschooling, options and satisfaction, school crime and safety, and academic performance.

AIR is the lead author of the report. As part of its work, AIR staff developed seven of the eight indicators in the report.

Key Findings

Highlights from the report include:

  • Traditional public school, public charter school, and homeschool enrollment have increased over time, while private school enrollment has decreased.
  • In 2017, there were no measurable differences between traditional public school and public charter school students in both fourth and eighth grades in average reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • It was more common for students living in cities to have parents who reported that public school choice was available, compared with students in other settings. Lower percentages of students from poor and near-poor households had parents who reported that they considered schools other than their assigned public school than students living in nonpoor households.
  • Higher percentages of public school students than private school students reported seeing hate-related graffiti at school and being called hate-related words at school in 2017; however, no measurable difference was observed in the percentages of public and private school students who reported being bullied at school.
  • From 2000 to 2016, the number of students in charter schools increased by 571 percent from 448 thousand to 3 million students. Over the same time period, traditional public school enrollment grew by 1 percent.
  • The number of homeschooled students almost doubled between 1999 and 2016, growing from 0.9 million to 1.7 million students.
  • Among students enrolled in private schools in 2015, 36 percent were enrolled in Catholic schools, 13 percent were in conservative Christian schools, 10 percent were in affiliated religious schools, 16 percent were in unaffiliated religious schools, and 24 percent were enrolled in nonsectarian schools.