Fleeing Public Schools

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Sharply declining enrollment in half the nation’s largest public school districts spells bad news for the union-dominated monopoly of government-run public schools.

School districts in longtime economically stagnant cities like Detroit and Cleveland hemorrhaged the most students, losing 32.1 percent and 17.7 percent, respectively. However, economic stagnation is but one of many reasons for declining student enrollment; factors that also include the collapse of the housing market, declining birthrates, migration from the cities, and increased school violence.

In that latter case, for example, Philadelphia, which saw a 10.2 percent drop in enrollment, reported that over the past five years in Philadelphia’s 268 public schools, 4,000 students, teachers, or other staff members were “beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.”

In Chicago Public Schools, twenty-four students were fatally shot during the 2011-12 school year, with the overall shooting toll at 319, the highest in four years and a nearly 22 percent increase from the previous school year.

Yet, for some school districts, the most compelling reason for student flight was increased competition from charter and private schools. That conclusion was drawn by Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), which saw the third largest student decline of 11.1 percent.

MPS assigned its troubles to Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, a school voucher program for poor and middle-income students that has allowed more than 23,000 students to enroll in private schools in and around Milwaukee.

If MPS is disturbed by this trend, the American public at large surely does not share the district’s unease. “We have record-low confidence in our public schools,” observed Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento. Indeed, Gallup’s annual “Confidence in American Institutions” poll, conducted just last month, revealed that just 29 percent of Americans have confidence in American public schools. This trend is undoubtedly bolstered by the fact that decades of record amounts of money being fed into public school systems have only managed to produce mediocre-to-poor academic results.

Specifically, despite increasing real spending per student on public K-12 education by 23.5 percent over the past decade and by 49 percent over the past 20 years, academic achievement standards, such as reading proficiency and graduation rates, have only marginally improved.

Those meager results have come despite American public school districts nationwide now spending $604.9 billion a year, with an average of $10,499 being spent per student and a pupil/teacher ratio of 15.4, compared to 1970 when the per-pupil expenditures were $4,060 and the pupil/teacher ratio was 22.3.

Yet, in many cities where spending per student exceeds $10,000 per year, graduation rates are horrifyingly well below the national average of 74 percent, such as in Detroit, which spends $11,100 per year, per student, but only 25 percent of its students graduate.

Sadly, that seems like a bargain when compared to the District of Columbia, whose public schools spend nearly $30,000 per pupil yet in return receive a student graduation rate of 60 percent and a student body that has some of the nation’s lowest math and reading scores.

Still, it should be noted that many factors can determine academic performance; in particular, the type of family a child comes from, including those families where an ethos of education, discipline, hard work and other such values are regularly instilled.

However, public school advocates, in particular those in teachers unions, have long insisted, despite evidence to the contrary, that spending is the best predictor of educational performance. Of course, this is not unrelated to the fact that an ever increasing amount of the funding winds up in the pocketbooks of teachers and administrators.

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  • Schlomotion

    This article does not demonstrate in any way that Charter Schools are better than Public Schools or that this alleged flight from Public Schools is a change for the better.

    • davarino cont.

      Hey Schlo-ret@rd, number one, you are insane, number two, your brain dont think good. With the kind of results that keep coming from the public schools, you could leave the kids at home and just let them watch TV and get the same results. For anyone to defend the NEA, and public schools, shows that you either dont care, you dont have children and just dont know, or you dont think a good education fits well with the left's destruction of America

      • Schlomotion

        And yet, despite the way you so eloquently stated your opinion, this article does not demonstrate in any way that Charter Schools are better than Public Schools or that this alleged flight from Public Schools is a change for the better.

      • aspacia


        When insulting an individual's intellect it helps you use correct grammar and word choice.

    • tagalog

      Yup, one of the unfortunate defects in the article is that the writer does not report on the statistics on violence in the non-public schools, the cost of the budgets to run them compared with the public schools, the statistics on home study, and the comparative learning scores on things like reading, math, and the comparative levels of learning among students.

    • kafir4life

      Says another successful public school "graduate".

  • clarespark

    MIchelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz are but two names in a growing movement that will put the students' needs above the increasingly irrelevant and underperforming (but expensive) teachers union and their obsolete rules. I gathered all my education reform blogs under one index, and recommend that you read at least some of them. This category overlaps too with the transformations in Diane Ravitch's stance toward the history of education. See http://clarespark.com/2012/05/03/index-to-blogs-o…. "Index to blogs on education reform." My review of Terry Moe's recent book is recommended for starters. I know Eva Moskowitz and she is demonstrating that black and brown youngsters can exceed all expectations when the parents and teachers work as a team in charter schools that do not assume inferiority in the young students' ability to learn.

    • davarino cont.

      You see Schlomotion, this is how you make an arguement, with facts and things that make sense.

  • davarino cont.

    My daughter put her child back into public school for half a year because she needed more time to build her business, but the results were horrendous, so she is back to home schooling again. Good luck with your ever shrinking NEA union membership : )

  • EthanP

    This is the result of the teachers unions concern with the teachers union and not the students.

  • Lady_Dr

    Vouchers might sound like a good idea – but they are just the camel's nose in the tent. We need to get the government out of education all together. Only then will we see real success, i.e. real education.

    • johnnywoods

      Lady_Dr. You make a great point and we should begin by dismantling the Dept. of Education. I will never forgive Ronald Reagan for not doing that after stating that he would.

  • BLJ

    I send my three children to Catholic schools. Paying the tuition (on top of ever increasing property taxes) isn't enjoyable, but they are worth the investment. I know they are getting a quality education that also teaches values.

    I was a product of the public school system (Class of 1982) but the times have changed. Public schools are being run by corrupt unions and are more concerned with teaching useless subjects and not the basics. I do believe there are still good kids in those schools, but too many negatives for my taste.

    In a fair world a guy like me would get some sort of property tax break, but alas, I live in Cook County Illinois in the corrupt Land of Obama. Have a nice day.

  • Ghostwriter

    I like to see the public schools improve. That's most of our children go. I'd like to see the public schools get better,not disappear.

    • johnnywoods

      Don`t hold your breath Ghost.

  • Indioviejo

    It is a concerted drive from Marxist teacher's Unions to bring down the educational level of the country in order to better control the captive masses. Obama's best buddy Terrorist Bill Ayers, has devoted his life and the Annenburg Foundation's money to help in this "Fundamental Transformation" of American children. Charter Schools and private schools are but a drop in the bucket.

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