New Report: Public Schools Offer More Choices in Learning

By Joetta Sack-Min

An analysis by the Center for Public Education shows that public school districts offer more educational and extracurricular options for students than their private school counterparts.

For all the talk in Washington and state capitols about the need for school choice, a new report from the Center for Public Education has made the case that public schools actually offer the most educational options for students.

The new report found “an abundance of choice” in public schools, in program offerings and school selection as well as extracurricular activities. Larger schools and districts offer the widest array of options, not surprisingly, but even schools in smaller districts offer more choices than their counterparts.

Notable findings in the report, “Busting the Myth of ‘one-size-fits all’ public education,” include:

  • Public high schools offer more educational and extracurricular options for students including the arts, Advanced Placement, Gifted or Honors classes, and distance learning opportunities than private schools.
  • Public schools are more likely to offer afterschool child care and tutoring or enrichment activities.
  • School counselors play a key role in students’ learning and care: Eighty percent of public schools have at least one part-time counselor compared to only 32 percent of private schools.
  • The vast majority of public high schools offer access to hands-on college experience with almost all (98 percent) offering career preparation.
  • The majority of public school students have the option to transfer to schools within their districts or neighboring districts.

“The neighborhood public school remains the school of first choice for the large majority of families, as school districts offer a growing range of options in their efforts to better serve the different interests and needs of individual students,” said Patte Barth, Director of the Center for Public Education. “This not only includes the nearly two-thirds of school-aged children who have access to public schools outside their attendance zone. As this report shows, curricular and extracurricular options abound inside the public school building, too, that are designed to engage students in learning.”

The study’s authors, Barth and former CPE research analyst Chandi Wagner, noted that the data was limited. In particular, they lacked data for some enrichment and extracurricular programs.

The Center is housed at the National School Boards Association, a member of the Learning First Alliance, which opposes vouchers, tuition tax credits and other legislative maneuvers to take taxpayer money away from public schools. It has analyzed research on charter schools and reported that many schools are not performing at or above the level of other public counterparts. NSBA supports charter schools only if the charter is granted by a local school board.

But this report is an important first step in helping policymakers and the public understand public school systems and how the institutions have changed since many of us went through. It should be required reading for anyone who influences or wants to influence K-12 policies.

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