NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Trends In Private School Enrollment

November 16, 2000

Despite fluctuations over the years, the proportion of K-12 U.S. children in private schools was the same in 1998 as it was in 1890, the earliest year for data. The surprising story, however, is that enrollment in Catholic schools has been plunging during the past four decades, even as enrollment in other private schools has soared.

  • Overall, the proportion of children attending private schools in 1890 and 1998 was identical -- 11.2 percent.
  • Enrollment in Catholic schools slumped from 12.6 percent of total enrollment in 1960 to a recent 4.7 percent.
  • Enrollment in non-Catholic private schools jumped from 1 percent of 1960 total enrollments to a recent 6.5 percent.
  • In addition, home schooling has drawn off 800,000 to 1 million children -- an impressive 2 percent or so of all school attendees.

Experts suggest part of the reason for the decline in Catholic school numbers was the move to the suburbs that began in the 1950s. Also, wealthier families have led the movement into non-Catholic private schools that began in the 1970s -- a decade that saw the burgeoning of public schools' problems with falling standards and the social divisions which accompanied public school racial integration.

Source: Peter Brimelow, "Charticle: Private School Surge," Forbes, November 27, 2000.


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