NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Public Schools Select Students

August 23, 2000

Opponents of education vouchers that can be used to attend any public or private school demand that voucher schools be forced to take all students who apply to avoid "skimming the cream" of good students from the public schools and leaving only the challenging ones. Unlike private schools, they say, public schools must accept all children, regardless of ability or disability.

While there is no evidence of voucher schools skimming the best students from public schools, public schools use selective admission practices to choose their students. For example:

  • Not everyone can apply to Chicago's best public high school, Whitney Young Magnet, to avoid the 42 (of 50) public high schools in Chicago that rank among the worst in Illinois.
  • The entrance exam for Whitney Young is invitation-only, based on seventh-grade Iowa test results.
  • By contrast, the best parochial school (St. Ignatius College Prep) and private secular school (Francis W. Parker) both require entrance exams; but each allows all applicants to sit for the exam.

In Milwaukee, Wis., voucher schools are prohibited from using prior academic achievement, standardized test scores, disciplinary records, written applications or interviews as criteria for voucher student applicants, but more than one third (37 percent) of Milwaukee public high school students are in schools with selective admission requirements.

Critics of vouchers also contend that private schools won't take disabled or special need students, leaving that burden to the public schools. In practice, it is the public schools that reject such students: in Milwaukee only 22 of the 117 public elementary schools accepts students with orthopedic impairment; only two of 21 middle schools accept students with autism; and only four of the city's high schools accept students with hearing impairment.

Source: George A. Clowes, "Who Chooses?" August 2000, School Reform News, August 2000; Howard Fuller and George Mitchell, "Selective Admission Practices?" January 2000, both Heartland Institute, 19 South LaSalle, Suite 903, Chicago, IL 60603, (312) 377-4000.


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