School Choice-What the Research Says, a New Resource from the Center for Public Education

Alexandria, Va. (October 28, 2015) – In its at-a-glance overview, the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA), Center for Public Education (CPE) looks at the various forms of school choice, and drawing upon relevant research and statistics, the effects each has on student achievement. CPE finds that that while many schools of choice do an exemplary job, “the results aren’t universally better than those produced by traditional public schools.”

“America’s public schoolchildren are dependent on us, policymakers and the public, to make informed decisions that will lead to improved outcomes,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association. “CPE shines a spotlight on education options in its study, finding that not all choices are equal.”

School Choice: What the Research Says succinctly describes the many alternatives to public schools: those within the public school system (magnet schools, charter schools, and within or between district transfers) and without (private schools, vouchers and homeschooling), and also looks at virtual schools which can be either public or private.

CPE finds that:

Nearly nine in ten school-age children in the U.S. attend public school, a proportion that has been fairly consistent for four decades; 16 percent are enrolled in a public school of choice. On the non-public side, 10 percent of school-age children are in private schools, and 3 percent are homeschooled.

Research on the impact of school choice on student learning generally shows mixed results with studies typically showing little or no difference in overall performance compared to traditional public schools. For example, about one in four charter schools outperforms its traditional public counterpart in reading, and one in five does worse. However, benefits seem to be greater for some groups of students, including English language learners, children from low-income families, and students of color.
Private schools tend to outperform public schools on national assessments. But when researchers controlled for students family background and location, they found the reverse – public school fourth- and eighth-graders scored higher than their private school peers in math. In addition, math scores for public school students have increased steadily over the last 25 years, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.
“If the research shows us anything, it’s that school choice does not come with a guarantee,” said Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education. “Rather, public school leaders should look to their successful programs – charters, magnet, and neighborhood schools alike – and apply the lessons learned to other schools so that the choices parents and students have will all be good ones.”

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The Center for Public Education (CPE) is a national resource for credible and practical information about public education and its importance to the well-being of our nation. CPE provides up-to-date research, data, and analysis on current education issues and explores ways to improve student achievement and engage public support for public schools. The Center is an initiative of the National School Boards Association.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school boards associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Learn more at

CPE’s latest resource on school choice:
At a Glance
Full report:

LInda Embrey, Communications Office
National School Boards Association
(703) 838-6737;