NEWS: Report Shows School Choice Expanding Across The County

From The Associated Press:

When it comes to education choices — from kindergarten up through college — the decision is no longer simple.

Children don’t just attend their neighborhood public school anymore. They often choose between that and the charter school across town as the number of students enrolled in charter schools has more than tripled since 2000.

And after graduation, students are increasingly looking beyond traditional state and private schools for a higher education. For-profit colleges — offering flexible schedules but high costs and lower graduation rates — have enrolled one out of four new undergraduate students in the U.S. since 2000.

“Despite lots of progress on building better and more accountable schools, we’re still a long way from nirvana,” said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform. “As along you have a system that is still failing to provide an adequate education to most of its kids, you’re going to have a demand for options.”

A decade of growth in school options has led to a significant shift in where students in the United States are obtaining their education, a report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Education experts pointed to several factors in the rise of students pursuing alternative school choice options. At the primary level, frustration over persistently failing schools — frequently in large, urban communities — has made charter schools an appealing choice for many families.

Charter schools receive taxpayer dollars but have flexibility over how to meet education standards.

The most recent figures show charter schools served 1.4 million students in 2008-09, up from 340,000 at the start of the decade. Allen predicts charter school enrollment could reach 3 million children by 2015 if the pace continues.

In Philadelphia, for example, school officials estimate one in four public school systems will be enrolled in one of its 82 charter schools next year. Charter enrollment in the city has leaped from 16,000 students in the 2001-02 academic year to a projected 47,000 next year.

In New Orleans, many schools that reopened after Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 devastation have been converted to charters. Now, more than half of the children in the district attend charter schools and more charter school companies keep entering the city.

Parents often see charters as an alternative to large neighborhood schools, many of them academically troubled or deemed unsafe. Still, the increase in charters has paralleled rising test scores in traditional public schools over the past eight years.

“Charters have opened up a door and are interpreted as choice,” said Leroy Nunery, the Philadelphia district deputy superintendent. “But not all schools are created equal.”