Data about the characteristics, finances and performance of Michigan’s public schools is more readily available today than ever before. There are both federal and state agencies charged with collecting and making this data available to the public.[*] Plus, in the interest of additional transparency, Michigan law requires public school districts post even more information about their operations on their websites.[1] But there is far less information available about private schools in Michigan, which educate about 7 percent of the school-age children in this state. This survey is an attempt to provide policymakers and the public with more detailed information about private and independent schools in Michigan.

Perhaps in part because of the lack of information available about private schools, they are sometimes been discredited, accused of plucking the most advantaged and easiest students to teach from the school-age population. Moreover, private schools are considered by some to have less-qualified teaching staff, less accountability and committed to only serving wealthy families. Numerous scholars have recently expounded these negative views of private schools.[2]

Even as they face criticism from some academics, private schools are nevertheless relatively well received by the general public. The 2015 Harris Poll found that while fewer than two in 10 Americans believe that public schools in general provide an excellent or very good education, four in 10 think private schools provide an excellent or very good education. Further, Americans, on average, believe that private schools, when compared to public schools, are better at preparing students for employment and college, teaching good citizenship and educating special needs children.[3]

This survey and analysis is meant to provide a better understanding of Michigan’s private and independent schools and the students and families they serve. It does not, however, ascertain any indicators of private school academic performance or quality. The goal of this report is to explore the private school landscape in Michigan and provide students, families and taxpayers with a better understanding of this form of education.

[*]At the federal level, there is the Institute of Education Sciences, which includes the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance and the National Center for Special Education Research. At the state level, data about public schools is made publicly available by the Michigan Department of Education, the Center for Educational Performance and Information and the Michigan Department of Treasury.