State officials, school admini-strators, teachers, and parents should not sell short the achievements of private institutions.
Students with disabilities. At-risk students. Adjudicated youth. These are students who
challenge the capabilities of schools and parents alike. When public schools are unable to
serve these students, they rely on private-sector providers to educate students under
contract with government agencies. The private sector, including private schools,
nonpublic schools, and homeschools, offers a wide variety of education programs for this
population of students.
Conventional public schools enroll the vast majority of difficult-to-educate students.
Contrary to a widely held perception, however, public schools do not accept everyone.
Those students whom the public schools can not or will not enroll are often sent, at
public expense, to private schools with expertise in educating a certain type of student.
Public schools can not be expected to teach every child and teach all of them well. Where
public schools lack specialization, they have invited private providers to educate
Special Education. According to the U. S. Department of Education, just over two
percent of the nation’s special-education population, or 100,700 students, attend
private schools and nonpublic schools at public expense. Nonpublic schools enroll some of
the most demanding students. Students with serious emotional disturbance account for 40
percent of the students enrolled in nonpublic schools.
Education for At-Risk Students. At-risk is a broadly defined category which can
include dropouts, homeless youth, teen parents, abused or neglected children, students
with substance abuse problems, or emotionally troubled youth. At least seven states have
formal, legislated programs enabling public schools to contract with nonpublic alternative
schools to serve at-risk students.
Corrections Education. Roughly 35,000 adjudicated juveniles are housed in 2,000
privately operated facilities, including training centers, ranches, shelters, halfway
houses, and group homes. Since compulsory education laws also apply to incarcerated youth,
private (as well as public) operators must provide academic instruction. Many facilities
also provide related services such as behavior modification, counseling, and vocational
Private providers are well equipped to meet the special needs of difficult-to-educate
students. Typically, they have developed expertise in serving a specific type of student.
The private sector also offers a variety of learning environments, including residential
schools, day schools, charter schools, independent study programs, religious schools, and
homeschools. Some private schools fully include students with disabilities in the regular
In addition to describing the role of private institutions in educating
difficult-to-educate students, this report incorporates case studies and analyzes the
various institutional arrangements in the context of performance measures, financial
accountability, and student access to services. Six Michigan case studies are presented.
Policy recommendations include
enhancing provider accountability by measuring student performance and linking results
expanding public and private options for students;
and eliminating unnecessary regulations.
Implications for school-choice policy are also discussed.
Current debates over public school system reforms should be informed by an
understanding of the capabilities of nongovernment or alternative schools. State
officials, school administrators, teachers, and parents should not sell short the
achievements of private institutions.
Estimated Number of Private-Sector
Schools and Facilities Serving
Students in the United States