Teaching by Example

Across the country, public school teachers are nearly twice as likely as other parents to send their children to private schools. This is the finding of a new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research and educational organization.

The rate at which the children of public school teachers are enrolled in private schools varies in Michigan. In smaller, rural cities, the rate is probably lower: Big Rapids Assistant Superintendent Mark Klumpp estimates that only 10 percent of his city’s public school teachers send at least one of their children to private schools. In Detroit, however, 22 percent of the public school educators do so, according to the Fordham study.

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Similarly, at least 25 percent of those teaching in the public schools of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore have their children in private, rather than in public, schools.

Nationwide, more than one in five teachers in public schools said their children attend private schools. In 16 major cities, the study found the figure is more than one in four. In contrast, just 12 percent of U.S. families, be they urban, rural or suburban, send their children to private schools, based on U.S. Census data.

The report notes the significance of this: “Teachers, it is reasonable to assume, care about education, are reasonably expert about it and possess quite a bit of information about the schools in which they teach.”

“We can assume,” the report continued, “that no one knows the condition and quality of the public schools better than teachers who work in them every day. They know from personal experience that many of their colleagues make such a choice (for private vs. public schools) and do so for good and sufficient reasons.”

In some cities, close to half of the public school teachers have abandoned the public schools. For example, in Philadelphia, 44 percent of public school teachers enrolled their children in private schools; in Cincinnati, 41 percent did so; in Chicago, 39 percent; and in Rochester, N.Y., 38 percent.

These results did not surprise most practicing teachers to whom the report’s authors spoke (the study was written by Denis P. Doyle, founder of the school improvement company Schoolnet, Inc.; Brian Diepold, an economics graduate student at American University; and David A. DeSchryver, editor of the Doyle Report, an online educational policy and technology journal.)

Public school teachers told the Fordham Institute’s researchers that private and religious schools impose greater discipline, produce higher academic achievement and offer a better atmosphere than do the public schools.

Though it was not mentioned in the Fordham Institute study, many members of the U.S. Congress, following former President Bill Clinton’s lead, send their children to private, rather than public, schools.

The Fordham report notes that the school-choice option has begun to force public school improvements through competition, particularly in cities such as Milwaukee, where school reform has become a watchword, and 29 percent of parents who are teachers send their children to private educational institutions.

But looking only at Milwaukee public school teachers making $42,000 a year or less, the percentage enrolling their children in private schools drops to 10 percent — a level not seen with low-income teachers elsewhere. Because Milwaukee is such a symbol of school reform, it is possible that teachers making less than $42,000 a year are beginning to favor the public schools again. “If so,” the report observes, “it might be that choice is having the intended effect of spurring the improvements in public education there. Or perhaps the emergence of [public school] charters has provided another free option to lower-income teachers who might otherwise choose private schooling.”

With their comparative autonomy, charter schools are a means of providing greater educational choice and innovation than traditional public schools. Their founders often are teachers, activists or caring parents who believe their children are restricted by traditional public schools.

Charter schools, like private schools, provide parents with alternatives to conventional public schools — a choice that public school teachers unions often oppose, especially when it involves public money. Interestingly, a spokesman for the National Education Association, the 2.7 million member public school union, declined to comment on the Fordham Institute report. The American Federation of Teachers, the smaller teachers union, declined to comment, too.


Tait Trussell writes a weekly column for the Pioneer Group in Big Rapids, Mich., and collaborates on occasional projects with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.