Who know public schools best?

Test scores are one way to judge our public schools. But no one likely knows the condition and quality of public schools better than the teachers who work in them every day. Whether these teachers send their own children to public schools more or less frequently than their neighbors may thus be a strong indicator of how good our schools really are.

Now, an analysis of the 2000 U.S. Census Long Form data gives us this answer.* That year, 17.5 percent of all families in the nation’s fifty largest cities sent their kids to private schools, while 21.5 percent of public school teachers did the same.

In the Portland Metropolitan area the disparity was greater.** Here, only 12.7 percent of all families sent their kids to private schools, but 20 percent of public school teachers apparently decided that their children deserved a better school than their districts offered. Doing some basic grade school math shows us that, on average, teachers in the largest cities are 23 percent more likely to send their children to private schools, but inPortland, they are 57 percent more likely to do so.

Those who know our schools best are exercising school choice the most. They know that some schools are better than others. Offering all families comprehensive school choice is long overdue.

* Denis P. Doyle, Brian Diepold and David A. DeSchryver, “Where Do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?”, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, September 7, 2004,

** The Portland Metropolitan area is officially known as the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Approximately 80% of its population is in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Columbia and Yamhill counties in Oregon; the remainder is in Clark and Skamania counties in Washington. About one-third of the cities in the study, including Portland, included nearby suburban areas. Since private school enrollment is generally higher in urban areas, the urban-suburban area results in the study are likely somewhat smaller than if the researchers had been able to find urban-only data for those cities, again, including Portland.

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