Focus on the Facts: Going Private, Dropping Out

Analysis of Census Bureau and other statistical data from this decade reveals that Maryland’s public schools are relatively under utilized, at least in comparison to many other states. as shown in the table, in 1994, only 15 states saw a smaller proportion of school-aged children enrolled in the public schools. That year 89.5 percent of eligible-age children attended government schools in Maryland. Lowest-ranked Pennsylvania sent only 84.8 percent of eligibles to its public schools.

Maryland’s low utilization of public schools reflects two factors: (a) a high use of private schools and (b) a fairly high dropout rate. Both factors reduce the number of eligibles in the public schools.

The most recent figures for which fully comparable interstate figures exist date to the last census, 1990. By this account, 16.3 percent of Maryland eligibles attended private schools.* Only 10 states sent more of their children to non-government schools. This is as expected: A reasonably low public-school usage should be accompanied by a quite high private-school preference. Lowest public-school-using Pennsylvania ranks third-highest in terms of private-school utilization.

What can be deduced from this? Much of the Free State’s attraction to private schools can be put down to the fact that this is a wealthy state. But part of it reflects public schools so bad in parts of the state – Baltimore City springs to mind – that these institutions are just not an option for middle-class people.

The other factor behind Maryland’s low number of eligibles at the public schools is the simple point that many of them drop out. With 11.0 percent of students aged 17-19 dropping out, Maryland ranks 18th in the country. This is far from being the worst, but nor is it anything to brag about.

See Table

* Figures across the three columns do not add up to make 100. The figures were collected by different agencies, using different methodologies and in different years. The figures should be used simply as a guide to comprehending relative public versus private school usage in the 50 states and comparative dropout rates.


U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1998 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1997), table 251.

Denis P. Doyle, Where Connoisseurs Send Their Children to School: An Analysis of 1990 Census Data to Determine Where School Teachers Send their Children to School (Washington, D.C.: Center for Education Reform, May 1995), appendix pp. 10-11, table 10.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Dropout Rates in the United States: 1991 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, September 1992), pp. 119-148, table C1.

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