The Harvard EdCast takes a close look at declining enrollment in private schools, particularly among the middle class. Sean Reardon, the author of “Who Goes to Private School?” an article in the fall issue of Education Next, is the guest.
As Reardon and his co-authors explain in the article
The number of Catholic schools has fallen sharply in recent years, while the number of nonsectarian private schools has increased. At the same time, income inequality and residential and school segregation by income have grown.
How have these shifting trends affected private-school enrollment nationwide? Has expanding income inequality led to an increased concentration of affluent families at private schools? If so, has that fueled a broader increase in segregation at both public and private schools?
To explore these questions, we examine enrollment and family-income data from the past 50 years at Catholic, other religious, and nonsectarian private elementary schools (that is, schools serving grades K–8). Our analysis finds that private schools, like public schools, are increasingly segregated by income. In particular, the share of middle-income students attending private schools has declined by almost half, while the private-school enrollment rate of wealthy children has remained steady. Much of the decline among middle-income students is due to falling enrollment at Catholic schools, which have closed in droves in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, private-school enrollment among affluent students has shifted from religious to nonsectarian schools.
— Education Next