A Quick Introduction to the World of Public Schools

[photo: public schools]
North Mankato Public School in Mankato, MN. Photo by McGhiever, licensed  under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The world of U.S. public schools is huge and diverse. Here are 10 facts about public schools that may be helpful as you consider your school options. Unless otherwise noted, data is provided by the federal government.

  1. About 90% of U.S. students — 50.7 million students — attend public elementary and secondary schools. (The other 10% are in private schools.)1
  2. There are a total of about 98,000 public schools in the U.S., including 67,000 elementary schools, 25,000 middle and high schools, and 6,000 K–12 schools.2
  3. There are about 13,600 public school districts in the U.S. The average district has 7 schools. The largest district (New York City) has more than 1,700 schools. One of the smallest school districts, in Alpine County, California, has only 5 students total.3
  4. 7,000 public schools are charter schools, meaning they are governed by independent boards. These school enroll over 6% of U.S. students.4
  5. The average public elementary school has about 530 students. The average public middle or high school has just over 600 students. Brooklyn Technical High School in New York City is among the largest high schools in the nation, with more than 5,400 students.5
  6. The average class size in the 2011–2012 school year was 21 students in public elementary schools and 27 students in public middle and high schools.6
  7. Public school students are more diverse than the population of the country as a whole. Of all public school students, white students comprise 48%, Hispanic students 27%, black students 16%, Asian/Pacific Islander students 6%, Native American/Alaska Native students 1%, and multiracial students 3%.7
  8. Public schools will spend about $623 billion, or about $12,300 per student, in the 2017–2018 school year. Spending per student varies dramatically from state to state, from a low of about $6,500 per student in Utah to more than $21,000 per student in New York.8
  9. According to the federal government, 36% of U.S. fourth graders are proficient in reading and 40% are proficient in math. In eighth grade, 34% are proficient in reading and 33% are proficient in math.9
  10. The high school dropout rate has declined dramatically over the past 50 years, from over 16% in 1965 to about 6% in 2015.10

To learn about public schools near you, visit GreatSchools and enter your home address into the search box.

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A Quick Introduction to the World of Public Schools
  1. 2017–18 Back to School Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics.
  2. National Center for Educational Statistics, Fast Facts: Educational Institutions.
  3. New York information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_New_York_City. California information: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sd/cb/ceflargesmalldist.asp.
  4. National Association of Public Charter Schools: Estimated Public Charter School Enrollment, 2017–2018.
  5. Average numbers calculated based on data found in two publications from the National Center for Educational Statistics: Fast Facts: 2017–18 Back to School Statistics and Fast Facts: Educational Institutions. Brooklyn Tech data from Niche.
  6. National Center for Educational Statistics, Fast Facts: Teacher Trends.
  7. 2017–18 Back to School Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics.
  8. Total spending data from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372; 2015 state level data is from Governing Magazine.
  9. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. The NAEP website has clear summaries of long-term trends in math results and reading results.
  10. National Center for Education Statistics, Table: Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 to 24 years old: Selected years, 1960 through 2015. Dropouts are defined as 16- to 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and who have not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school. People who have received GED credentials are counted as high school completers.