Report shows education options expanding across U.S.

In New Orleans, many schools that reopened after Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 devastation have been converted to charter schools. Now, more than half of the children in the district attend charter schools—and more charter school companies keep entering the city.

Parents often see charters as an alternative to large neighborhood schools, many of them academically troubled or deemed unsafe. Still, the increase in charter schools has paralleled rising test scores in traditional public schools over the past eight years.

“Charters have opened up a door and are interpreted as choice,” said Leroy Nunery, the Philadelphia district deputy superintendent. “But not all schools are created equal.”

A federal report issued last year showed that charter schools—at least on average—do no better than regular public schools. Middle-school students who were chosen by lottery to attend charter schools performed no better than their peers who lost out in the lottery and attended nearby public schools, according to the study.

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At private for-profit colleges, enrollment has skyrocketed by 1.2 million students since 2000, and the colleges now make up 9 percent of the 18 million undergraduate students in U.S. colleges. That’s compared to 3 percent previously.

The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded at for-profit colleges has climbed fivefold from 2000, to 84,673 in 2008-09.

But critics say pricey for-profit colleges aggressively recruit underprepared students, then let them fail and drop out too often—with thousands of dollars in loans and no job prospects.

That’s the reason colleges are in a legal battle with the Education Department (ED) over new regulations that could limit schools’ access to federal financial aid if graduates’ debt levels are too high or too few students repay loans.

ED’s new rules come as “there is evidence [of] various aggressive—and in too many cases, deceptive—recruiting, where students are being visited at home, called at home, frequently daily,” said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, an advocacy group for tighter regulations.

Supporters of for-profit colleges say the schools serve an important role by helping students who wouldn’t normally have access to higher education.

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