New Report: Private School Students Do Not Outperform Public Schoolers
> 7/17/2006 1:08:42 PM

Many of its most vocal proponents would have you believe that a private school education is superior to a public school education in every way. A recent Education Department report, however, largely contradicts this assertment. Its statistics indicate that, in almost every category, public school students performed either as well as or better than those enrolled in private schools. The one area in which private school students seem to hold an advantage is in eighth grade reading. Amidst a period which has witnessed a flurry of criticism aimed at public school performance, the report threatens to ruffle political feathers, but everyone involved warns not to read too far into the report's findings:

The report cautions, for example, against concluding that children do better because of the type of school as opposed to unknown factors. It also warns of great variations of performance among private schools, making a blanket comparison of public and private schools “of modest utility.” And the scores on which its findings are based reflect only a snapshot of student performance at a point in time and say nothing about individual student progress in different settings.

Though such guarded summaries and calls for objectivity are well-founded, a New York Times article on the report states that:

Students in private schools typically score higher than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in the study. The report then dug deeper to compare students of like racial, economic and social backgrounds. When it did that, the private school advantage disappeared in all areas except eighth-grade reading. And in math, 4th graders attending public school were nearly half a year ahead of comparable students in private school, according to the report.

It would seem that issues of background and economic class are much more pivotal predictors of a student's academic performance than whether he or she attends private school. Also notable was the finding that students attending largely conservative Christian schools scored significantly lower than their peers in math and science. The American Federation of Teachers, a union-based organization which serves as public school advocate, released this statement on their weblog:

The study is good news for public schools, whose students do as well as private schools' when background factors are taken into account.  And it's bad news for those who want to use tax dollars to send more and more kids to private schools via tuition tax credits and vouchers.  Money would be better spent on proven reforms in the public schools attended by 90% of children.

Advocates for private school education claimed that this report did nothing to change the widely held assumption that private school students perform better. While the statistics offered in the report do not conclusively end this particular education debate, they seem to suggest that the solution to problems with performance in public schools does not involve slashing budgets in order to shift the balance toward private education.

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