Monday, August 08, 2005

Public Schools Are Better Than Private Schools

If you're paying attention to Public Education, and the ongoing struggles over vouchers and such, you've probably been subjected to Government Statistics from the likes of the National Center for Education Statistics, which says that "in 2003, public-school students scored lower on average [on the math part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress] than non-public-school students at both grades 4 and 8."

That's a fact (on average).

If somebody is waving the NCES numbers in the air and pounding the table, shouting about "school choice" and "competition", I'm sorry, but there is nothing you can do for them. Stand far enough away to avoid the spittle and fragments of podium that will inevitably spray the area.

However, if you're thinking or talking seriously about public vs private education on the merits, you will be interested in a recent study conducted by Sarah and Christopher Lubienski, education professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They found that if you compare public and private school students controlling for socio-economic status, public school students outperformed private school students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math indicator at every level. The higher overall scores at private schools are due to a large skew toward higher socio-economic status.

Let's say it again: public school students scored significantly higher than similarly situated private school students across the board. Private schools scored higher on average, because they get more rich kids with well-educated parents, but even the rich kids attending public schools outperformed their private-school peers.

It is important to note that the Lubienski study does not dispute the NCES numbers. It does, however, call into question the usefulness of comparing "average" scores of public and private schools. They are far too professional to say so, but it also makes clear the political intent behind such "major conclusions" as "public-school students scored lower on average than non-public-school students" put forward by the NCES.

The study is published online by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education here, and there are short articles on it here and here.

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