28 January 2006

Public or Private?

Do students who attend private schools fare better in math than those kids who sit in a public school classroom? According to a recent government study, public schools do a better job in promoting student achievement in math. (ID: registernow5; password: registernow)

"Though private school students have long scored higher on the [NAEP], the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances...The study found that while the raw scores of fourth graders in Roman Catholic schools, for example, were 14.3 points higher than those in public schools, when adjustments were made for student backgrounds, those in Catholic schools scored 3.4 points lower than those in public schools...The study also found that charter schools, privately operated and publicly financed, did significantly worse than public schools in the fourth grade, once student populations were taken into account...The current study found that self-described conservative Christian schools, the fastest-growing sector of private schools, fared poorest, with their students falling as much as one year behind their counterparts in public schools, once socioeconomic factors like income, ethnicity and access to books and computers at home were considered."

There is more to be found in the whole article, of course. Overall, students in private schools do appear to outperform their peers in the public arena. This study shows just how much of an impact the above factors (income, ethnicity, home access to books/computers) have on children. If you can afford to send your child to a private school, you are also likely to have the ability to send your child to school "ready to learn."

A public school district in this area consistently has test scores that are among the top few in the state. The group I worked with on Wednesday and Thursday were talking about this phenomenon---as the group leader was the wife of the superintendent for the high-achieving district and one of the teachers had worked there at one time. Everyone agreed that kids are kids. The difference is that the high-achieving district has enough affluent families who can afford to ensure that their kids come to school well-fed, in good physical condition, and with few wants. Kids there can concentrate on their education.

What will the results of the "private vs. public" study mean? It's hard to say yet. This is only the first. It only looks at math scores. With the increasing numbers of charter schools, it may take time before we can really get an idea of whether or not public schools are better for those students who are not white and/or from more humble backgrounds. Should be interesting to see what we learn.


Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams. The whole "private vs. public" framing is a false dichotomy. The "private school" universe is not homogenous--there are religious schools tied to a particular church (the majority of the Catholic parochial schools); the conservative Christian schools; schools tied to a particular educational philosophy (examples: Waldorf, Montessori , and here in the West, Challenger); and then the truly independent schools. The universe of charter schools is equally heterogenous.

What should be of particular interest are those schools that serve low-income kids and enable high achievement.

review of research on high poverty, high achievement schools.


There was also a report from California last fall, but I can't put my finger on it just now.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there was enough information in the article to really judge the study. When I googled the authors, I found that they have been beating this drum for a while:


This woman has been been pushing the idea that socioeconomic factors hinder education as far back as 2002:


I'm always suspicious when someone does a new "study" that just happens to confirm an opinion that they have held for many years. I'm also skeptical that they can "adjust for socioeconomic background" so perfectly. From the article:

At the eighth-grade level, a 21 point lead, roughly the equivalent of two grade levels, disappeared after adjusting for differences in student backgrounds.

So, 21 points, two grade levels, just happens to exactly dissapear after "adjusting".

I don't think anyone would argue that parental involvment means a heck of a lot when it comes to learning. But how much does the fact that your family is poor detract from your ability to do grade-school math? I doubt we can ever know, exactly.