Is the private school advantage real?

Two news reports here regarding a new study that will raise much controversy regarding the commonly perceived private school advantage over public schools vs. what the new study says is the reality… the study will simulaneously cause dismay for parents who fork out a great deal of money for that private school advantage and relief in parents who can’t afford private schools.

Public vs. private not seen as key to learning


Web Posted Express-News and wire reports

: 10/10/2007 12:59 AM CDT

WASHINGTON — Low-income students who attend urban public high schools generally do just as well as private-school students with similar backgrounds, a new study concludes.

Students at independent private schools and most parochial schools scored the same on 12th-grade achievement tests in core academic subjects as those in traditional public high schools when income and other family characteristics were taken into account, according to the study released today by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.

While the finding is in line with a handful of recent studies, it is at odds with a larger body of research over the years that has found private-school students outperform those in public schools.
Some of that research found a private-school advantage even when income levels are taken into account.

The new study factored in income levels and a range of other family characteristics, such as whether a parent participates in school life.

“When these were taken into account, the private-school advantage went away,” the report states.

Robert Durón, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, said he is not surprised by the findings.

“As a district, we are working on increasing parental involvement because we have seen this as a key factor in student achievement,” said Durón, who heads the city’s largest urban district.

“It says a lot about what we’re doing as a district — that serves a population that is 93 percent economically disadvantaged — to see that our students can and do compete with privately schooled students.”

The study looked at 1,000 low-income students, as well as parents and teachers.

Researchers considered the effects of income; earlier eighth-grade test scores; parental expectations; whether parents discuss school with their children and whether parents participate in school activities.

When all these factors were accounted for, the only private schools that had a positive impact on student achievement were Catholic schools run by holy orders such as the Jesuits.

Such schools have more autonomy from the church than most Catholic schools, which are typically run by a diocese and are overseen by a superintendent in the local bishop’s office.

The study’s lead researcher, Harold Wenglinsky of Columbia University, said it would be useful to study the holy order schools to see what’s behind their success.

Sister Carla Lusch, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, disputes the distinction the study makes between schools run by holy orders — such as San Antonio’s Central Catholic Marianist High School or Providence High School, run by the Sisters of Divine Providence— and schools run by archdioceses around the country.

“I think there could be test cases where you could say, yes, that’s the way it’s lived out,” Lusch said of the study’s conclusion that students in schools run by holy orders perform better.

“But I think we could give you concrete examples, and I don’t know if the results would be exactly the way this study is showing. I don’t think you can make it as a general statement.”

Among the study’s findings:

Reading: Family income, parental discussion, parental expectations, parental involvement and eighth-grade scores positively affected 12th-grade reading scores. Scores weren’t affected by the type of school a student attended unless it was a Catholic order school.

Math: Parental discussions and involvement had no effect on achievement scores. Parental expectations and family income did have an impact. Prior eighth-grade test scores were heavily correlated to achievement on the 12th-grade test. Again, attending a Catholic religious order school had a positive effect on the math scores.

Science: Income affected test scores but the other family characteristics did not. Prior test scores had the strongest impact. None of the school types had an edge over public high schools in boosting scores.

History: Parental expectations and parental discussion had an impact on scores, as did achievement on eighth-grade tests. The only kind of school that had a positive impact on scores was a Catholic religious order school.

The students in the study were poor and fit the demographics of those who would be eligible for the kind of private-school voucher programs or other school-choice initiatives generally favored by political conservatives.

However, the study shows that family involvement matters more than whether a student goes to public or private school, said Jack Jennings, the center’s president.

“People commonly believe private schools are just inherently better,” Jennings said. “We’re forgetting that families are key to how well kids do. Maybe we ought to start to spend more time on families.”

Richard Middleton, superintendent of the North East Independent School District, agreed.

“What it shows us is that those people searching for easy answers and other answers like vouchers and other systems, they’re really searching for the obvious,” he said. “Public schools can well do the job with parent support and parent participation.”

The Associated Press and Express-News Education Editor Jena Heath contributed to this report.

Study: Parents play big role in academic success
Whether low-income, urban students attend a public or private high school matters less to their academic success than whether their parents take part in their education, earn enough money to offer enriching experiences and have high aspirations for their kids, a study from an education advocacy group suggests.

The findings, to be released Wednesday by the Center on Education Policy (CEP), examine 12 years of data on more than 1,000 young people and find that they didn’t get much of an advantage by attending private schools.

Though the SAT scores of students in private schools were higher than the scores of their public-school peers, their overall performance in math, reading, science and history was no better. They were no more likely to go to college or be more satisfied with their job at age 26 — they weren’t even more likely to be civic-minded as adults.

“This certainly will challenge people in the presumptions that private schools are superior to public schools,” says Jack Jennings, the center’s president.

The study backs up findings saying that the differences between urban public and private schools are small — and often too small to measure. It also suggests that forcing public and private schools to compete through taxpayer-financed vouchers is merely a “diversion” from a more substantial education debate, Jennings says.

In the end, Jennings says, the biggest factors were how much money parents earned, whether they were involved in day-to-day schoolwork and what their long-term expectations were.

“There may be ways to improve schools,” he says, “but we have to be very conscious of what parents bring to schools.”

Pat Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents private schools, says they foster parental involvement. “Indeed, many parents choose independent schools because they know the cultural capital of their family will be reinforced and enriched by the school.”

The CEP examined data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, or NELS, for 1,003 low-income students in urban high schools. NELS began tracking more than 13,000 students’ achievement in 1988, when they were in eighth grade. It also surveyed students, parents, principals and teachers and tracked students until 2000, eight years after most of them graduated from high school.

Ross Wiener of the Education Trust, a Washington advocacy group for low-income and minority students, says therein lies the study’s biggest problem: Most of the kids graduated from high school 15 years ago, in 1992.

“A lot has gone on since then,” he says. “Since these students have graduated, there have been very deliberate changes” to urban schools. If anything, public schools have gotten better at helping kids whose parents aren’t heavily invested in their children’s education.

“It was because that pattern was noticed more than 15 years ago that both policymakers and educators said, ‘That’s not acceptable in America. We have to make sure that we’re getting a better education to students who don’t have that support or social capital outside of school,’ ” Wiener says.

CEP advocates for better public schools, but Jennings says this didn’t color the findings. He did the study because “I didn’t see anybody else doing this work.”


1 thought on “Is the private school advantage real?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s