Is there a quality difference between private and public schools?

Last month the Department of Education released a new report  trying to determine if there was a substantial difference between private and public schools in terms of the quality of learning.

Here's the abstract of the report:

This study compares mean 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics scores of public and private schools in 4th and 8th grades, statistically controlling for individual student characteristics (such as gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, identification as an English language learner) and school characteristics (such as school size, location, and the composition of the student body). In grades 4 and 8, using unadjusted mean scores, students in private schools scored significantly higher than students in public schools for both reading and mathematics. But when school means were adjusted in the HLM analysis, the average for public schools was significantly higher than the average for private schools for grade 4 mathematics and not significantly different for reading. At grade 8, the average for private schools was significantly higher than the average for public schools in reading but not significantly different for mathematics. Comparisons were also carried out between types of sectarian schools. In grade 4, Catholic and Lutheran schools were compared separately to public schools. For both reading and mathematics, the results were similar to those based on all private schools. In grade 8, Catholic, Lutheran, and Conservative Christian schools were each compared to public schools. For Catholic and Lutheran schools for both reading and mathematics, the results were again similar to those based on all private schools. For Conservative Christian schools, the average adjusted school mean in reading was not significantly different from that of public schools. In mathematics, the average adjusted school mean for Conservative Christian schools was significantly lower than that of public schools.

This is a very interesting study. What makes it doubly interesting is that a few days later Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was out stumping for a new voucher program to allow public school students to move to private schools and take public funds with them. USA Today reports on this, including that Secretary Spelling hadn't read the report yet and had to admit that she had only become aware of it by reading accounts in the newspaper.

Well, at least for once it's very obvious what's going on: the Bush administration is dead-set on pushing through a voucher program as part of its political agenda, regardless of whether it's in the best interest of students. It isn't even interested in the facts.

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