De-mythifying the public school claims

Monday, May 22, 2006 at 04:37 PM

How long has it been since you heard someone--personally or in the media--say one of the following:

++private schools outperform public schools

++religious schools outperform public schools

++charter schools outperform public schools

A couple of days?  Hours?  Minutes?

Well, read on because, as is usually the case on subjects that have been propagandized to high hell by the right, there's a whole lot more to the story.

From the Kalamazoo Gazette:

Study: Private schools may not be better
Sunday, May 7, 2006
By Julie Mack

Sarah Theule Lubienski graduated from Kalamazoo Christian High School in 1985, and speaks of the experience in appreciative terms.

So perhaps it's ironic that Lubienski, now a University of Illinois education professor, co-authored a recent study that suggests public schools equal or outperformed private schools on a national math exam when student demographics were taken into account.

The study, which Lubienski co-authored with her husband, Christopher Lubienski, also a U of I education professor, looked at the 2003 math scores from more than 190,000 fourth-graders and 153,000 eighth-graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. It was funded by a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Lubienskis found that private schools outperform public schools in terms of raw scores. However, they write in their report summary, "the presumably advantageous `private-school effect' disappears and even reverses in most cases" when factors such as race, family income and number of students with disabilities are taken into account.

Among the conclusions:

Public schools significantly outscored Catholic schools when controlling for demographics. The average public-school fourth-grader scored more than a half grade level higher than his or her counterpart in a Catholic school.

Lutheran schools performed the best among the private schools studied, but Lutheran fourth-graders still performed lower than public-school students and the difference between Lutheran and public-school eighth-graders was statistically insignificant.

Charter-school students performed at levels similar to the Lutheran students.

Conservative Christian schools were the lowest performing, with students performing about a grade level behind comparable public-school students in the fourth and eighth grades.

The Lubienskis said they chose to study math scores because math is more impacted by school instruction than reading, which is heavily influenced by home experience. That makes math a better subject for evaluating school performance, they wrote in their report.

Christopher Lubienski said the results mimic findings of a study the couple did with 2000 NAEP test data, although the new study looks at a much greater number of students.

"So we're talking similar findings for two different years and two different grade levels," he said.

He said the study should be viewed from a public-policy perspective rather than as an advice guide for parents.

From a public-policy stance, he said, "we found two things. One is that there's not a major bullet. Some feel that if you make public schools like private schools, education would improve and that's not true. ... The other thing is, family backgrounds really do make a difference."

Christopher Lubienski said that he and his wife, who are both the products of private schools, are not looking to favor public schools over private.

Reflecting on her own experience, Sarah Theule Lubienski noted that she came from a disadvantaged background and attended K-Christian with the help of anonymous donors who paid her tuition.

"I feel like I had a good education there," she said. "I really benefited from the peer effect" of being around middle-class students.

"We're not saying anything to parents" about how to choose a school, Christopher Lubienski said. "This doesn't tell you anything about the local public and private schools in your area.

"It doesn't say anything other than you shouldn't make assumptions about public versus private schools before checking them out."

The full study can be found in PDF form here.

So, the evidence here says it ain't really the private status of the school so much as that a different class of kids attends the private schools.  Isn't that absolutely shocking?

As someone from a broken and dysfunctional welfare home, I can tell you what a difference it makes in school performance when the Guidance Counselor in your public school asks "what do you want to be?" and the only thought in your head is "someone else." Somehow I just don't think that was the response of the doctor's son who was on the tennis team and drove his own Corvette.  And for some reason, the doctor's kid (name withheld to protect the innocent) took his academic performance a lot more seriously than I did.  And got a lot better grades, even though I found out later that he and I scored about the same on the SATs and other standardized tests.