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Public vs. Private Schools


Recent findings from a study commissioned by the Center on Education Policy contradict a large body of research—and conventional wisdom—that private school students outperform public school students.

The study compared low-income urban students in public high schools with their peers who attended private schools. Controlling for the effects of family background characteristics, the results showed that students from public schools were just as likely to go to college as students from private schools. Parental involvement was a significant factor influencing college and career success among low-income inner-city youth—not whether they went to public or private school.

What do you think? How does the type of school (public or private) influence a low-income student's chance for success in the long run? How much do parents matter?


Parents matter more than anything else towards a child's chances for success. This stuff about "Teachers Matter Most" is, well, foolish. I don't say that lightly or with any distain towards teachers. I have been a public school teacher for 20 years and will continue to be so for another 20 God willing. That parents matter most is the whole point of this study by the Center on Education Policy. Before "controlling" for the effects of family background characteristics, private schools outscored public schools(That's a no brainer). When those family characteristics are accounted for, the scores balance out. With private school teachers having far less experience, degrees, certification, more teachers teaching out of field, less staff development, etc., the case can hardly be made that teachers are the difference. No doubt, though, we will hear many a dissenting opinion arguing that very point. I eagerly await their protestations.

I, too, have been an early childhood and special educator for more than 20 years. In my career, I have also taught in public, independent, and parochial schools. I came away from those experiences with this--there are good schools and not-so-good schools in all of those categories. Parents ARE the important factor in their child's school success. I am currently affiliated with a University Lab school. Our parents are faced with the decision of where to send their child once they leave our program. Our surrounding area provides them with lots of options, yet they feel overwhelmed and unsure of what the best environment for their child might be. I agree with Michael--it has been my experience that many of the teachers working in non-public schools do not possess the necessary education and training that public school teachers have. However, credentials aren't always the best predictor of what makes a good teacher either. So, the answer is, that an involved parent will know what is happening in their child's school, support those efforts at home, and build solid parent-teacher relationships so that they model for their child that they value education.

At first glance, "choice" schools (private, charter, parochial, or public magnet programs) will always outperform standard public schools. Over the years, various factors have been given the credit for this advantage: lack of teachers' unions, religious content, even school uniforms, for goodness sake! I don't have proof for my hypothesis, but here goes, anyway. Whatever the organization or structure, a child does not get to attend a "choice" school unless the parent makes a concerted effort to get the child into it. "Choice" schools also get to determine HOW MANY students they can serve, and can turn away those they don't want or can't accommodate. Parents are also keenly aware that messing up in a "choice" school will result in the child's being forced out, and they communicate this to the child, either explicitly or implicitly, through insisting on good behavior and hard work. This is the sine qua non of high achievement. Once you have this, then good teaching and all the rest comes into play.

Full disclosure -- I was sent to private school, and my brother to an elite magnet public school. I was so dissatisfied with the neighborhood public schools my children attended that I sent them first to private school, then got them into magnet public schools, then moved to a school district I preferred (another common form of "choice.") I have also been a public school librarian for 19 years. I have thus lived school choice as a student, a parent, and a teacher, and I feel my experience counts for something. However, in the court of educational policy, it counts for nothing without scientific validation.

I'm therefore gratified that the CEP study appears to confirm my common-sense analysis, and I look forward to additional studies validating its findings.

Parental involvement and support is critical to the success of a student, but some part of parochial school vs. public school success is socio-economics. Students that can afford to go to private school probably can afford other resources as well. Having attended parochial school for 12 years as a child I can say there is an element of discipline that cannot exist in public school. The school population is often half as small as a public school and more managable because of it. While class size may be the same, a smaller student population means they know when you are physically there and control truancy in a way that public school fails at. Despite the fact that non-public schools have less qualified teachers they still out-perform public school students statistically so they must be doing something right.

Parents are an integral part in student success. If parents are involved in their child's education, the probability of success is higher. As for private schools doing a better job of educating our children, I'd like to share a story of one family (without using their names). This family had a boy who attended private school from K-3 grades. The family was told that the student was doing very well, in fact was receiving A's and B's. However, upon transferring to our school (public), I noticed that he was having trouble keeping up with the fourth grade curriculum. I requested some testing be done, and the parents agreed. We found that he was two years below grade level in reading and language arts, and also in math. How does this happen? The parents felt that as long as they were paying the school, that their son was "passed along" without any concern for his progress. I don't know if this is typical, but one case is bad enough. Let's give our public school teachers the credit due, as several are not only teaching the state standards to children every day, they are helping some children cope with very stressful lives.

In my teacher preparation program I was given the following quote by K.P. Gerlack: "Our task is to provide an education for the kinds of kids we have, not the kinds of kids we used to have, or want to have, or the kids that exist in our dreams." If your students don't have the kinds of parents you want them to have, then your job as a teacher will be harder. If you're not up to the challenge, or if you think ONLY parents matter and teachers are wallpaper, do your students a favor and get out of the classroom. And read The Freedom Writers Diary.

It's hard to argue with the things that Cheryl(Engineer/ Math Teacher/ Parent) has written. Her quote by K.P. Gerlack is insightful. Her statement that teachers with kids from problem homes will have a more difficult job is fairly obvious. And we can probably all agree that those that can't stand the heat should get out of the kitchen. Me, I'm still cooking.

In the meantime, should anyone ever actually write that ONLY parents matter and that teachers are wallpaper, they will have Cheryl to answer to.

Since parents are the determining factor in school and career success, perhaps as a nation we should devote significantly less time to standards/testing policy and more time on strengthening families.

My husband and I are fortunate enough to have good public and parochial schools in our area at our disposal. We send our children to Catholic school because we are Catholic and we want them to not only do well academically, but be the best person they can be. They learn more than just academics, they learn morals and religious values. No, not all kids succeed in parochial schools or public schools, but Parents are the first educators of their children. Sure, having good schools/teachers is important, but if a child doesn't have family support and a family that values education, not much else will matter. Parochial schools can determine how many kids they have, but the school we attend has a Special Education program and provides tutors for students struggling in different areas. It is one of the best schools in the area. I think ALL teachers (public and parochial) do a phenomenal job and should be commended for their efforts to make a difference in the lives of the children they teach. KUDOS!

As much as Cheryl's comment appeals to emotion and not to logic, it's right.

Teachers matter a GREAT deal, why would you argue that they can't influence a kid as much as a parent? I know even though my parents come from good backgrounds and what not, and even though i live in suburbia, i would much, much, much rather talk to teachers about my problems and my interests. Also, teachers have inspired me and continue to inspire their students more than parents.

There are so many ways to teach "morals" to kids at public school (private schools tend to force them on kids without saying why instead of letting kids come to their own conclusion that morals are important)... wether it be through sports, clubs, etc, disciplined classrooms that stress quality work over quantity. That's the problem with NCLB... it's all a numbers game. Quality doesn't matter. And don't think NCLB started it, education has had this coming for decades.

It is not a question of the type of school that makes a difference but a question of the type of administrator who holds his or her teachers accountable to standards and teachers who not only teach from bell to bell but also before school and after school for those students who need it or want to move ahead of the pack.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Louis/Teacher: It is not a question of the type of school read more
  • 12th grader: As much as Cheryl's comment appeals to emotion and not read more
  • Terri (mother): My husband and I are fortunate enough to have good read more
  • Matt: Since parents are the determining factor in school and career read more
  • Michael Xavier/ Teacher: It's hard to argue with the things that Cheryl(Engineer/ Math read more




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