I came across an argument for vouchers the other day that stated “everyone knows that private school test scores are better than public schools.” Anytime anyone uses the “everyone knows” argument, a red flag goes up for me. “Everyone knows” is a simple way to introduce opinion as fact into an argument or debate without the challenge of proof. So, I did some research. Turns out that it is not a fact that private schools outscore public schools.
I found this article, “Public Schools Outperform Private Schools in Math Instruction” in a 2009 issue of Science Digest. Already I know the voucher-crowd won’t accept the results from something called “Science Digest”, but the results were fascinating.
In another “Freakonomics”-style study that turns conventional wisdom about public- versus private-school education on its head, a team of University of Illinois education professors has found that public-school students outperform their private-school classmates on standardized math tests, thanks to two key factors: certified math teachers, and a modern, reform-oriented math curriculum.
Certified math teachers and a modern curriculum. Who knew, right?
Sarah Lubienski, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the U. of I. College of Education and one of the lead researchers in the study stated,
According to our results, schools that hired more certified teachers and had a curriculum that de-emphasized learning by rote tended to do better on standardized math tests, and public schools had more of both.”
In previous research, Lubienski discovered that after holding demographic factors constant, public school students performed just as well if not better than private schools students on standardized math tests.
The researchers did find that smaller class sizes, which are more prevalent in private schools than in public schools, significantly correlate with achievement. And any public school teacher will tell you they have been begging for smaller class sizes for decades now.
Smaller class size correlated with higher achievement and occurred more frequently in private schools,” Lubienski said. “But that doesn’t help explain why private schools were being outscored by public schools.”
Lubienski said one reason private schools show poorly in this study could be their lack of accountability to a public body.
“There’s been this assumption that private schools are more effective because they’re autonomous and don’t have all the bureaucracy that public schools have,” Lubienski said. “But one thing this study suggests is that autonomy isn’t necessarily a good thing for schools.”
When you are using public money for anything, accountability and transparency are paramount. Something the vouvher-crowd in New Hampshire just doesn’t understand.
Another reason could be private schools’ anachronistic approach to math.
Private schools are increasingly ignoring curricular trends in education, and it shows,” Lubienski said. “They’re not using up-to-date methods, and they’re not hiring teachers who employ up-to-date lesson plans in the classroom. When you do that, you aren’t really taking advantage of the expertise in math education that’s out there.”
One of the reasons that private schools don’t adopt a more reform-minded math curriculum might be that some parents are more attracted to a “back-to-basics” approach to math instruction. The end result, however, is students who not prepared for the tests and challenges of the world today.
Public schools set aside money for teacher development and periodic curriculum improvements to be sure their teachers and instruction stays current.
“Private schools don’t invest as much in the professional development of their teachers and don’t do enough to keep their curriculum current,” she said. “That appears to be less of a priority for them, and they don’t have money designated for that kind of thing in the way public schools do.”
Lubienski hopes that politicians who favor more privatization would realize that the invisible hand of the market doesn’t necessarily apply to education.
“You can give schools greater autonomy, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to use that autonomy to implement an innovative curriculum or improve the academics of the students,” she said.
Schools are not businesses and cannot be run like they are, but that is a story for next week.
- Private schools don’t want state involvement (al.com)
- Private Schools Want Your Money – With No Strings (theattackmachine.wordpress.com)
- Wisconsin voucher students lag in latest state test (jsonline.com)
- Dennis Van Roekel: Exposing ALEC’s Agenda to Defund and Dismantle Public Education (huffingtonpost.com)
- Bill would provide state money for private school tuition (wral.com)
- Proud to Be a Private Public School Parent (educationnext.org)
- http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090226093423.htm (Original Science Digest Article)