Friday, July 21, 2006

Public Schools

Last Friday the U. S. Department of Education released the results of a surprising study. So surprising that some claimed its release was conducted almost under cover so as to downplay the impact!

Commissioned by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the study was conducted by the Educational Testing Service.

The study's fundamental conclusion: with only one group and subject matter exception, children in public schools perform as well or better in reading and math than do comparable students in private schools. The exception was discovered in eighth grade reading.

The study took a careful look at math and reading scores from almost 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools for 4th through 8th graders during 2003. The report also noted that conservative Christian schools lagged behind public schools in 8th grade math.

Public school leaders and teachers' groups criticized the Department for the relatively low-key announcement of the findings that seemed to cut against recent policies that tout the superiority of private schools and encourage the use of education vouchers., especially for low-income and minority students. The Department of Education described the study as having "modest utility" and would have little effect on policy decisions.

This particular study compared student background, race, ethnicity and family situations in evaluating outcomes. Overall student performance in private schools usually appears to be superior to that of students attending public schools. But when private school students are compared to public school students of similar or comparable background, as in this study, the public school students performed better than their peers in private schools.

Most observers believe that had the results been reversed, the Department would have used the data to argue for public support of private, religious schools and school vouchers.

Interestingly, among private schools, students attending Lutheran schools did best, while those attending conservative Christian schools scored lowest.

No two ways about it. In the city our public schools are essential to hope, opportunity-creation, social connectedness and economic progress. In my view people concerned about seeing inner city communities improve, and even thrive, must care about and commit themselves to the success of public schools.

Suburban flight of various sorts, combined with admitted weaknesses and failures in public education, have injured or, in a number of notable cases, crippled public education in the inner cities of the United States.

Efforts to cut funding, and offers of alternative educational schemes that end up hurting our public schools are simply unacceptable in my view. The world is shrinking and the demands facing the next generation in regard to workforce development, public leadership and healthy civic life mean that children must be educated if they are to make their own positive contributions to the common good.

The children I know deserve our very best effort when it comes to education. Private education cannot achieve sufficient scale to serve the majority of our students. And now we have evidence showing that students in public schools out perform their private school peers.

We've been tutored to believe that public schools don't work. It's likely time for us to hire some new tutors.


KentF said...

It would seem the voice from the White House and the far right, particularly Jim Dobson, don't want this information out. They want home schools to rule. Dobson doesn't mince words - Christians have no business teaching or being involved in the evil government schools. Thankfully most teachers are tuning out this nonsense. Thanks Larry!

Anonymous said...

I think one of the problems of public schools is that there is so much "political correctness."

Larry James said...

Thanks, Kentf. Our public school teachers are stars in my view.

Anonymous, thanks for your comment. I must say though that when people react negatively to so-called "politcal correctness" it concerns me. Most of the issues surrounding PC involve simply being sensitive and respectful (in a very pluralistic society, living under a constitution designed to insure protection and liberty for everyone)to other people and their differing points of view and backgrounds. The alternative appears to be a Balkanized America where everyone chooses to be isolated or huddles with only those who agree. How stale. How boring. How unAmerican, in my view.

DarBecca said...

As a Christian teacher in a public school, I have to agree that I "tune out" these things. We Christians need to be in the public schools, as we should be in other areas. Thanks for the comments about public education being as successful. I teach in a public Alternative High School program that successfully helps those who cannot succeed in our regular public school system. We make it possible for those students to succeed. Thanks for commenting that we can successfully meet the needs of our children in education.

Anonymous said...

I would urge anyone to google "political correctness" and read the history of this movement. It will make your skin crawl.

One example, the Michigan Dept.of Education is attempting to ban the words "American" and "America" from public schools. They consider it "internationally friendly" Why being friendly to an international audience or prospective is important in teaching and learning American history is incomprehensible.

Then there is the ongoing effort to teach youth that the Founding Fathers were racist, slave owning pigs and totally misrepresenting them in terms of their values.

These are only two examples but space prohibits me from going on and on which I could do.

Larry James said...

Anonymous 1:59 p.m., thanks for the post. What you describe is not what is happening in the public schools in Dallas, Texas and I suspect it is not happening in very many places around the U. S.

BTW--my doctoral work at Tulane University was in American History. What you describe as being taught about some of our leaders is very much an overstatement and certainly not correct in terms of the tone of what is taught.

However, many were in fact racist, slave owners. We do ourselves no good by glossing over the facts of our history.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. You state:

"Suburban flight of various sorts, combined with admitted weaknesses and failures in public education, have injured or, in a number of notable cases, crippled public education in the inner cities of the United States."

Did the report address/compare how inner-city, urban schools stacked up against suburban districts? I know that at least here in Dallas, the perception is you "don't want your kids going to DISD" and instead you should move out to suburbia [Coppell, Frisco, etc.]. Curious if the study addressed this since your comment talked about suburban flight. Thanks!


Larry James said...

R, no the report on the report that I read did not mention suburban schools. My comments were based on what I observe here in Dallas. And yes, we hear all the time that parents move to keep their children out of Dallas Public Schools.

Joe M said...

It seems to me not to be the same in Florida as the report stated. I sent my chlidren to both plubic and then to Christian schools. The FCAT test here in Florida seems to validate that private schools are better and private Christian schools are better due to the value set. I will attempt to secure the gov't report to read.
Joe M

Larry James said...

Joe, thanks for the post. Keep in mind that the unique nature of the study I reference is that it controls for ethnic and socio-economic factors in the student bodies. For example, according to the study, an Afican American student from a low income household performed better in public schools than in private.

Anonymous said...

I am distressed that we in this country seem to be systematically disabling (oops - I meant dismantling) our wonderful institutions that have helped so many. Are we not all Americans, and don't we want to succeed? Seems to me that "we all hang together or we each hang separately".