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.