Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not another private vs. public school debate!

The last thing I want to do is start yet another private versus public school debate but this evening I stumbled across an interesting article from 2007, "Study Examines Public, Private Schools," by an AP education writer. Nancy Zuckerbrod reports on a study that examines students who go to private and public schools.

In the study conducted by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy researchers found the following:

"--In reading, family income, parental discussion, parental expectations, parental involvement and eighth-grade scores all positively affected 12th-grade reading scores. Scores weren't affected by the type of school a student attended unless it was a Catholic order school.

--In math, parental discussions and involvement had no effect on achievement scores. Parental expectations and family income did have an impact. Prior eighth-grade test scores were heavily correlated to achievement on the 12th-grade test. Again, attending a Catholic religious order school had a positive effect on the math scores.

--In science, income affected test scores but the other family characteristics did not. Prior test scores had the strongest impact. None of the school types had an edge over public high schools in boosting scores.

--In history, parental expectations and parental discussion had an impact on scores, as did achievement on eighth-grade tests. The only kind of school that had a positive impact on scores was a Catholic religious order school.

The students in the study were all poor and fit the demographics of those who would be eligible for the kind of private-school voucher programs or other school-choice initiatives generally favored by conservatives.

However, what the study shows is that family involvement matters more than whether a student goes to public or private school, said Jack Jennings, the president of the center."

The story does go on to quote someone who disputes the study:

"Andrew Coulson, an education expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said this one study shouldn't sway public policy.

'The overwhelming body of research favors private schooling over public schooling,' he said.

Coulson said he hadn't read the study but said one concern is that it looks at 12th-grade students. He said kids who enter 12th grade in many urban public schools are a higher achieving subgroup than a school's larger student body, because of high drop-out rates in many inner-city schools.

The new study did find that students at independent private schools, not the religiously affiliated schools, got higher SAT scores than public-school students."'s all very interesting.


  1. curious: what is it about catholic schools that makes kids score higher? (not that i'm my kids' knuckles to remain recognizable as, well, knuckles.)

    snippet: my husband toured st. paul's preschool in upper noe back in the day because it's about 50 steps from our house. some kid on the tour pointed at the picture of jesus on the wall and cried, "bob marley!" so funny.

  2. i know one thing, and maybe true of most with significant learning disablities are not allowed...even in preschool

  3. Just FYI, Andrew Coulson, quoted in the article, is an unabashed "free-market" public school opponent who calls for eliminating public education and mandatory education (as does the Cato Institute where he's a research fellow).

  4. Okay Kim-I have to call you on the Catholic comment. This board jumps all over any racist comments (see comments about bullying and 69% AA as an example)-your comment about knuckles is just as sterotypical as the 69% AA comment. Yes Catholic schools have a bad reputation for things (hopefully done in the past) but not all Catholic schools had corporal punishment. Don't get me wrong-I am absolutely horrified by all that has gone on in the Catholic Church and more importantly how the higher ups ignored it but don't tarnish all with the same brush. For background, I am a practicing Single Mother By Choice of two year old twins. I attended public school through 8th grade. In my first grade public school class, I was tied to a chair and told to be quiet because I had "learned enough for the year." This teacher practiced this form of "warehousing" for many years with full knowledge of the principal-it only stopped when the teacher retired at the mandatory age of 65. It is not just the Catholic schools who had/allowed corporal punishment. I still have not made my mind up about where my kids will go-Catholic school is an option as is public (which is why I am addicted to this blog and yours I might add!). I am not a crazed Catholic school supporter but I am just sayin....stereotyping at all levels is counterproductive.


  5. So all I'm getting from this is that 12th grade scores are correlated to 8th grade scores. What affects 8th grade scores then?

  6. Parental income and parental education level are the top two factors correlated with high achievement at any age.

    Be aware that SAT scores are a methodologically unsound basis for comparing schools. Unlike standardized tests (under California's API and the U.S. NCLB systems), not all students take the SAT. A school that wants to manipulate its students' SAT scores can easily do it by influencing which students take the SAT.

    Plus SAT scores are extremely responsive to test prep, which is expensive. Retaking the SAT also correlates with higher scores (that also costs money, plus of course there are logistical factors that make it easier for higher-income kids to take the test more often).

  7. I attended private schools throughout my educational career. I received an excellent education, but my wife and I decided that we would put our children into public schools because we felt we had missed out on something by attending private schools.

    That is, I attended a very elite private school in Southern California, and I always felt that I was living in a cloistered world. We were raised to believe that we were different. Hence, we developed a fear of the real world. We had a sort of film noir mentality toward the outside world, believing that the world outside our gated community in the private school was somehow different or even evil.

    I exaggerate, of course, but this was the common perception among students at my private schools. I cite George W. Bush as the ultimate example. Someone who is fairly intelligent (despite what many of you liberals think), but is basically out of touch with the real world around him.

    I believe children should go to school, where between the lines of the playground, are children that comprise the community around them -- whether on racial, class, or economic lines. All three of our children now attend public schools, and I believe they are getting just as sound an education as they would get in any private school. But with one advantage. They have learned to understand and like people with completely different backgrounds than their own.

    And finally, I'm somewhat perturbed by many comments on this website and elsewhere that seemed to apply that children are weak, that they need constant protection, that they will not thrive in diverse and challenging settings. Your children are strong. Sometimes you have to throw them into the deep end of the pool. This is how they build character. Do not keep them cloistered away from the real world.

    One more thing. You, the parent, mold your child. If you give them books at home, read to them, love them, nourish them, they will thrive in any educational setting. The children that need private schools the most are the ones with educational and physical handicaps. But, ironically, these are the very people who are shunned by private schools.

  8. Some what off topic. I just had an argument with my 2nd grader last night. Both Math and language arts come very easy to him. He's getting extra math homework and more difficult spelling words because he breezes through with no effort.

    His teacher sees he's not challenged (we're in a good public school, which I love) so began to send extra work home.

    We were working on his extra math homework, he did a couple things wrong. I was working with him to solve the problem correctly. My son didn't want to put in any more effort (apparently longer than 10 minutes is unreasonable), so told me it wasn't important because it was 'extra'.

    I blew my fuse. He wants to be a scientist and invent a time machine. So I asked him how he was going to do this if he didn't put in the effort when things got a little tough?

    This morning on the way to school, when we both cooled down, he apologized for his attitude, I apologized for blowing up. Then we had a very civil conversation on the importance of effort,of education and how people who have his kind of talents are needed to solve the big problems like global warming, oil independence, and more.

    He's agreed he'll try harder on his challenge homework.

    I'm in debt to his teacher for sending home extra work.

    But because of the constraints of the public schooling (money, etc), it does fall on the parents to be more hands on. His teacher sends home things they haven't covered in class, we then work together as a family. It isn't always fun. Yesterday he refused to accept he was wrong on a geometry problem, so he turned it in wrong. That is a lesson in itself, he's going to get it marked wrong and learn from it.

  9. Now I see many of you do understand that schools' "goodness" is a function of the populations they serve. So, stop calling this or that district "good" or "bad" as if the teachers who work there decide the "goodness" or "badness". We do what we can with what we get.

    tft (the frustrated teacher)

  10. This board jumps all over any racist comments (see comments about bullying and 69% AA as an example)-your comment about knuckles is just as sterotypical as the 69% AA comment.

    Conflating a clearly racist comment (implication: a school with many African American children is de facto violent because African Americans are violent) and a stereotyped, perhaps tasteless line (implication: Catholic schools use corporal punishment) is a stretch. These false equivalents are problematic in that they downplay the very real and hateful nature of racism.

    So, stop calling this or that district "good" or "bad" as if the teachers who work there decide the "goodness" or "badness". We do what we can with what we get.

    I a point. (I'm one of those teachers who, as it was explained on an earlier thread, is a "lesser" one since I choose to teach in an underserved community.) Most teachers I know work hard every day with their communities. But some - not many, but some - have underlying attitudes like the one in the 69% comment (or "nicer" versions that end up dumbing down material for "challenged" students). And that does not support good outcomes for children of color.

    What I'm saying is that teachers are not in control of institutionalized racism. But there are times when they reinforce it, perhaps unknowingly. For myself at least, the only way I can challenge that in my own practice and at my school is being open about its reality.

  11. Yeah, I hate to join in on the comments about Catholic school. But I too differ with Kim Green and have to call her out on her comments. I'm sure she didn't really mean that, except to be funny.

    I was raised in the public schools in the South in the early 70s. I was brutally spanked every time I misbehaved, sometimes locked in a dark closet, or forced to write Bible Scriptures over and over again. This was Public School.

    Our principal had two paddles. A long rubber one with leather straps hanging off the end that stung, or this heavy cricket type oak paddle that bruised. You got to chose which one you wanted for your spanking. Often they'd keep you in the office with the paddles alone for about an hour to decide which one you wanted for your spanking, and you'd sit in dread of the inevitable.

    They really spanked ya. Like, hard. I was a girl, so I didn't have to pull down my pants. The boys often had to pull down their pants and reveal bare skin. A black kid went ahead of me one day, and I'll never forget the principal yelling at him and giving him extra licks because the kid refused to cry. The principal actually used the n word.

    It was awful.

    This is from 1969 through 1973. I did so badly in public school that my parents desperately pulled me out and sent me to a great private school in my town, that was Catholic. We weren't Catholic. And we got a scholarship too. but the nuns and teachers didn't spank at that private Catholic school.

    My parents complained and wondered how I could possibly be disciplined without spanking.

    The nuns refused to spank. They were kind, patient, and great great teachers. The school work was ten times harder, but I learned and thrived. With no spanking. No fear, no dread. Just education. For discipline, they simply sat you down and talked with you.

    Immediately, my behavior improved, my scores went to straight A's, and I thank god every day my parents pulled me out of public school and sent me to private for six years. I ended up finishing up public high school.

    I love public schools. The idea of them. But I went 0/7 and got my heart broken and I bet on Tuesday when the 2nd round comes out, I'll have my faith beat up too. I doubt I'll get anything. But I know this isn't the South of the 1970s. My family reports that they still occasionally spank in my hometown. But the schools are excellent, rated 10 on, and my niece who lives there just got into an Ivy League.

    Actually, I am happy to be sending my kid to Catholic School here in SF. I admit I still fear the craziness that can happen in public schools with civil servant types who can't be fired. The classes at Catholic School are huge, like 30+ kids. But the discipline and order seems great, and other kids don't seem to complain.

    I'm sure others have bad stories about Catholic Schools, but I have nothing but good things to say, especially about the ones I've seen in SF.

    When I toured Catholic schools, the kids had bright eyes, lots of focus, and their test scores were high. I think that, this being SF, they had a forum to discuss lots about spirituality and religion, in ways that public schools cannot. There is a constant discussion of ethics and morality and prayer that goes off in directions public school is not allowed to.

    I am still not a catholic. I'm more of a zen type. But I think this stuff really does belong in the schools--a wide world view, including all types of christian, jewish, islamic, zen, or agnostic religion--and it's sad that it's such a third rail.

  12. It's a beautiful sunny day outside... why so glum?

    Because we just got our Round 2 letter... and went 0-for-7 again! We even put undersubscribed schools on the list, schools that we probably wouldn't really stay at... and we got squat.

    Now we know what is worse than going 0-for-7...

    Anybody know when the waitpool numbers will be released... and where?

  13. I went to public school through 7th grade and Catholic thereafter. (1975-1980). There was never any physical punishment in Catholic school. One of the Catholics was a chi-chi girls prep school, the other was a very modestly priced co-ed archdiosese-run school with kids from all kinds of backgrounds. Overall, I have to say I had a far greater number of skilled teachers in Catholic school, particularly the nuns, who were intellectually rigorous, and although kind, tolerated no foolishness. Not that there weren't a couple of dotty nuns who should have been sent to the retirement community years ago, but they taught electives with few students and did little harm. We learned about all world religions, we studied Protestant denominations extensively, we studied existentialism and other arguments for athiestm, and we had advanced courses available in foreign language, history, English, math and science. We also took ethics and learned that racism and homophobia were bad, messages I never heard in public school in those days--nor was I aware of any public high schools in that time or place that offered such topics as ethics or philosophy. When I went to public school 4th-6th grade in the boonies, one of the teachers threw an unruly student out a second storey window. I had a few great teachers in public school, no doubt, and still recall my public 4th and 5th grade teachers with tremendous affection and gratitude, but on balance, more mediocrities and meanies in public than winners, the opposite of Catholic school. Just one person's experience, I've known a number of people who feel they came out of Catholic school warped for life.

  14. This is a weird article becuase its very broad. I dont believe this applies to all private schools. I think that in SF there are schools like Burkes, Hamlin, Town, MCDS, etc .... that clearly provide a huge advantge to the students. However perhaps the average private schools throughout the nations do not.

  15. Well, the Towns, Burkes, Hamlins, SF Days etc get to pick the cream of the crop.. you know, the kids who you could lock up in an empty basement 7 hours a day and would still outscore those with lower parental income and lesser parental educaction. Don't give the schools too much credit.

  16. But most of those schools do have amazing enrichment opportunities -- week-long farm trips, etc. I don't know if parents have to pay extra, but when I hear about these trip I feel like my kids may actually be missing something. Maybe not $22K worth, but something!

  17. I don't know about weeklong farm trips, but our public elementary school has overnight trips in the upper grades, to gold rush country, or to the environmental & history education program at Fort Ross (Sonoma County). There are day trips on the Bay for marine science, tons of trips to the botanical garden, historical sites, and so forth. That's not even getting into the many arts enrichment programs and field trips.

    Several of the public middle schools offer long-distance, even international, trips to places like Washington DC, Costa Rica, the Yucatan, Shakespeare @ Ashland (Oregon), Olympic National Park (Washington State), and I even heard about a trip to Egypt. Plus there is daily orchestra or band or studio art, daily PE, the full complement of sports teams. At some of the poorer schools like Everett and James Lick, there is 826 Valencia onsite, and for the honors kids at Aptos, Presidio, etc, high level mathematics, science, and English language arts. It's not a wasteland.

    I know the privates look fabulous (i.e., not so scruffy) and have that small attentive feel, and some wonderful programs. No doubt there is good education there. And of course the majority of those kids come into the school with lots of enrichment and knowledge already. But I really don't know if those advantages really add up to a quarter million dollars worth (added up over the years). Sometimes the big generic brand of detergent really does work as well as the designer brand, if you shop smart....I bet a lot of these kids from middle and upper middle class families will end up in the same colleges down the line, regardless of whether they went private or public, but the expense difference to the families over the years will be enormous.