28 September, 2016
With all of the highly publicized failures of America’s public schools, it is easy to assume that students in private schools are receiving a better education.
But a study released in 2007 by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) showed that students in public urban high schools perform, on average, just as well as those in private high schools.
Public vs. Private Education
It is easy to assume that private schools provide a better education because so many of their graduates go on to elite colleges and successful careers. But according to the CEP, this may be more because of demographics than academic quality. When students’ family backgrounds and income levels are taken into consideration, there is no effective difference in the quality of a public or private education.
When the report’s authors compared students of similar socioeconomic status at private, public and parochial high schools, they found out that:
- Achievement scores on reading, math, science and history were the same;
- Students were equally likely to attend college whether they had graduated from a public or private school;
- Young adults at age 26 were equally likely to report being satisfied with their jobs whether they had graduated from a public or private school;
- Young adults at age 26 were equally likely to engage in civic activity whether they had graduated from a public or private school.
There was, however, one significant area in which private school students did excel: SAT scores. Students in private schools performed constantly better on the test than public school students. The study’s authors point out that this does not imply that private schools are any better at teaching subject matter. They offer two possible explanations for this finding:
- Private schools are better at teaching preparation for the test.
- The admissions process at private schools tends to choose students with higher IQ scores, and aptitude tests like the SAT are a better measure of IQ than subject achievement tests.
Regardless of the reason for the difference, the result is that graduates from private schools are somewhat more likely to get admitted into very prestigious colleges.
The second exception that the study found was limited to a very specific type of private school. Catholic schools that are run by holy orders, such as the Jesuits, did show consistently positive academic effects. However, this is a relatively small percentage of parochial schools, since the majority of Catholic institutions are run by a local diocese instead of a holy order.