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Public Schools Win! (Maybe)

Many times around here I’ve asked for evidence of the inherent superiority of private schools over public, which appears to be one of the foundations of the arguments put forth by voucher supporters.

But according to one study, when it comes to math, the situation is just the opposite.

A large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.

The study, by Christopher Lubianski and Sarah Theule Lubianski, of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of more than 340,000 students in 13,000 regular public, charter and private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The 2003 test was given to 10 times more students than any previous test, giving researchers a trove of new data.

Well, that’s nice. But it’s certainly not enough to force the death of NCLB and declare victory over the charter/voucher concept.

For one thing, although it’s a better assessment than most state tests, the NAEP is still a standardized test, with all the flaws and limitations of such tools. And I agree with several people quoted on both sides of the issue that there are too many variables in the mix to accept these findings at face value.

But the biggest problem with this and most other research on school achievement is that we are just comparing three categories based on the same foundation. Most charter and private schools are organized around the same structure – agrarian calendar, artificially organized knowledge as curriculum, teacher as information dispenser – as are public schools.

Until we are prepared to consider changing the basic structure of American education, no amount of research on the current system is going to substantially improve teaching and learning.

voucher, private schools, research

1 Comment

  1. John

    You’re right that this won’t be the last word and won’t change the minds of people who are already convinced that vouchers and charter schools are superior. But I wanted to weigh in on your comment that there are “too many variables.” This study used a statistical technique, hierarchical linear modeling, designed to isolate variables. It also confirms earlier this work by these researchers on the 2000 NAEP data.

    As the article notes, the U.S. Department of Education has two similar studies in the works — one on charter schools and one on private schools. The official studies should confirm the findings in the just-published study — same NAEP scores, same statistical technique. If that’s the case, it will make a little harder to ignore the research.

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