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Studies Dispute Coleman's Finding on Blacks in Private Schools

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Washington--Several researchers have developed evidence that they say refutes the findings of sociologist James S. Coleman that minority students perform better academically in private schools than they do in public schools.

Reporting on two separate studies at a recent meeting here of the American Psychological Association, the researchers explained that their analyses of the same data used by Mr. Coleman show that black students enrolled in Catholic schools do not necessarily perform better on achievement tests simply because those schools do a better job of educating, as the controversial sociologist has suggested.

Samuel S. Peng, a researcher at the National Center for Education Statistics (nces), said that achievement scores of sophomore students provide the "best predictor of senior test scores, indicating that what students bring into school initially will greatly impact later outcomes."

His research study, entitled, "Effective High Schools: What Are their Attributes?" concluded that Catholic schools "are not necessarily superior to public schools with respect to student performance after other school characteristics and student background have been taken into account."

Timothy Z. Keith, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Iowa, contends in his study that there is "no difference in achievement" between black students who attend Catholic high schools and those who attend public high schools, when "intellectual ability" is considered along with socioeconomic factors.

'Student Selection'

Mr. Keith concluded that reported differences in achievement among minority students in public and private schools "could be the result of student selection into Catholic schools." Mr. Keith, as a doctoral candidate at Duke University, con-ducted the study with Ellis B. Page of the Duke faculty.

The two research studies appear to contradict the conclusions reached in last year's Coleman study, which drew sharp criticism for its negative implications about the public schools at a time when the Reagan Administration was proposing to offer tuition tax credits to the parents of private-school students.

The Coleman study, Public and Private Schools, contended that the difference in the achievement scores of public- and private-school students indicates that private-school students receive a better education than do public-school students. His conclusion was based on data collected for the nces study, High School and Beyond, the most extensive collection of data ever compiled about American high-school students.

In conducting his research study, Mr. Peng re-analyzed data from the base-year survey of the nces study, which involved more than 30,000 sophomores and 28,000 seniors in 1,015 high schools nationwide.

From those data, Mr. Peng exam-ined the correlation between student achievement and such school characteristics as the number of academic courses offered and the number of students who took them, the amount of time spent on school-related projects, and school discipline.

'Orderly Environment'

According to Mr. Peng, school characteristics "are significant and positively related to student achievement." He said schools that have "an orderly environment and offer an adequate academic program will produce higher-achieving students."

Mr. Keith, in reaching his conclusion, re-analyzed data from the Coleman study and from a study conducted by the sociologist Andrew M. Greeley, both of which reported higher scores among minority students enrolled in private schools.

According to Mr. Keith, those earlier studies considered students' family background in their analyses but failed to consider students' academic ability. When academic ability is "controlled," he said, the differences reported by Mr. Coleman and Mr. Greeley are nonexistent.

Neither Mr. Coleman nor his research associates could be reached for comment last week.

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