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Broader Data on Private Schools Planned by E.D.

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Washington--The Education Department is sharply escalating its efforts to gather data on private schools and is promising to make a greater attempt to disseminate the information.

At a Nov. 18 meeting here, department officials told researchers that several surveys scheduled for release beginning early next year would significantly improve the amount and type of data available on private schools and their teachers, administrators, students, educational programs, and school "effectiveness."

Emerson J. Elliott, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which sponsored the meeting, said the enhanced effort was based on the fact that "a big piece of American education is private education."

Data collection on private schools, he said, "has been relatively neglected at n.c.e.s.," mainly due to its expense. But in recent years, there has been more interest in studying private schools, Mr. Elliott said, because they raise "a lot of provocative issues" for public education.

He urged the approximately 35 private-school researchers to "order the [data] tapes, read the papers, write your own papers, but most of all, give us a critique."

The meeting had been requested by Associates for Research on Private Education, a special-interest group of the American Educational Research Association. Groupmembers asked for the meeting, said Patricia Bauch, assistant professor of education at the Catholic University of America, in order to become better acquainted with the department's statistical operations.

Although the department's statistics-gathering on private schools has gradually improved over the past few years, Ms. Bauch said, the new efforts will provide "some rich, rich data."

"I am impressed by how much progress has been made," she said, predicting that the new surveys would make available "all kinds of interesting information for policy and research."

For example, Ms. Bauch said, statistics permitting direct comparisons between public- and private-school teachers have been lacking in the past. But with the department's new emphasis, researchers will be better able to study the differences between teachers in the two sectors and gauge their interaction as some switch sectors. The study of school effectiveness also will be enhanced, she said.

Others at the meeting agreed that the improvements would help, but said that equal efforts should be undertaken to make the data that already exist more readily available.

"There is a wealth of information on private schools, but some of it is not accessible, is stored on data tapes, or has not been published in journals," said Peter L. Benson, president of the Search Institute, a research organiza4tion based in Minneapolis. "There's lots of stuff on data tapes that no one has looked at."

Mr. Benson is completing an n.c.e.s.-funded study, "Private Schools in the United States: A Statistical Profile," which is scheduled for release next spring.

To ease the access problem, the department is considering transferring material that is usually stored on data tapes for use in mainframe computers to compact disks that can be used in microprocessors. That would make the data easier to use and more accessible to researchers, said Paul Planchon, director of the elementary- and secondary-education statistics division.

Department officials described several studies currently in progress that represent what Fay Nash, a project officer at n.c.e.s., called "a major effort at beefing up our collection of private-school data."

Private-school data will figure prominently in the "Schools and Staffing Survey, 1987-88," an undertaking planned since 1986 at a cost of more than $5 million.

It is designed to measure teacher supply and demand, the composition of the administrative and teaching workforce, and the general status of teaching and schooling. The center plans to repeat the survey in 1991, and every two years thereafter.

Last January, the center surveyed 3,500 private schools, 9,300 public schools, 5,600 school districts, and 65,000 teachers in both public and private schools for the study. The response rates were about 80 percent for private schools and their teachers and administrators, and 90-96 percent for public schools and their personnel, according to preliminary data released at the meeting.

Information from the survey will be available beginning in February. Next spring or summer, the center will release a set of reports on the basic data, said Marilyn M. McMillen, chief analyst for private schools.

Later in the year, the nces will release a series of analytical reports covering such topics as the characteristics of the teaching force, workplace conditions, teacher supply and demand, and school practices. All reports will provide public-private comparisons, Ms. McMillen said.

The center is also working on a $1- million follow-up survey of teachers involved in the study. By more closely examining those who moved from one teaching job to another, who left the profession, and who remained in their positions, the "Teacher Follow-up Survey" will attempt to draw conclusions about factors that influence teachers' career decisions.

In the department's newest long-term survey of students, the National Educational Longitudinal Study: 1988, the number of private-school students included represents an "oversample," according to Jeffrey A. Owings, chief of the center's longitudinal- and household-studies branch.

Included in the study are 26,000 8th-grade students, 6,500 of them from private schools. They will be surveyed every two years.

Last year, the students were given tests in English, mathematics, science, and social studies. One parent and two teachers of each student were surveyed, as well as the school principal. Teachers were asked to comment on their impressions of the students, classroom practices, class sizes, and textbooks used.

The $7-million survey "will probably be good for private-school effectiveness studies," among other uses, Mr. Owings said. It also will provide information on other topics, including dropouts, tracking, school admissions or school assignment, tuition, school programs, testing, school climate, and principal autonomy.

The oversampling means that the number of private-school students being studied is proportionally greater than their percentage in the total population, Mr. Owings said.

He released some preliminary data at the meeting on the percentage of students who switch between public and private schools.

Of the public-school 8th graders surveyed, 93 percent said they would attend another public school for the 9th grade, 1.3 percent said they would attend a Roman Catholic school, and others said they did not know.

Of the Catholic-school students4surveyed, 61 percent said they would continue in a Catholic school, 30 percent said they would go to a public school, and 8 percent said they would attend another private school.

And among the remaining private-school students, 73 percent said they would attend another private school, and 13 percent said they would attend a public school.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades, also is oversampling private-school students, Gary W. Phillips, chief of the department's educational-assessment branch, said in an interview last week.

Private-school students have represented about 10 percent of those sampled in previous years, but that will rise to 15 percent in the 1990 assessment, or about 4,500 students in each grade, Mr. Phillips said. Over all, naep will test about 30,000 students in each of the three grades, he said.

"There has been increased interest in the use of naep data for policy decisions," Mr. Phillips said. "By having a larger sample size, we can do better comparisons with the private-school data."

The center for statistics is also at work on a survey it plans to repeat every year, the "Private School Universe Project." That $275,000 survey will provide a private-school equivalent to the center's "Common Core" data on public schools, which offers such information as the number of students, teachers, and graduates, and student-teacher ratios.

Preliminary data from the project are scheduled for release on Dec. 30.

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