Published Online: November 17, 1999
Published in Print: November 17, 1999, as Private Schools

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Look-Alikes: A new study calls into question the conventional view that Roman Catholic schools are bastions of traditional teaching methods while public schools harbor an overabundance of progressive approaches.

When researcher Louis Chandler looked at what happens inside public and parochial schools, he found that, on average, they looked very much alike. An education professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Mr. Chandler carried out the study for the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a research group that supports vouchers and other forms of school choice.

Mr. Chandler based his analysis on surveys returned from the principals of 336 Catholic, public, and independent schools in Ohio. The administrators answered 10 questions in which they rated the extent to which their schools leaned toward approaches considered either progressive or traditional. The questions covered such areas as the kind of reading instruction used—whole language or phonics.

The results showed that Catholic principals were slightly more likely to say they stressed progressive methods. But the average difference between their responses and those of their public school counterparts was not statistically significant. Yet independent schools were found to use traditional methods at significantly higher rates.

The analysis also found more variability, for example, among public schools than between the averages for public and private schools. Still, the researcher adds, most schools in both groups were somewhere in the middle.

"We’re ending up with a more and more homogeneous education system at the same time when parents say they want more choices," he said.


Living Together: Don’t tell administrators at the Phillips Academy that they’re not progressive. The boarding school’s trustees voted unanimously last month to allow faculty members who are in committed relationships with same-sex partners to share quarters with them while serving as house counselors in the dormitories. The school, better known as Andover after the Massachusetts town where it is located, was founded in 1778 and now serves 1,080 students in grades 9-12.

A statement by the school’s trustees said the action "would serve the academy’s goals to educate a diverse student population and to prepare all of its students for productive lives in a complex global society."

At least three other residential high schools in New England have similar policies, Andover officials said.

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 19, Issue 12, Page 11

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