Education Letter to the Editor

In Testing, Social Factors Outweigh Type of School

February 14, 2006 2 min read

To the Editor:

The results of the study by University of Illinois researchers Christopher and Sarah Theule Lubienski (“NAEP Analysis Questions Private Schools’ Edge,” Feb. 1, 2006) are consistent with the overall conclusion of All Else Equal: Are Public and Private Schools Different?, by Luis Benveniste, Martin Carnoy, and Richard Rothstein.

In their investigation of 16 public and private elementary and middle schools in California, Mssrs. Benveniste, Carnoy, and Rothstein found that “the social, cultural, and economic backgrounds of the parents and the community in which the school was located seemed to be the main determinant of variation, much more so than a school’s public or private character or, within the latter group, whether it was religious or secular.”

What both studies underscore is that a school’s structure is a distant second to the backgrounds of the students enrolled. The results recorded by charter schools compared with those of traditional public schools in the Lubienski study are particularly noteworthy in this regard because they refute the repeated claim that choice is indispensable to success. Despite the option exercised by parents in enrolling their children in charter schools, choice did not result in better measurable academic outcomes.

Parents have the absolute right to send their children to any school of their preference, but it’s important to distinguish between their freedom to do so and academic achievement. The two do not necessarily go hand in glove. Ideologues will challenge the empirical evidence surrounding this controversial issue, but they cannot discredit it.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.

To the Editor:

The news from University of Illinois researchers that public schools outperformed private schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress when demographic factors where taken into account is encouraging. Surprisingly, however, the study reached a far more disturbing conclusion that newspapers have not reported. Within all manner of schools (charter, public, and private), black students scored, on average, two grade levels below white students in 8th grade math, even when demographic factors were controlled for.

Rather than trying to reinvent schools according to some ideologue’s model, maybe we should concentrate our efforts on improving the performances of our lowest-achieving students at all schools.

Patrick Mattimore

San Francisco, Calif.