Why Public-Private Comparisons Are Useless

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To the Editor:

The only thing worth noting about comparisons of existing public and private schools is how incredibly misleading the results can be. Your report on Christopher and Sarah Theule Lubienski’s study is just the latest example of this ("NAEP Analysis Questions Private Schools’ Edge," Feb. 1, 2006).

For a policy decision about anything but a tiny program aimed at shifting a few students between existing schools, such comparisons are meaningless. Significant privatization, vouchers, or tax credits would foster the establishment of private schools very different from those in the private school sector as it exists now.

In true market settings, profit-seeking is the norm. But the current private school sector contains virtually no profit-seeking private schools, which is understandable because it is virtually impossible to make a profit competing against a “free” product.

To the extent that your readers believe such comparisons are useful, publishing them without the appropriate caveats and disclaimers can do enormous damage to the K-12 reform debate.

John Merrifield
Professor of Economics
University of Texas at San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas

Vol. 25, Issue 25, Page 32

Published in Print: March 1, 2006, as Why Public-Private Comparisons Are Useless

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