School Choice & Charters Report Roundup

Public vs. Private Study Compares Outcomes for Urban Students

October 16, 2007 1 min read

Disadvantaged students from urban areas show about the same results in academic achievement and other education-related outcomes regardless of whether they attended a public or private school, a study released last week concludes.

Using longitudinal data, the study focused on a sample of 1,003 students with similar backgrounds in academic achievement before entering high school, in family socioeconomic status, and on various indicators of parental involvement in school.

The report says it contradicts previous findings from some other researchers, who found a positive private school effect for disadvantaged students, as well as assumptions often made by policymakers.

“Once the full scope of the family is taken into account, cultural capital as well as economic capital, private school effects disappear,” says the report, published by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization that has been sharply critical of publicly funded programs to provide private school tuition vouchers.

Critics questioned elements of the study. For one, they noted that it considered only students who took a 12th grade exam.

“Dropout rates can be extraordinarily high” in many urban public schools, said Joe McTighe, the executive director of the Council for American Private Education, a group based in Germantown, Md., that supports and promotes private schools. “The research has already skewed the results.”

The study, conducted by researcher Harold H. Wenglinksy of Columbia University, relied on data from a nationally representative database of students and schools—the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988-2000.

The report notes two exceptions to its main findings. First, students who attended independent private high schools had higher SAT scores than the public school students. Second, students who attended some Roman Catholic schools run by religious orders, such as the Jesuits, instead of diocesan schools, saw some higher achievement than the public school students.

A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2007 edition of Education Week

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