Saturday, January 28, 2006

Our failing public education system

Public-School Students Score Well in Math in Large-Scale Government Study:
A large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.
How about that. When you control for socio-economic status, public school students do better than private school students.

The Political Animal posts a handy graphic, illustrating the fact that while uncontrolled scores are higher in private schools, that effect is not just eliminated, but reversed when you control for socioeconomic status.

This supports the standard critique of the broad voucher/school choice/privatization argument. It isn't that private schools are inherently better at teaching, they just get to pick and choose their pupils, which artificially raises measures of achievement.

When you statistically control that effect, public schools do better than private schools, a fairly stunning result. If I were going to make a prediction, I'd expect that private schools would have been no different from public schools once you factor out social differences.

Real school choice makes some sense in a different context. Some schools have great art programs, others may happen to have put together a great program for people with gifts, or deficiencies, in math, or history, or science. Offering students the ability to choose a school because of a specialization like that is worthy, and efforts underway to make it easier to provide that diversity of experience using the Internet are especially worthy, since it doesn't necessarily require students to interfere with their social development in order to push themselves academically, or extracurricularly. Magnet schools and other systems, including the New York Public Schools, that let students and parents make those sorts of decisions are great.

But just pretending that private schools are inherently better than public schools doesn't cut it. The only way to believe that is to ignore facts on the ground. Private schools have better student achievement because they get to pick better students. And no voucher will change that.