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Private Schools: Best for the Disadvantaged


Q. Which does the better job of educating low-income and minority children, the public schools or the private schools?


Clearly, and ironically, it's the private schools. Most people think that private schools cost more and that explains why their students and parents feel more satisfied with the educational product they received. But actually, public schools are more expensive, pupil for pupil, than their private counterparts. It's just that the parents of public-school children don't have to pay for the public education out of their own pockets. They are distanced from the tax funding, which is averaging around $9,000 per pupil per year in United States K-12 schools, not counting off-budget spending such as debt service and construction projects.


The obvious advantages that private education yields for kids of all income levels and races is fueling the boom in private school enrollments and the push for school choice programs around the country.


Foundations and donors looking to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children might be forced to reject supporting public education because its track record is pretty sorry. The achievement gap between rich and poor, white and black or brown in public schools has been widening, or staying static, for the past 30 or 40 years. Today's white children score an average of 200 points higher on the SAT and on all subjects tested by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).


Yet in private schools, the achievement gap has been markedly narrowed in recent years. Researcher Jay Greene, senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, revealed that in studies using NAEP data compiled from all Milwaukee public-school students of all income levels, comparing their scores with those of the low-income participants in Milwaukee's private-school voucher program.


Greene reported that voucher students were more than 1 times as likely to graduate as public-school students. The test-score gap between the two races actually widened in writing and math between fourth grade and 12th grade among public-school students, Greene found. The gaps increased by 15% and 10%, respectively, although the racial gaps got slightly smaller in reading and science in those eight years.


However, Greene noted that relatively high numbers of minority students drop out of public schools every year, leaving a pool of minority students in public schools who are academically better performers than minority students as a whole. So by all rights, the gaps should have been narrowed considerably more.


That's exactly what happened in Milwaukee's private schools. The racial gap in reading, 27 points for fourth-graders in public schools, was reduced by nearly 50%, to a gap of only 14 points dividing the races for seniors. Writing, math and science gaps also were closed, by factors of 18% to 26%.


Homework: See the Citizen's Guide to Education Reform,


By Susan Darst Williams Private Schools 02 2008


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