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Private schools don't make better students

By Jamila Tull
On April 10, 2014

In the debate of whether all schools should be privatized, it's imperative for advocates and naysayers of public/private schools to remember that a child's academic achievement is not solely based on the institution the child attends.

It's no secret that most parents want their children to receive the best possible education at the best institution to ensure the cultivation of their child's talents, abilities and intelligence. An article in The Huffington Post shows that 10% of all students K-12 attend a private school, and this number is increasing. There has been an ongoing debate on whether public schools should be privatized, but this would leave some families with the short end of the stick.

Private schools have a reputation of yielding students with higher academic achievement, better facilities, more competent teachers, autonomy from government regulations and a safer environment. But they also have a reputation of catering only to the upper class and being much more expensive than their public school counterparts.

This is true even when looking at the amount of money that U.S. taxpayers dish out to maintain public schools each year. Parents who send their children to private schools end up paying twice for education: Once, to send their kid to private school, and another to still contribute through their taxes to maintain public schools.

This fact alone is enough to uphold the reason why all public schools should not be privatized. Many parents simply can't afford it. A statistic from the Center for Education Reform shows that the average private school tuition for grades K-12 is $8,549. Some private school advocates would argue that that is a small price to pay for their children to have a better education, but recent studies show that private schools do not provide better education by any standards.

In 2009, a large-scale study conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University showed only 17 percent of charter schools provided a better education than traditional schools, and 37 percent actually provided children a worse education. The other 46 percent showed no difference.

One reason for this, offered by a Washington Post writer, is that "... public school teachers are more likely to be certified and to receive ongoing training in the field, keeping them current on research-based instructional standards and resources supported by professional entities such as the Nation Science Foundation."

Private school teachers are not held to these standards.Still, private school advocates use test scores and higher proficiency in math, science, reading and writing to prove that the private school system works better. This calls for an examination of the actual students. Authors of The Public School Advantage, Christopher and Sarah Lubienski, explained "private schools have higher scores not because they are better institutions, but because their students largely come from more privileged backgrounds that offer greater educational support."

This weeding out of children from lower classes and restricting attendance leads to more opportunities for discrimination among students who won't be able to mix with other students who differ from them, as well as overall social separation and divisiveness. In addition, how can parents ensure that their private school has their child's best interests in mind? Once schools become for-profit, it operates more as a business with stakeholders and market shares that are influenced by the politics of the people providing the money to fund the school.

However, it is true that private schools have more autonomy and are not subject to government-mandated curriculum, standardized testing and other regulations. An article in the New York Times said private schools "may be able to out-perform traditional public schools if they can avoid onerous regulations."

But there is no direct correlation between the two.There is one overall, overriding, overarching factor that will define whether a student struggles or succeeds at any institution - parents. It's been proven that students with involved parents perform better. Data from one of many studies on parental involvement by the National Education Association shows that "... regardless of family income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to earn higher grades and test scores ..."

Instead of spending time and energy on reforming the school system to meet the perceived needs of students in the private and public sector, policymakers should provide ways for parents to be able to spend more time educating their own children instead of relying on an institution to do it, whether public or private.


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