Every parent wants the best for their children, including safety, success, love and happiness. And in this day in age, much of that is predicated on a good education. After all, the average person with a bachelor’s degree earns nearly twice as much as the average high school graduate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while other research has shown that murder and assault rates tend to fall as graduation rates rise.
But times are tough, and neither kids nor education is cheap. It costs more than $245,000 to raise the average child to the age of 18, the average four-year public-college education costs nearly $100,000, and those numbers figure to be significantly higher for children who exclusively attend private schools. But while this daunting financial burden prices many folks out of the private-school world, are they really missing anything?
Sure, the private-school crowd would like to think that all their money is having some positive effect, and many members no doubt enjoy a certain self-ascribed feeling of superiority as a result. But academic research indicates only modest differences in the achievement levels of private-school and public-school students. For instance, a 2006 study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that public-school fourth-graders scored much higher in math than their private-school counterparts, while private-school eighth-graders were far better readers than their public-school equivalents. Fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math were basically a wash. A subsequent study by the Center on Education Policy similarly found no statistically significant difference in the performance of students at private schools, parochial schools, public schools of choice and traditional public schools. It did, however, conclude that, “Family, in all of its dimensions, has a major influence on student achievement.”
With that being said, every school, child, situation and opinion is a bit different. So we asked a panel of leading education-policy experts to pick a side in the private-vs.-public debate in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the issue. You can check out their responses – including 5 votes for public schools, 3 for private schools and 6 for neither – below.
Why Public Schools Are Better
- “Most of the ‘effects’ of private education are attributable to families’ influences on children as they grow up, and the family resources and decisions that place these children in private schools - not the private school per se. If there is an effect of private schooling, it is due primarily to the influence of peers on learning and motivation, which tends to be somewhat greater in private school classrooms. In contrast, the evidence is reasonably strong that public schooling has a positive effect on student achievement independent of family factors and in fact compensates for some of the challenges of lower socioeconomic family circumstances.”
- Robert Pianta, Ph.D. // Dean, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
- “Each type of school has its strengths and weaknesses. But this is a debate, and I have to pick a side, so I’m going with public schools. And I’m doing that for an important reason: quality control. People love to complain about teacher licensing and certification, but it does assure a minimum level of teaching quality. In private schools, where licensing and certification are usually not an issue, you lose that minimum quality guarantee. At the same time, that situation leads many private schools to have a wider range of teacher quality.”
- Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D. // Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development, Johns Hopkins University School of Education
Ask the Experts
Why Private Schools Are Better
- “Public schooling – schools run by government – is un-American. By its very nature it creates inequality, forces people into conflict and smothers innovation. Private schooling, in contrast – with money following children and educators able to teach as they want – is moored in freedom and equality.”
- Neal P. McCluskey, Ph.D. // Director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute
- “One of the least known facts about private schools is that they promote civic values. Study after study reports that students that attend private schools end up with higher levels of political tolerance, political knowledge, political activity and community involvement. Private schools also are becoming more diverse, as their enrollments increasingly include minority and low-income students. Private schooling enhances the social fabric of our nation.”
- Patrick J. Wolf, Ph.D. // Distinguished Professor and 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice, Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas
Ask the Experts
Why Neither Is The Answer
- “A high-quality public education should be a fundamental right of every student in America. Unfortunately, too many students aren’t getting an education that prepares them well for college or careers. Most of these poorly served students come from low-income neighborhoods, often from minority backgrounds, and they deserve better than our society has been providing.
These students often have no escape hatch from low-quality public schools. While wealthier families can choose a private school education, middle- and lower-income students depend on policymakers and educators to make public education better. One way to do that is to redefine what public school is – focusing less on who runs a school and more on the student outcomes the school achieves. Charter public schools are leading the way.”
- Nina Rees // President and CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
- “In our view, parents know their kids better than bureaucrats, and parents should be the ones making educational choices to meet their kids’ needs, whether that’s a traditional public school, private school, charter school, home school or any other learning environment. That’s why we support full and unencumbered educational choice programs across the United States that put parents in the driver’s seat of learning by giving them control over the funds allocated for their child’s education.”
- Robert C. Enlow // President and CEO, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice