Behind the Headline: Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, Book Says

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Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, Book Says
5/14/14 | Ed Week

Behind the Headline
Comparing Public Schools to Private
Summer 2014 | Education Next

An article in Education Week describes a new book that argues that students attending public schools achieve the same or better math results as students attending demographically similar private schools.

The book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, by Christopher and Sarah Lubienski, is reviewed in the new issue of Education Next by Patrick Wolf.

Wolf writes,

When The Public School Advantage hit the shelves, critics of private school choice were elated. The Lubienskis, whose prior research has been highly critical of school choice, had employed the tools of social science to make a bold claim: if one controls for the characteristics of students who attend them, public schools “outperform” private schools. Finally, defenders of the public school establishment could martial hard evidence in their drive to halt school voucher programs.

What are we to make of this? Research on this question goes back some 30 years. From James Coleman’s early observational studies of high schools to the experimental voucher evaluations of the past 15 years, researchers have routinely found that similar students do at least as well and, at times, better academically in private schools than in public schools. How have the Lubienskis come up with this surprising finding?”

Wolf explains that four methodological choices likely account for the findings of the Lubienskis analysis:

• a narrow definition of school performance

• use of tests that align more closely with public school than with private school curricula

• the use of control variables for student characteristics that are measured differently across school sectors

• the improper handling of students who switch sectors.

The full review, “Comparing Public Schools to Private,” appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Education Next.

-Education Next

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