Private vs. public schools in D.C.: a draw

by David Safier

Here's the money quote from a N.Y. Times article about the Democratic push to limit or end vouchers in D.C.

Last year, a Congressionally mandated review of the program by Department of Education researchers concluded that there were no significant differences between the test scores of students who received a voucher and those who applied but, not receiving one, attended public schools instead.

The situation is this. Since D.C. isn't a state or part of a state, the feds exercise a great deal of control there. In 2004, the Republicans decided to use D.C. schools as a testing ground for expanding both charter schools and vouchers. It seemed like fertile soil for a successful experiment. After all, the D.C. public school system is a mess. It has been for decades.

So they set up a system where about 1,700 poor children were given vouchers to attend private school. More students applied than could be accepted, so a lottery decided who would get in.

This created a perfect setting for a study. A group of students was split in two at random. Some went to private school, and the rest attended public school. You rarely have such a well constructed experiment to study the effectiveness of the two types of schools. Most educational research has to rely on very sloppy data, because you can't control students' situations like they're laboratory mice.

Notice it was Bush's Dept. of Ed. that did the research, so no one can say the study had a liberal bias. And the result was, student achievement as measured by test scores was basically identical for both groups.

The only significant difference was, parents thought their children were safer at the private schools.

But the voucher students themselves rated their school experiences no more highly than did children attending neighborhood schools, the study found.

We take students from one of the lowest rated school districts in the nation, put them into private schools, and the results are negligible. That's a very powerful statement.

Please don't think I'm gloating here, by the way. I'm against vouchers, but I keep hoping someone will show me a way we can educate our children better, especially children from poor families, who tend to do poorly in school. Now and then, we see schools that are very successful with those kids — we have a few in the Tucson area — but it seems the success can't be duplicated. You can't put together successful McSchools like they're burger franchises. And a number of studies — including a few from the Bush administration — indicate that private schools do no better than traditional public schools when you compare similar children in both situations. Charter schools come out pretty much the same as well. The only schools that perform lower — and this is based on the Bush Dept of Ed studies — are conservative Christian private schools.

One response to “Private vs. public schools in D.C.: a draw

  1. I’m no education expert, but four years hardly seems like a verdict on the merits of private schools, especially when nearly a century of data contradicts this report. Of course, this really misses the point of this post, because the reality is that what Safier opposes is giving poor black kids the same choice as rich white kids.

    Parents should have the right to choose what education methods are best for their children, and if the central government is going to tax the citizens to provide education, then the most just policy would be to give that money back to the citizens to spend on education, in whatever way they see fit. Why does Safier oppose this?

    He opposes ‘choice’ because it is a false premise; choice in the abortion discussion is only a distraction from what liberals want, viz., the ability to kill anyone who is inconvenient. When it comes to marriage, ‘choice’ is a red herring to legitimize a practice which is medically and culturally dangerous. In education, choice does not exist because it threatens the monopoly that government (and the teachers’ unions) have on schools.

    The real question is whether the power of the entrenched elite is threatened, and of course, charter schools, vouchers, and homeschooling all threaten their power base, so they oppose them. God forbid the next generation be taught the truth about what the Left has done to America over the last few generations, and government schools are the only safeguard against that possibility.