Saturday, July 15, 2006

New Study Shows Public Schools Outperform Privates

In case you need more evidence that NCLB has NOTHING to do with improving public schools, but rather crushing them under unrealistic and unfunded policy mandates, and thereby opening up the market for private and parochial school competitors

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/15/education/15report.html
[NYT] The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools . . . The report. . . also found that conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind public schools on eighth-grade math.

The study, carrying the imprimatur of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department, was contracted to the Educational Testing Service and delivered to the department last year.

It went through a lengthy peer review and includes an extended section of caveats about its limitations and calling such a comparison of public and private schools “of modest utility.”

Its release, on a summer Friday, was made with without a news conference or comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. . .

A spokesman for the Education Department, Chad Colby, offered no praise for public schools and said he did not expect the findings to influence policy. . . . “We’re not just for public schools or private schools,’’ he said. “We’re for good schools.”

[NB: I find this last comment especially outrageous. This is the federal government, funded by public money, saying that it feels no PRIMARY responsibility for the development and improvement of the public school system]

8 comments:

Craig A. Cunningham said...

While I agree with Nick that this federal Department of Education has some considerable hostility towards the public schools, I am not sure there is anything fundamental about the notion that the federal Dept. of Ed. should feel primary responsibility toward the public schools. Remember that there is no mandate for schooling in the US Constitution, meaning that "primary" responsibility for education (public or private) is borne by the states and localities, not the feds. Any claim the feds have for even being involved in educational endeavors is found more in the US Constitution's clauses about interstate commerce and the common defense. Thus, I think an argument can be made that the federal Dept. of Ed. *should* be neutral with regard to whether schools are private or public. (For example, we would expect the Dept. of Ed. to fund student financial aid equally for private and public higher education.) Rather, I think the argument for favoring the public schools is an argument that the federal government should do everything it can to ensure equity for those in the lower socio-economic classes, and this administration has made quite clear it has no interest in THAT agenda!

A. G. Rud said...

Having just taught the "rise of the common school," Horace Mann, and all that this summer, I do notice the shift in rhetoric and emphasis here, and especially how the public schools were seen as vehicles for democracy, and too, Americanization, standardization, and so forth. There is a loss of faith in the public schools today that is palpable and disturbing. And the Colby comment is just blather...who wants to leave a child behind, or is opposed to "good" schools?

Craig A. Cunningham said...

But remember, the rise of the common school occured in the states; there wasn't even a federal office of education until the late 1800s.

Sherman Dorn said...

There is a certain irony in liberal and leftist critics of the U.S. Department of Education using a Whig's arguments about the values of public schooling. But the arguments are fortunately a bit more broad than Horace Mann. Probably the best discussion of the association of social citizenship with public education is in Katznelson and Weir's Schooling for All (1985). Mann was a fascinating character, but the changing politics of education went far beyond any particular argument by common-school reformers. The best example I know of this is in the very different rationales for tuition-free schooling. Both common-school reformers and workingmen's parties wanted tuition-free schooling, but for very different reasons. Because the tie between citizenship and schooling was so flexible, it solidified and has lasted.

And yet formal schooling is not always necessary for the effective use of democracy's tools. Several years ago, I had one of my relatively rare disagreements with New York union activist Leo Casey about this point. Casey was trying to argue the universal importance of education, and I (and a few others) pointed out that the civil rights movement was successful because of the efforts of working-class African American Southerners, who knew darned well what their rights should be even when they had little formal schooling.

It's probably best to keep in mind that the Bush administration is conservative in an ideological sense, not in any philosophical meaning meaning of the word. It is only because of the fetish with privatization that this comparison has much meaning. If we didn't have it, we'd probably be arguing about very different interpretations of public education.

Nick Burbules said...

Well, in other contexts I would be more than happy to criticize the public schools -- there is certainly plenty to criticize.

And if you designed it properly, I could be persuaded into certain "choice" models -- even vouchers.

But my main criticism here is the federal govt saying it has no special interest in the quality of the public education system. I think it is worse than "even-handedness" between public and private. Faith-based initiatives, a wider discourse on marketization as the solution to everything, and the rhetoric of public-school bashing all suggest an actual antipathy to public K-12 institutions.

It is significant that in this context they tried to bury a study suggesting that public schools do as well or better than privates (and that conservative Christian schools have some serious failings). Does anyone doubt that a story finding just the opposite would have received a great deal more fanfare?

Kathryn M. Benson said...

This is an interesting conversation to me since I spend most of my time actually thinking about the insanity of NCLB, the federal government's punitive efforts to strengthen test scores (for what reason, I am not sure), the general public's disregard for education, including teachers, children,etc. It seems counterproductive to punish schools, teachers, and students for failure to attain some sort of "proficient" score on a test that may or may not be academically relevant. One need not be a student of semiotics to interpret the meaning of the crumbling school buildings across the south. Administrators are sucked into the demand for highly qualified teachers, programs based on "scientific research" (Does even God have a definition for that -- this mortal couldn't find one on the Department of Educ's website), rigid curricular materials (think de-skilling of teachers)that "teach" reading in mind-numbing recitations.Bush's religious scripts for privitization of education and other social programs have garnered support for the war in Iraq among fundamentalist Christians. Sophistry reigns. Many in education are averse to historical or philosophical research that would equip them to counterargue much of the prevalent discourse that is anti-education in content, theme, and tone. The conservative nature of most is detrimental to critical analysis of the underlying societal problems that undermine student learning. And that is the real tragedy -- students not being taught, nurtured, and guided toward whatever it is they can be.

Richard said...

I largely agree with Nick. It seems to me that the question is much broader than public versus private, to the very role that education is going to play in society -- as simply a force for social reproduction and economic skill training or to open the mind and teach the rudiments of democratic participation. And while I believe formal education is not a prerequisite to democratic participation, it is certainly a central concern. Without teaching citizens the role they can play in the political process and instilling an interest in politics, apathy and cynicism can continue to dominate and decisions made from a position of misinformation or complete lack of information. As just one example, is the ahistorical fatalism at the heart of neoliberalism -- leading many to the "commonsensical" idea that things never change and the best thing to do is simply grab for the biggest piece of proverbial pie available. As Jefferson reminded us a long time ago, an educated and informed public is necessary for democracy to truly exist.

Richard said...

I largely agree with Nick. It seems to me that the question is much broader than public versus private, but the very role that education is going to play in society -- as simply a force for social reproduction and economic skill training or to open the mind and teach the rudiments of democratic participation. And while I believe formal education is not a prerequisite to democratic participation, it is certainly a central concern. Without teaching citizens the role they can play in the political process and instilling an interest in politics, apathy and cynicism can continue to dominate and decisions made from a position of misinformation or complete lack of information. As just one example, is the ahistorical fatalism at the heart of neoliberalism -- leading many to the "commonsensical" idea that things never change and the best thing to do is simply grab for the biggest piece of proverbial pie available. As Jefferson reminded us a long time ago, an educated and informed public is a necessary precondition for a vibrant democracy. I think public schools can play a key role in this more positive aspect of social reproduction.