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Scool iz Kool

July 18, 2006

The peculiar headline on this New York Times article declares Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study.

The “study” the headline refers to is one released Friday by the Education Department entitled Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling, and if you’ve read as far as the end of that title, you may actually be interested in reading the full study which can be downloaded and read at this link.

Bizarrely, the Times article avoids telling the reader what the study’s basis for comparison was. There’s a lot of talk about “performance” and “scores,” but it isn’t until paragraph 13, that the phrase “test scores” appears, and there is no further indication in the text of the article of what test scores the study actually studied; (though there is a link to a pdf file of the study on the NYT web site.)

At any rate, for clarity, when the article says:
“Students in private schools typically score higher than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in the study.”

…the article means:
“Students in private schools typically score higher— on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics tests given to public and private school students in 4th and 8th grades —than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in the study, which looked at the 2003 NAEP results.

And the article says:

Students in private schools typically score higher than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in the study. The report then dug deeper to compare students of like racial, economic and social backgrounds. When it did that, the private school advantage disappeared in all areas except eighth-grade reading.

And in math, 4th graders attending public school were nearly half a year ahead of comparable students in private school, according to the report. [Emphasis added.]

If you’re like me, you’re interested in how a shill for private schools would spin this. Here is what Joseph McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, an umbrella organization that represents 80 percent of private elementary and secondary schools, had to say about the findings:

Joseph McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, an umbrella organization that represents 80 percent of private elementary and secondary schools, said the statistical analysis had little to do with parents’ choices on educating their children.

“In the real world, private school kids outperform public school kids,” Mr. McTighe said. “That’s the real world, and the way things actually are.”

Dang, Joseph, condescend much? That quote makes you sound like a priggish elitist snob. Very ‘private school’. Well played, chap.

I guess Joseph’s ‘real world’ is one in which one can flatly disregard systemic biases— based upon gender, race, “disability status” and “identification as an English language learner” —or at least dismiss such frivolous minutiae as inconsequential.

While this report would seem to confirm one of Your Montag’s most deeply held convictions, that public schools are not inherently inferior to private schools; and though I appreciate the political cannon fodder for use against the pro-voucher crowd, (I oppose pretty much anything that would take money away from public schools,) I must balk at the tendency of debating education policy based almost entirely on standardized test results. The fact that this type of study is even necessary seems to reinforce the misgivings I harbor about testing.

Standardized tests do nothing to fix the inequalities in our education system; they don’t measure understanding, critical thinking, creativity, or problem solving ability; and they may even do more harm than good through biases that perpetuate the very inequalities we wish to correct.

Test preparation is not education!

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3 Comments
  1. July 19, 2006 8:11 PM

    Your thoughtful commentary on this article (thanks for filling in the details, by the way, that the NYT inexplicably left out) makes me think: what is the point of (modern) education? At what does education aim? Is it a form of training? A tool of discrimination (literally: separating the “good” from the “bad”)? Are schools designed to produce just, upstanding members of society? Professionals? Producers? (And so on.) Check out this dated but very interesting interview with Michel Foucault on education: http://www.ndtceda.com/archives/200206/0260.html

  2. July 31, 2006 3:21 AM

    As a product of private schooling I will personally attest to the failure of my elite school to edumacate me in any discernibly better way than my public school educated peers. This is especially clear to me when I find myself struggling with the basic math required for me to post this comment. I mean, what is 8 plus 1?

    Rather than looking to standardized tests to discern a student’s intelligence, the true measure should be the degree to which a student will have their ass whooped if they bring home a bad grade. My dad’s belt was a greater factor in my attending a good college than any advanced calculus class ever was.

    Ass whooping = book larning. Take the derivative of that!

  3. July 31, 2006 9:11 AM

    I struggle to put that sentiment into a cool acronym along the lines of NCLB

    The fruits of my piss poor efforts?
    NCALU : No Child’s Ass Left Un-whooped

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