Skip to Content

Study Suggests Public Schools Outperform Private

Findings Challenge Common Assumption

Everyone knows that private schools are better than public schools. At least that's a common assumption - and one that just might not hold up.

A 2005 study seriously challenges this bedrock assumption of the advocates for private school vouchers and other school privatization schemes.

The study shows that public school children outperformed their private school peers on a federal math test. Common sense and now this study also suggest that private school standardized test scores tend to be better more because of their students' socioeconomic background than because of anything the school is doing.

"A New Look at Public and Private Schools: Student Background and Mathematics Achievement" appears in the May issue of the prestigious Phi Delta Kappan magazine. The study's authors are Sarah Theule, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Christopher Lubienski, an education professor at Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Educational Organization and Leadership.

"Our findings suggest that it is time for a critical reexamination of common assumptions regarding the effectiveness of public and private schools," say the authors. "As market-style reforms change the public school landscape, prompting many to call for various forms of privatization of schooling options, it is important to examine the evidence regarding whether private schools are, indeed, more effective than public schools."

After accounting for the socioeconomic background of students, the researchers "actually found just the opposite of what was expected: public schools outperformed private schools…"

Lubienski told the Christian Science Monitor that the findings "really call into question the assumption of some of the more prominent reform efforts" and that they challenge the assumption that "the private-school model is better and more effective, and can achieve superior results."

It's just one study, but the findings point to the need for more research and, say the authors, should "give pause" to those pushing for the wholesale privatization of public education.

April 2005