Education 2016: Another Saga of "Rich School, Poor School"

Another lie perpetuated by teacher unions is that public schools are underfunded when compared against private schools.  This is educational class warfare at its rank worst.  One will usually hear these accusations when the subject of school vouchers is brought up.  You will hear statements like “they are diverting needed money away from public schools.”  As I have shown, this is patently false with respect to public school funding.  There will never be “enough” funding for public schools, according teacher unions even though per pupil spending has now reached into five digits per pupil.

On average, private school students outperform their public school counterparts on most measures.  For example, on the 8th grade NAEP, 53% of private school students score either proficient in any subject area whereas only 30% of public school students do so.  The teacher unions claim three things: (1) private schools have more money, (2) private schools recruit only high performing students, and (3) private schools simply expel low-performing or troublesome students at a greater rate than public schools.

Regarding the financial dynamic, the teacher unions actually have the equation backwards.  Rounding off some numbers, it takes roughly $10,000 per pupil to educate a child in a public school, yet the average tuition at a private school is about $5,000 a year.  Catholic schools, the largest private educator, actually charge average annual tuitions below $5,000.  Of course, there are regional differences and varied tuition based on different schools, but we are dealing with averages here.  Hence, private schools turn out better academically performing students at a considerably lower price.

The union’s counter-argument is that private schools actually can charge lower tuition because they sacrifice other services like counseling, special education, guidance, after-school programs, sports and school lunches.  If we factor out these additional services provided in the public schools, private schools still provide more bang for the buck and expend less per pupil.  Regardless, they are defeating their own argument.  If these additional services are so vital and necessary that they require the increased costs, then public school students should be performing at a higher academic level than those in private schools.

In effect, private schools likely turn out a better product on average because the entire system is designed to be the most cost effective.  If not, then their doors would close due to declining enrollment.  No one should be expected to lay out $5,000 a year on their child’s education (in addition to taxes) if the school is not doing their job.

Secondly, private schools are really not that selective when it comes to choosing its student body.  Catholic schools, on average, accept greater than 80% of applicants.  In studies where vouchers were used to send a student to private school, the demographic breakdown of these students largely reflected the district’s demographic make up.  Further, vouchers are generally targeted at low income or minority students thus increasing the demographic diversity in private schools.

As far as expulsions are concerned, Catholic schools, on average, expel 2 students per year.  However, the expulsion rate among public school students is 1% annually- a number far exceeding the expulsion rate of private schools.  Additionally, another 0.6% of public school students are segregated out of the principle school and placed in a specialized academy or classrooms.  When taken altogether, the number of public school students expelled annually far exceeds the number of their private school counterparts- parochial and non-parochial.  One should also consider that 1.3% of public school system students are removed from that school and contracted out to private institutions specializing in behavior or learning disorders.

The overall effect is that shifting students from public to private schools does not have an adverse effect on educational outcome and quite often has a positive effect.  Some argue that the relatively smaller class sizes in private schools is the operative factor.  But as Catholic or private school mergers have shown, increased class size has not had an effect.  In studies controlling for class size, private school students still outperform those in the public schools (and in some cases, smaller class sizes in public schools).

The real advantages are twofold.  First, because private schools are more cost effective, they necessarily exhibit a tighter control over the classroom.  This is exhibited in the strict discipline policies in many private schools.  Clearly, classroom order and discipline is placed on a higher pedestal in private schools.  Naturally, there are unruly private classrooms and well-ordered public ones, but (again) we are talking about averages.

But probably the biggest factor is parental involvement.  Everyone starts out even in that we all pay taxes to support schools either directly or indirectly through property taxes or income taxes.  Even renters pay for this support through their rent.  However, the parent who opts to send their child to private school then pays an additional amount out-of-pocket besides the payments to support public schools through taxes.  It is this ensuing inequality that parental involvement takes on a greater role.  The cost to that parent is more visible and they have a greater financial stake in the success of their child’s education.  Hence, the parent is more involved in their child’s education.

Unfortunately, to many a parent, their only involvement with the school is the almost mandatory requirement of a teacher-parent conference to get the First Marking Period report card.  To many a parent, their only involvement is when the student is reprimanded for poor academic performance or a behavioral problem.  To many a parent, their involvement comes too late.  If you want to motivate parental involvement, illustrate the problem financially.  Private education does it best.