Vouchers and the Myth of Private School Superiority

Two things happened this past week. Some in Congress proposed spending $100 million on vouchers for private schools as a supposed educational solution for low-income students.

And a report released by researchers funded by Bush Department of Education emphasized why vouchers are no panacea for students, since, despite myths promoted by the rightwing, students in private schools perform no better than those in public schools.

  • Surveying 7000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, the study found that fourth graders in public schools did significantly better in math than comparable fourth graders in private schools.
  • And students in Conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind their counterparts in public schools in eighth-grade math.
  • Only for eighth grade reading did private schools score better than public schools.

The Bush administration obviously didn't like the message of the report and quietly released it on a Friday, a common tactic to bury news. In fact, anticipating release of the report, NCLB blog predicted the Friday release as fitting a pattern of the Bush administration trying to downplay studies that don't fit its denigration of public schools.

The treatment of the private schools report was similar to how the Department of Education tried to bury an earlier report that found public school students outperformed students in charter schools and private schools when race and economic backgrounds are taken into consideration.

Much to the frustration of the rightwing crowd trying to privatize public schools, there is just no strong evidence that vouchers deliver any real benefits for students. Which is why the school privatization ideologues aren't even trying to put vouchers on the ballot this year, since they know voters have been rejecting vouchers at the polls in recent votes. Instead, they are pushing deceptive gimmicks like the 65% solution.

But the message for legislators and educational advocates should be simple-- enough with the gimmicks; let's talk about real reforms and the necessary funding to make sure all public schools succeed.

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