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On the Public-Private School Achievement Debate

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  • Peterson, Paul E.

    (Harvard U)

  • Llaudet, Elena
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    Abstract

    On July 14, 2006, the U. S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a study that compared the performance in reading and math of 4th and 8th-graders attending private and public schools. Using information from a nationwide, representative sample of public and private school students collected in 2003 as part of the ongoing National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the NCES study reported that the performance of students attending private schools was superior to that of students attending public schools. But after statistical adjustments were made for student characteristics, the private school advantage among 4th-graders was reported to give way to a 4.5-point public school advantage in math and school-sector parity in reading. After the same adjustments were made for 8th-graders, private schools retained a 7-point advantage in reading but achieved only parity in math. In this paper, we argue that NCES’s measures of student characteristics were flawed by inconsistent classification across the public and private sectors and by the inclusion of factors open to school influence. Utilizing the same data as the original study but substituting better measures of student characteristics, improved, alternative models identify a private school advantage in 11 out of 12 public-private comparisons. In 8th-grade math, the private school advantage varies between 3 and 6.5 test points; in reading, it varies between 9 and 12.5 points. Among 4th graders, in math, parity is observed in one model, but private schools outperform public schools by 2 and 3 points in the other two models; in 4th-grade reading, private schools have an advantage that ranges from 7 to 10 points. However, although the alternative models constitute an improvement on the NCES model, no conclusions should be drawn as to causal relationships from these or any other results based on NAEP test scores, because they are too fragile to be used for such purposes. Inferring causality from observations at one point in time is highly problematic.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government in its series Working Paper Series with number rwp06-036.

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    Date of creation: Sep 2006
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    Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp06-036

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    1. Cecilia Elena Rouse, 1998. "Private School Vouchers And Student Achievement: An Evaluation Of The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(2), pages 553-602, May.
    2. Eric A. Hanushek & John F. Kain & Steven G. Rivkin, 2002. "New Evidence about Brown v. Board of Education: The Complex Effects of School Racial Composition on Achievement," NBER Working Papers 8741, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Eric A. Hanushek & John F. Kain & Steven G. Rivkin, 1998. "Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement," NBER Working Papers 6691, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Alan B. Krueger, 1999. "Experimental Estimates Of Education Production Functions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(2), pages 497-532, May.
    5. Caroline Minter Hoxby, 2003. "School Choice and School Productivity. Could School Choice Be a Tide that Lifts All Boats?," NBER Chapters, in: The Economics of School Choice, pages 287-342 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Donald Boyd & Pamela Grossman & Hamilton Lankford & Susanna Loeb & James Wyckoff, 2006. "How Changes in Entry Requirements Alter the Teacher Workforce and Affect Student Achievement," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 1(2), pages 176-216, April.
    7. Thomas S. Dee, 2001. "Teachers, Race and Student Achievement in a Randomized Experiment," NBER Working Papers 8432, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Barnard J. & Frangakis C.E. & Hill J.L. & Rubin D.B., 2003. "Principal Stratification Approach to Broken Randomized Experiments: A Case Study of School Choice Vouchers in New York City," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 98, pages 299-323, January.
    9. Caroline Minter Hoxby, 1994. "Does Competition Among Public Schools Benefit Students and Taxpayers?," NBER Working Papers 4979, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Thomas J. Kane & Jonah E. Rockoff & Douglas O. Staiger, 2006. "What Does Certification Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness? Evidence from New York City," NBER Working Papers 12155, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Thomas S. Dee & Benjamin J. Keys, 2004. "Does merit pay reward good teachers? Evidence from a randomized experiment," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 23(3), pages 471-488.
    12. Prepared by the Food & Nutrition Service based on Mathematica research, 2003. "NSLP Certification Accuracy Research: Summary of Preliminary Findings," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 3693, Mathematica Policy Research.
    13. Martin R. West & Paul E. Peterson, 2006. "The Efficacy of Choice Threats Within School Accountability Systems: Results from Legislatively Induced Experiments," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(510), pages C46-C62, 03.
    14. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2000. "The Effects Of Class Size On Student Achievement: New Evidence From Population Variation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1239-1285, November.
    15. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2002. "School Choice and School Productivity (or Could School Choice be a Tide that Lifts All Boats?)," NBER Working Papers 8873, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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