A study of schools you won’t hear much about

The most energetic supporters of the Bush Administration’s educational reform legislation, No Child Left Behind, are people and organizations who are opposed to the whole idea of public schooling. Their political agenda is to promote charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools as alternatives to failing traditional public schools. No Child Left Behind is supposed to “reform” education by punishing public schools that don’t make “yearly annual progress” on problematic standardized tests by providing the parents of those students with vouchers to attend private schools where they can receive a “quality” education. Through this privatization process schooling will be gradually transferred to the marketplace where competitive forces will lead to true educational reform.

This privatization scenario is based upon the assumption that private schools outperform public schools. Numerous studies had indicated, in fact, that students attending private schools outscored students in public schools. Those studies were flawed, however, because they did not take into consideration factors like race, ethnicity, income and parents’ education, all of which are likely to have an impact on student achievement.

Consequently, the head of the National Center for Educational Statistics, Bush appointee Robert Learner, commissioned the Center to conduct a study comparing private schools and charter schools with public schools that would account for the demographic factors not considered in the previous studies. Although the results were delivered to the Department of Education last year, they waited until this Friday to release the results with no news conference and without any comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Why no fanfare? Because the results of the report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, found that public school students outperformed their private school counterparts in all areas except eighth grade reading. The study reported that fourth graders attending public school were nearly half a year ahead of comparable private school students. Additionally, it found that students in conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind their counterparts in public schools in both math and reading.

Suddenly the privatization solution to the “failures” of public education appears to be like democracy in Iraq, an illusion not a solution. The Bush administration treats “bad news” the same in both cases- it buries it. The AFT guessed correctly that the results of the education study would receive little press play.

…we can surmise that in the topsy-turvy worldview of the Bush Administration, when students in public schools outperform students in charter schools and private schools, it’s bad news to be buried at the bottom of the news cycle.

Actually, the results of the charter school comparisons still haven’t been released. I can only assume that is because those results will show charter schools fairing even more poorly than private schools when compared to public schools.

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