Are Private Schools Better than Public Schools?

The pervasive consensus is that a private school education is better for our children than one provided by a public school. But is this really true? Private school do a much better job of marketing themselves but recent studies suggested that private schools don’t offer the advantages we assume they would.

Better Academic Outcomes

Private schools do tend to produce higher-scoring students. For example, in Canada, about a third of the top-ranking schools are private. The rankings are based on the student’s performance on standardized tests.

One important consideration is that private school children tend to come from families that occupy a higher socio-economic bracket. This means that students are more likely to have parents who are at home and university-educated, they have access to better materials and resources and they have access to better food and medical care.

In 2014, a study by two researchers from the University of Illinois found that, when you control for these socio-economic advantages, private school education performs on par or worse than public schools. There was little evidence to support the notion that private schools had a positive influence on the academic standards of the students.

A recent study in Canada followed 7,142 Grade 10 students from both public and private schools. While they found that the private school students excelled at academics (about 9% better than their public school counterparts) and went on to enjoy more success after graduation, they could not attribute this success to the school itself. From the report: “Two factors consistently account for these differences; students who attended private high schools were more likely to have socio-economic characteristics positively associated with academic success and to have school peers with university-educated parents.”

Another study by the Center on Education Policy challenges traditional perceptions about private schools. President of the Center Jack Jennings sums it up: “Contrary to popular belief, we can find no evidence that private schools actually increase student performance, instead, it appears that private schools simply have higher percentages of students who would perform well in any environment based on their previous performance and background.”

Some Advantages

The study found that private school students were positively influenced by the academic caliber of their classmates. Private schools often have stringent entry requirements and being surrounded by successful academics is certainly a positive influence on students.

The study also showed that the students went on to enjoy greater success in the labor market in part because of the associations and connections that they had established with other families who were well situated on the social-economic level.

Level Playing Field

Contrary to popular belief, the study found that private schools in general didn’t differ that much in terms of the resources and quality of teachers and were only slightly better than public schools. As funding for public schools gets cut (especially in the US) this gap may grow.

So if a private school is only slightly better than a public school at educating your child, where would you get the most value for your educational buck? “I would get a private tutor,” says Jon-Anthony Lui from Tutor Doctor. “With a one-to-one tutor, your child gets the individual attention they need and the tutor can not only find the missing building blocks in their knowledge, they can also teach them the executive skills they need to be successful in academics and in life. You’ll spend less on a tutor and you’ll see the results instantly.”