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
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
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-on-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.”