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Parents Matter

The Yahoo headline reads Study: public and private school students test at same level.

Students at independent private schools and most parochial schools scored the same on 12th-grade achievement tests in core academic subjects as those in traditional public high schools when income and other family characteristics were taken into account, according to the study by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.

Reading further, the press description of the study actually contradicts this headline.

The study looked at 1,000 low-income students from cities who are part of a nationally representative sample of kids surveyed over a period of years, along with parents and teachers, as part of a federal research effort.

In trying to determine whether the type of high school attended by a student made a difference academically, the new study tried to separate out the effects of income; earlier eighth-grade test scores; parental expectations; whether parents discuss school with their children and whether parents participate in school activities.

When all these factors were accounted for, the only kind of private schools that had a positive impact on student achievement were Catholic schools run by holy orders such as the Jesuits. Such schools have more autonomy from the church than most Catholic schools, which are typically run by a diocese and are overseen by a superintendent in the local bishop's office.

What also came out in this study was that parents matter.

The students in the study were all poor and fit the demographics of those who would be eligible for the kind of private-school voucher programs or other school-choice initiatives generally favored by conservatives.

However, what the study shows is that family involvement matters more than whether a student goes to public or private school, said Jack Jennings, the center's president.


Okay, that rates a pretty big, “Well, duh!” The press treatment of this story is definitely meant to use this study as evidence against vouchers. There are also some snide swipes at religiously affiliated schools. There are lots of limitations to this study. For example, it is based on testing 12th-graders. There is such a high drop-out rate for public school students in this demographic group that students who would have brought down the performance ranking of the public schools were probably not available for testing, having dropped out before 12th grade.

But the real meat of the story is that no school, no government program, no special curriculum can replace parents. Parental involvement and more importantly, parental expectations are critical to student performance.We can throw all kinds of money at nanny-state programs, but it will have little impact if it is culturally acceptable for parents, especially fathers, to be functionally absent from their children’s lives.

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