Private Schools Are No Better Than Public Schools

A new education research brief from Save Our Schools shows that private schools do not achieve better results than public schools.

Christopher Pyne’s agenda to make government schools more like private schools has come under challenge before it has even got off the ground. His claims that it will lead to better education outcomes are contradicted by two new Australian research studies and two new US studies.

One of the Australian studies shows that the Catholic school performance has declined since 1980 relative to government schools. It says that the advantage that Catholic schools once held over government schools has virtually disappeared and attendance at Catholic schools may now lead to lower completion rates in secondary school and university.

The other study shows that the decline in Australia’s performance in international tests over the last decade is primarily due to falling results in private schools, the falls being similar in both Independent and Catholic schools.

A large national study of US schools shows that higher test scores of private schools is because their students largely come from more privileged backgrounds. After controlling for student background factors, the study shows that gains in student achievement at public schools are at least as large, and often larger, than those at private schools.

The second US study shows that the higher average test scores among Catholic school students from kindergarten to grade 8 are driven by systematic differences in students’ background across school sector rather than by the greater effectiveness of Catholic schools. It also shows that attendance and behaviour in Catholic schools is no better than in public schools when student background characteristics are taken into account.

The new studies confirm earlier ones that show there is little difference in student results between public and private schools when family background is taken into account.

The findings of these studies send a simple message for parents who send their children to private schools – if you think you are getting some advantage in education outcomes from sending your child to a private school rather than a government school, think again.

Trevor Cobbold

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