Public and Private Schools Co-Exist Term Paper

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Statement of the Problem

In the business world, when a small company manages to bring a superior product to market in a more cost-effective fashion than their larger counterparts, analysts sit up and take notice. Likewise, according to Wilensky (2002), "With the decline of K- 12 quality in most public schools in the United States since 1970, the average quality of parochial and public schools has converged" (p. 76). Because resources are by definition scarce, and the costs associated with the American public school system are truly enormous, it just makes good business sense to identify best practices and determine what works best under what conditions and private schools typically spend far less than their public school counterparts (Coleman). Nevertheless, the nation's schools are not factories and its pupils and students are not so many widgets to be churned out according to a standard cookbook approach to academic development. As Lavy (2007) emphasizes, "In the private sector, market mechanisms discipline firms into providing products that consumers value, but public schools lack market discipline. Schooling is compulsory and public, and students are simply assigned to attend their neighborhood school. Parents and students who are unhappy with what their schools offer generally have no alternative except to attend a private school or move to another neighborhood or city -- alternatives that are too costly for many" (p. 87).

On the one hand, the increased focus on private schools has resulted in a number of national- and state-level studies comparing the performance of private and public schools according to various metrics. On the other hand, though, the vast majority of these studies have been characterized by various flaws or constraints that make meaningful comparisons difficult or impossible. As Willms (1992) emphasizes, "In many cases comparisons between schools are made without making statistical adjustments for the types of pupils entering schools. Thus, the findings frequently suggest that the best-performing schools are those with the most favorable pupil intakes. These conclusions are often unwarranted" (p. 7). Certainly, complex problems require complex solutions and as Grimes points out, "Examination of economic education across public and private schools should provide clues to the effectiveness of third-party support. Further, by focusing on student performance in a specific discipline, rather than on general measures of student achievement, potential biases may be avoided" (p. 18). Therefore, identifying what works best in both private and public school settings requires a more comprehensive assessment of both the purpose of the nation's schools and how success is being measured in these respective settings, an initiative that represents the purpose of the instant study which is discussed further below.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the proposed study is to identify how public and private schools should co-exist and function within American society as defined by the research questions discussed further below.

Significance of the Study

Given the ongoing debate over the effectiveness of the nation's schools, studying the relative effectiveness of public and private schools and their respective roles within American society represents a timely enterprise. Historically, the success of private education has been based on a wide variety of factors. The most important of these factors include the demand for religious education and training, the perceived social status and externalities associated with private educational institutions, and the popular perception that private schools provide a higher quality service than public schools. Even though the total population of high school children has fallen, the percentage of students in private secondary schools has increased over the past 25 years. As Grimes emphasizes, "The importance of the public vs. private school debate cannot be ignored. Currently, numerous states are considering or have acted on proposals to offer 'school-choice vouchers' for public school students who desire to attend a private school. The major goals of the voucher system are to enable low-income students to choose private schools and to provide incentives for improvement in the public school systems" (the author notes that if public schools cannot produce a quality education on a par with private schools, they will lose funding and students under a voucher system) (p. 18).

Advocates of free choice for parents maintain that such competition is a powerful economic motivator on the nation's public schools to improve, but critics cite the wide range of pupils and students that public schools must accept and educate, notwithstanding some profoundly challenging learning disabilities or behavioral disorders. As Grimes points out, "Even though experimental voucher systems are being enacted, the debate concerning the qualitative differences in the performance of public and private schools continues" (p. 18).

Nature of the Study

The nature of this study was exploratory in order to answer the research questions listed below.

Research Questions

The proposed study will be guided by the following research questions:

What role, if any, should private schools play in the provision of educational services by the nation's public schools?

Are school vouchers an appropriate approach to addressing the overcrowded conditions of the nation's public schools?

Are there any cost-effective techniques being used in private schools that can be adopted by public schools without sacrificing quality or violating the mandates of the NCLB, IDEA and comparable legislation?

What type of collaborative initiatives have been used between private and public schools in the past?

Theoretical Framework

In an increasingly multicultural society, providing equitable opportunities for America's diverse young learners is not only the law of the land, it is a good investment in the nation's future. Moreover, determining the optimum approach to the provision of educational services through the nation's public and private schools is congruent with the philosophy that before schools can "make kids smart, they must first make them good citizens." In this regard, in the post-September 11, 2001 climate, America's public schools have been considered the critical institution for learning the tolerance that liberalism sees as essential to democratic citizenship. The public school, the argument goes, is the sole institution that brings together citizens of different ethnicities, cultures, genders, socioeconomic strata, and conceptions of the collective good. The experience with diversity that public schools in intended to provide students with the recognition that people who are different are not inherently dangerous (Godwin, Ausbrooks & Martinez, 2001).

Definition of Terms

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

NCLB: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110)


For the purposes of the proposed study, the respondents to the survey of private and public school students will be assumed to answer the questions truthfully and accurately. It will also be assumed that public and private school students are essentially identical in terms of capacity to learn and developmental issues.

Scope, Limitations, and Delimitations


Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature

Background and Overview.

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, there was nothing that could be termed a public "system" of education in the United States in any meaningful fashion. As Berliner and Biddle (1995) point out, "Schooling was a local affair.... And as [people] proceeded -- all across America, without plan or coordination -- to fashion the kinds of schools they wanted for themselves and their children, the great heterogeneity of the nation came to be reflected in the diversity and autonomy of its local schools. Obviously, schools and public school systems existed in the United States before the 1830s" (p. 240). Ironically, many public schools were viewed as superior to private schools during this early period in American history. According to Power (1996), "The fact that some Catholics, and other citizens as well, steered clear of private schools had nothing whatever to do with hostility toward them or what they represented. Antipathy to free private schools or to those whose tuition was modest was lodged in a residue of resentment to pauper schools that for a long time was extant in the country" (p. 127). For example, some Catholic schools that were administered by the Jesuits provided educational instruction without charging for tuition. During the early half of the 19th century, "Citizens of substance scorned such schools because of the stigma of pauperism inevitably attached to them. Catholic parents were sensitive about the appearance of pauperism, as were others, but Catholic parents had an additional reason: In many places and among many people their religious confession called up for question their patriotism. One easy way to allay suspicion of lack of allegiance to America and her values was to patronize the public school" (Power, p. 127). Indeed, the inculcation of patriotism and citizenship in the nation's schoolchildren was a fundamental precept of the pedagogy of the era.

The primary difference that characterized the common school movement in the country's public school system at that time was the establishment and standardization of state systems of education designed to achieve specific public policies. In this regard, Horace Mann, writing in the 1840s, advised, "Children in the common school were to receive a common moral education... [and] a common political creed.... " (quoted in…[continue]

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