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Austin Cline

Conservative Christian Schools Perform the Worst

By September 9, 2006

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Conservative Christian Schools
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Many people believe that private schools offer kids a chance at a better education than what they will receive in public schools and that competition with private schools will force public schools to improve. Evidence for this belief pretty much non-existent. A new report from the Department of Education not only finds that public schools do about as well as private schools, but also that conservative Christian private schools do worse than all other schools

This obviously runs contrary to what the Bush administration would like to be true. I wonder if that's why the report was released on a Friday with no accompanying news conference or comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings?

The two new studies put test scores in context by examining the backgrounds of children in the schools and taking into account factors like race, ethnicity, income and parents’ educational backgrounds to make the comparisons more meaningful. The extended study of charter schools has not been released. ...

Friday’s report examined fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores for students attending public, private and religious schools. Students in private schools typically score higher than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in Friday’s study. The report then dug deeper to compare students of like racial, economic and social backgrounds. When it did that, the private-school advantage disappeared in all areas except eighth-grade reading.

The report separated private schools by type, and found that among private-school students, those in Lutheran schools did best, while those in conservative Christian schools did worst. For example, in eighth-grade reading, children in conservative Christian schools did no better than comparable children in public schools.

In eighth-grade math, children in Lutheran schools did significantly better than children in public schools, but those in conservative Christian schools fared worse.

Source: Common Dreams

There have been studies showing that private school students do better than public school students, but one of the problems with comparing them is the fact that private schools can pick and choose who attends while public schools are required by law to accept and teach everyone. This means that the average scores in public schools will almost always be at least a little lower than the average scores in private schools — just about every public school has at least a few students who can bring the average down.

It’s curious that the one advantage of private schools over public schools would be eighth-grade reading. I could understand an advantage in reading in general, whether across all grades or in most grades, but why just the eighth grade? I hope someone does a study to figure out why that grade in particular shows a difference.

I also wonder whether conservative Christians will heed these studies and try to improve their schools so that their students will do better. It’s always possible that they will ignore this and insist that it doesn’t matter if children do poorly in “secular” subjects like math, but in the long run that will simply serve to make conservative Christians in the next generation more scientifically and technologically illiterate.

“The administration has been giving public schools a beating since the beginning” to advance President Bush’s political agenda, [Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association] said, of promoting charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools as alternatives to failing traditional public schools.

Findings favorable to private schools would likely have given a boost to administration efforts to offer children in ailing public schools the option of attending private schools. An Education Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the climate surrounding the report said researchers were “extra cautious” in reviewing the study and were aware of the “political sensitivity” of the issue.

According to Chad Colby, a spokesman for the Education Department the findings probably won’t have any impact on the administration’s education policies. Well, everyone who’s surprised by that raise your hand... anyone? Anyone at all? Yeah, I’m not surprised either. The Bush administration almost never pays attention to anything which contradicts or even just calls into question the policies it wants to pursue.

Remember, the Bush administration is not part of the “reality-based community.” The Bush administration “creates” its own reality — which means that it acts as though reality were what they wish it would be and hope that by acting this way they will actually cause reality to change. Unfortunately for them — and fortunately for the rest of us — reality is pretty stubborn. I’ve never known reality to change simply due to people acting like it were different than it really was — if you step off a cliff you’re going to fall regardless of what you believe about gravity and heights.

The sad thing is, the Bush administration insists on stepping off cliffs while dragging the rest of the nation behind...


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