UI study compares types of education

By Alissa Groeninger

A recent study by two University professors is challenging the assumption that private schools offer a better education than public schools.

Sarah Lubienski and her husband Chris Lubienski, both professors in Education, released a follow-up study to research performed several years ago. In the original study, researchers found that public school fourth- and eighth-graders scored higher on math standardized testing than their counterparts in private schools.

Chris Lubienski said the study looked at math scores because math is considered the best measure of what one learns in school. Children learn to read at home, he added. The study accounted for demographics and compared students of similar economic backgrounds. The research was compiled using federal government data.

“The assumptions that people should choose private schools because they’re academically superior doesn’t really hold up,” Chris Lubienski said.

The recent report sought to explain the results of the previous study because Sarah Lubienski said she was surprised by the results.

“When I first found the result, I thought I was doing something wrong,” Sarah Lubienski said.

One of the reasons for the findings is that public schools have curricula that are more in line with standardized tests. Public schools focus on statistics, geometry and algebra, while private schools emphasize numbers and computations, Sarah Lubienski said.

In Illinois, private schools are not required to take the Illinois Standardized Achievement Tests, so it is difficult to compare the public and private schools based on that criteria.

The Lubienskis also found that private schools tend to have fewer certified teachers, and that those who are certified do not renew their certification as often as teachers at public schools do.

Another possible explanation is that private schools do not focus on standardized testing, while public schools are mandated to perform well on these tests.

“It may be that private schools just have other priorities,” Sarah Lubienski said.

She said if private schools want to score higher on standardized testing, they need to match their curriculum with state and federal standards. Some private schools may need to modernize their curriculum, Sarah Lubienski added.

“We do have very tight curriculums that are aligned to the state standards,” said Jim Linnenburger, assessment coordinator for the Champaign School District.

He said curriculum coordinators work with teachers to develop curricula that are in line with what students will be tested on.

These findings come at a time when charter schools and vouchers to send poor kids to private schools are becoming increasingly discussed.

“Policy makers need to realize that private schools aren’t necessarily better than public schools,” Lubienski said.

Erin Tarr, associate director for Next Generation, a private school in Champaign, said not all private schools have a strong educational foundation. She said most private schools do not offer the same quality of education that public schools offer.

Tarr and Jodi Neaveill, the elementary principal for Judah Christian, a private school in Champaign, both said their schools have strong spiral curricula where concepts build on each other and students repeatedly see the concepts.

Neaveill said students at Judah Christian take the Stanford Achievement Test and tend to earn scores placing them one year to one and a half years ahead of the national average.

“You continue to come around to the same concepts over and over again,” Tarr said.

Teachers at Next Generation must have a bachelor’s degree and their teaching certification and teachers at Judah Christian must have either their state certification or certification from the Association of Christian Schools International.

Chris Lubienski said there are many reasons why people choose private schools, besides the assumption that they provide a better education. He said people are often concerned about perceived problems in their local public schools, or parents might select private schools for religious reasons or class sizes.

Tarr and Neaveill both said their schools offer smaller class sizes, with lower teacher-to-student ratios.