Public vs. Private, no difference?

In case you missed it, the Associated Press had a story earlier this week on a report released by the nonpartisan National Center for Education Statistics as part of the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988. The research followed a group of students who were in the eighth grade in 1988 (one year older than this blogger), and checked in with them every few years though 2000.

The latest results include a comparison between public and private schooling. From the AP article:

“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”

This seems significant in that there is a widespread assumption that attendance in the elite world of private high school better prepares a student for college. Data from previous studies, in fact, support this belief. What’s most interesting, however, is that the study normalized for levels of income (although all 1000 students in the study were considered “low-income”, and came from urban areas) and “parental involvement”, defined as:

“parental expectations, whether parents discuss school with their children and whether parents participate in school activities”

This adds a new wrinkle to the ongoing discussion found here and here, regarding responsibility and accountability for student learning. All educators agree that the role of parents is critical to student success, but it is somewhat uplifting to learn that when this factor is taken into account, we public school teachers may be doing as good a job as our private counterparts.

In many ways, this comes down to a subject that has weighed on my mind lately (and even found its way into a classroom discussion in my Social Studies class). Stephen Covey (in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) recognizes that we each have a “sphere of concern” that encompasses all of the issues that we worry about, and a smaller “sphere of influence” that includes only those items over which we have control. True emotional contentment comes from identifying the items that sit within the former but outside the latter, and learning to remove them from both. That is to say, if you can’t change it, don’t stress over it. The effect of parents on my job is just one of those issues.