Private Schools Aren’t The Problem

by Patrick Appel

Allison Benedikt rants against private education:

You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.

McArdle pushes back:

I think that Benedikt isn’t thinking through what would actually happen if everyone felt a moral obligation to send their kids to public schools. What would actually happen is that Allison Benedikt wouldn’t live in Brooklyn, because New York, like most of the rest of the U.S.’s cities, would have lost all of its affluent families in the 1970s — the ones who stayed largely because private school, and a handful of magnet schools financed by the taxes of people who sent their kids to private school, allowed them to maintain residence without sending their kids into middle- and high-schools that had often become war zones.

Barro points out that a “lot of academics have looked into the question of how private schools affect public schools, and the results are inconclusive”:

In 2002, Professors Clive Belfield and Henry Levin at Columbia University Teachers’ College looked at the existing research and found that “across districts and counties, the effect of private school competition on public school outcomes is mixed.” Of the 12 studies they identified on the topic, 3 found that private competition improved public schools, 3 found that it worsened them, and 6 found no effect.

That’s not terribly surprising, since you’d expect two offsetting effects: private schools might disproportionately attract the best students out of public schools, but competition might force public schools to improve so they can attract students away from privates.

James Taranto dissects Benedikt’s argument:

Her argument makes sense if one assumes that current private-school parents would be better able or more motivated to push for improvement than current public-school parents are. To put it another way, it’s not that public schools need more students, but that they need students with a better class of parents. That’s not an unreasonable assumption, but it is an inegalitarian one, which is likely why Benedikt left it unstated.

Ethan Gach adds:

The issue is less about private vs. public than it is the class privilege that’s tied to geography. Benedikt argues that “We need a moral adjustment, not a legislative one,” and yet no amount of moral shaming is going to change where people live, and the material condition which follow from that. The problem isn’t that the rich person next door has no stake in your child’s  education–it’s that the person next door is most likely struggling just as much.

And Dreher scoffs at Benedikt’s article:

Better that we are all equally ignorant as long as we are all equal. This is what the radical levellers want for us. It is the educational equivalent of Soviet economics. All that matters is that we are united in the state, no matter how stupid, ignorant, and poor it makes us.