Luis Benveniste, Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein conducted a case study of 16 schools -eight public and eight private – to determine which elements are most important to school effectiveness.

They found no significant difference between the learning outcomes produced by private vs. public schools. In fact, no aspect of school reform including school organization, teacher preparation or differences between public and private schools led to meaningful improvements in learning outcomes.

Instead, strongly confirming James Coleman’s work from forty years earlier, their study determined that “…the social, cultural, and economic backgrounds of the parents in the community in which the school was located seemed to be the main determinant of variation…Within particular communities similarities between schools and the problems that they confronted [from community and family circumstances] overwhelmed the differences [from being private or public schools]” (p. xiv/190).

These findings confirm other studies that have repeatedly shown that socio-economic, cultural circumstances and background plays a defining role in determining student achievement. School practices and policies reflect the educational values, expectations and aspirations of the parents and community it is embedded in.

The authors conclude that “a much greater complexity of factors must be considered when developing ‘fixes’ for our nation’s schools” (p. xv). Implications of this study strongly support the ongoing argument of this blog that solutions for our schools cannot neglect the learning culture of the families and communities they serve.

Benveniste, Carnoy & Rothstein. (2003). All Else Equal: Are public and private schools different?