U.S. SECRETARY of Education Rod Paige recently compared the latest reading scores of black pupils in
If Texas scores were the national scores, Paige observed, the gap between black and white performance would be reduced significantly.
Here's something even more intriguing: The disparity also would be reduced considerably - by almost 60 percent - if black fourth-graders across the nation had the same reading scores as black pupils in private schools.
Although disparities remain between black and white academic performance in both public and private schools, the gap is narrower in the nation's 27,000 independent and parochial schools, which enroll 11 percent of the student body in the United States.
No matter how you slice the pie - racially or economically - private schools outperformed public schools in reading last year. But when the National Assessment of Educational Progress released the fourth-grade scores, officials were super-cautious. They warned against concluding that some types of schools are more effective than others, because out-of-school social and economic factors are important.
Just how important has been the $64,000 question for at least 35 years, since James S. Coleman, then a
If you glance at the raw data and think of the typical private school as Gilman or McDonogh, it's easy to attribute the private-school advantage to the private-school advantaged. These are kids with wealthier and better educated parents, and home lives that promote school achievement.
Lately, though, there's been a small but growing body of research showing that the private schools themselves are doing something right, that they're holding their students to higher standards, while public schools are practicing what
In one study in the late 1990s, Harvard University researchers followed students in a privately financed voucher program for low-income students in Dayton,
In another study, researchers compared reading and math achievement at New York City public and Catholic schools having similar demographic characteristics. Holding students to high standards - and making no exceptions for any group - the Catholic schools excelled, and did so with far fewer resources.
Paige, an African-American who came to Washington from the top school job in Houston, calls the racial performance gap "deep, persistent and unacceptable," and says narrowing it is his highest priority.
With 6 million children in private schools - an all-time high - and another 5 million parents taking advantage of some form of publicly financed school choice, Paige might find that the best answers are in the private schools.
SRA/McGraw-Hill, publisher of the Open Court and Direct Instruction reading programs, bestowed upon the city its inaugural "Pride of SRA academic recognition award."
Jerry Emig, a spokesman for the company, said the award was based on the city's increase in reading test scores for three consecutive years. He noted three "champion" schools that have performed especially well:
Open Court, a phonics-based program, was installed in kindergarten through grade two in 1998, while Direct Instruction, which goes by the commercial name Reading Mastery, has been in place for five years and is in 18 city schools.