Review of Two Reports Addressing the Achievement of Students in Private and Public Schools

Public versus private school achievement gaps in general and the effects of school choice on academic outcomes in particular remain controversial issues. The author reviews two recent reports of empirical studies on this topic: one from the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation (MFF) and the other from the Center on Education Policy (CEP). MFF presents its empirical analysis in the context of the larger policy question about the effect of school choice, whereas CEP simply attempts to answer a research question, with policy implications, about a possible public-private school achievement gap. Both studies contribute new evidence to the existing literature through secondary analyses of national high school student datasets — the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) and the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) databases. The two reports in tandem provide contrasting views and results regarding private school effects. MFF argues that private schooling is more successful at improving student test scores; CEP argues that public and private schools have relatively equal success. This review provides an independent cross-examination of the two data sources and shows that the public-private high school gaps in math achievement gain scores were almost null (in the NELS) or too small to be practically significant (in the ELS). Therefore, the seemingly divergent findings and conclusions at the first glance may have been largely due to their different interpretations rather than real differences in the results. Both studies could have given more useful guidelines for policy and practice if they had examined reasons for observed gaps (or the lack thereof) between public and private schools.

Suggested Citation:

Lee, J. (2007). Review of "Two Reports Addressing the Achievement of Students in Private and Public Schools."  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved [date] from

Documents Reviewed:

Are Private High Schools Better Academically Than Public High Schools?

Harold Wenglinsky
Center on Education Policy
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice