Contributions of Public and Private School to US People

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 15
Words: 16830
Reading time:
69 min
Study level: PhD


When something is made a priority, it is by definition supposed to get better. The American public schools continue to struggle through hardships to deliver high-quality educational services to an increasingly diverse group of students despite the nation’s public schools being made a high priority by the nation’s policymakers and educational community (Downey & Cobbs, 2007, para. 2). Public schools in the U.S. are characterized by overcrowding and sometimes dangerous classroom conditions as states and municipalities are forced to cut budgets owing to the lingering economic downturn (Hilliard, 2008). In response to the hardship conditions in public schools, many parents are forced to turn to private schools in an effort to provide their children with secure learning environments (Hilliard, 2008, p. 30). Given the importance accorded to education by the U.S. government through such federal mandates as the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, there will continue to be a need to provide public-school students with the level of education that matches that of private-school students. Therefore, identifying opportunities for improving the respective contributions of public and private schools to American society represents a timely and important enterprise. This chapter presents a background of the problem, a statement of the problem, the purpose of the proposed study, and its significance and nature. The proposed study’s research questions are also presented, followed by the theoretical framework to be used, definitions of key terms and assumptions. The proposed study’s scope, limitations, and delimitations are followed by a brief summary of the chapter’s research.

Background of the Problem

The fundamental purposes of public schools in the United States have not changed in substantive ways in recent years (Bellamy & Goodlad, 2008, p. 566; Campbell, 2008, p. 487). The effectiveness of public schools, however, has become a topic of concern for many researchers seeking to unearth the underlying reasons for poor public school performance despite the enormous resources public schools enjoy (Rossides, 2004, p. 667; Wolf, 2008, p. 415). In their conclusions, a number of researchers have stated that private schools provide perfect examples of how limited resources can be utilized to enhance performance outcome (Lubienski & Weitzel, 2008, p. 447), but there remains a dearth of relevant data by which progress can be measured (Peterson & Llaudet, 2006, p. 2). As Petersen and Llaudet (2006) observed, “the most influential study of student’s achievement was conducted by Coleman and his associates who only used data collected at only a single point in time” (p. 2). James S. Coleman and his associates carried out a nationwide study of public school performance in 1966 (Petersen and Llaudet, 2006). Apart from examining the variation in school resources, Coleman and his associates also identified other factors affecting student academic outcome (Petersen and Llaudet, 2006). To everyone’s surprise, Coleman’s study found no significant relationship between school resources and student academic achievement (Petersen and Llaudet, 2006, p. 12). Coleman study, however, found a significant relationship between student’s family background and student achievement (Petersen and Llaudet, 2006, 12).

The fact that an individual’s family background represents the most important ingredient in academic achievement should come as no surprise, though. When parents become actively involved in their children’s education, it is little wonder students are better academic performers. Petersen and Llaudet (2006) criticized the Coleman study stating that it was limited in its scope since it did not use data from a big range of tests and was thus unable to examine student’s progressive academic performance from one year to the next, despite the fact that students’ progressive academic performance is the only quantifiable measure of school achievement. Even though the Coleman study was limited in its scope, it provides a useful benchmark for future studies that seek to assess the effect of the availability of resources on academic performance. As The Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s Report Card for Parents (2008) emphasized, “Student achievement is the touchstone for evaluating the success of all education efforts. To improve public education for all students, we must know whether students are progressing every year” (p. 2). “All Coleman and his colleagues could do was to regress levels of test performance on school resources and family background characteristics,” Petersen and Llaudet (2006) advised. They added that, “With observational data of this kind, it was difficult to tease out the unique impact of the child’s schooling for the reasons given above” (p. 3). The Coleman study generally accepted among educators and academicians alike, despite the above mentioned limitations (Petersen and Llaudet, 2006). In this regard, Coleman led another large scale study titled ‘High School and Beyond’ (HSB) (Petersen and Llaudet, 2006). Unlike the first study, the High School and Beyond survey included both public and private schools (Petersen and Llaudet, 2006, 4).

In this study, higher levels of student were detected on Catholic schools even after making statistical adjustments for family background, school resources and school type (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006, p. 4). Catholic schools throughout America represented an important component in the respective contributions made by the public and private school consortium in the United States due to their pervasiveness (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006).

In subsequent studies, Coleman and his colleagues (1981, 1982) found out that students in private schools are more learned than those in public schools based on the analysis of the National Opinion Research Center’s “High School and Beyond” survey. They used standard ordinary least squares (OLS) regression techniques to estimate the effects of private school attendance and other student characteristics on student’s academic achievement (Grimes, 1994, p. 17). Their statistical technique, however, did not control for self-selectivity of the private school samples, a weakness that critics used to rebut their finding that students in private-schools out-perform their counterparts in public-school (Grimes, 1994, p. 17). As Gimes (1994) observed, Noell used the same “High School and Beyond” survey database and after statistically controlling for self-selection bias, no significant learning difference was found between private and public school students. Gimes thus suggested that Noell’s findings indicate that more academically inclined students (in other words, the “better” students) prefer attending private schools irrespective of their parents’ financial means, whereas students of lesser academic aptitude, of whatever economic background, remain in public schools (Grimes, 1994, p. 17).

These conflicting findings have led to the overarching consideration of the best way to run education in the 21st century. A number of options have been proposed, but it is still difficult to decide on the best way to move forward as grasping the situation fully as it currently stands proves tricky. Out of the many options on the table, prevailing school of thought seems to suggest that school choice is the best approach. School choice creates competition, which a body of studies has suggested tends to bolster overall performance. Public schools competing among each other have shown significant improvements, but students transferring from public to private school have shown even greater gains. As Coulson (2005) suggested, the best kind of competition is between the public and private sectors (p. 337), but such an assumption is fraught with opportunities for misinterpretation. Those opportunities are largely composed of 1) “creaming,” or the practice of skimming off and concentrating students and parents-of-means in the private sector; 2) the fact that public schools may be required to accept a disproportionate number of students that have been shown to have a proclivity for violence because private schools can reject them; and 3) the fact that there is a lack of broad-base studies concerning the effectiveness of school choice programs on compelling changes in public schools, because few states have been able to provide parents with this alternative based on the legal ramifications involved (Coulson, 2005).

The above mentioned factors create a playing field, which may not be level, but lacks adequate information to assess just how level, or otherwise, it may be. The school choice system, as it currently stands, is the best method to suit the needs of the broadest social interest. The current system might put public schools under pressure to improve performance. The current education system, particularly in the face of school choice initiatives, puts the public schools under pressure to improve performance, but at the same time expose them to unfair disadvantage because of the encumbrances of a number of arguably burdensome mandates that private schools counterparts can avoid.

The question then becomes; how does society organize its educational system to best suit the needs and expectations of its citizenry. Of the numerous options on the table, school choice is currently en vogue, but it begs a couple of questions: Do all parents and students really have equal rights within that system? For those parents who choose the public option, be it due to political conviction, lack of finances, a troubled student, or any number of legitimate reasons, are their children really getting the quality education they deserve? Answering these questions condense the discussion into three major issues, which encompass the background of the problem. The issues include: the need to eliminate unfair competition in our educational systems; liberating both public and private schools from economic and social hindrances; and the need to reorganize public schooling to make it as competitive and successful as possible. In this environment, identifying what cost-effective aspects of private schools tend to contribute to improved academic performance, and what respective roles public and private schools play in delivering educational services to the nation’s youth has assumed new importance and relevance in the 21st Century American Society.

Statement of the Problem

In business, analysts take notice when a small company manages to bring a superior product to the market in a more cost-effective manner than their larger counterparts do. The same rationale is increasingly becoming applicable to the delivery of educational services. As Siemiatycki (2007) pointed out, “Around the world, partnerships between the public and private sectors have become increasingly popular for delivering large public-use infrastructure such as roads and urban railways, water and waste treatment facilities, hospitals, and schools” (p. 388). The relative effectiveness of schools, whether public or private, in delivering the same educational outcomes is enormously complex, though. Some authorities have suggested that private schools are outperforming their public school counterparts across the board, while others maintain that the quality of services is approximately the same (Wilensky, 2002). The debate on the quality of education between private v. public schools has resulted into a complex problem that requires complex solution. As Grimes (1994) pointed out, “Examination of economic education across public and private schools should provide clues to the effectiveness of third-party support. Further, by focusing on student performance in a specific discipline rather than on general measures of student achievement, potential biases may be avoided” (p. 18). Identifying what works best in the general population group of private and public school settings requires a more comprehensive assessment of both the purpose of the nation’s schools and how success is being measured in these respective settings. With this in mind, this study is more concerned about identifying opportunities for improving the contributions of public and private schools to American society. The study will address such key issues as private schools’ role in provision of education, the impact resource utilization on education performance outcome, and the impact of school voucher programs on the overcrowded conditions of American public schools. The study will also address the presence or possibility of collaboration between public and private school. To achieve this purpose, the general population of interest for the proposed study will be the three top-performing public and private schools in the United States. The specific target population will be school administrators, teachers and parents of students attending the selected schools. A qualitative case study approach will be used to identify best practices in these schools as described further below.

Purpose of the Study

The researcher designed this study to identify the best practices in both public and private top-performing schools in the United States of America. The main purpose of this study is to identify how these best practices can be used as opportunities for improving the performance of the nation’s public and private schools in general. The study will take a qualitative approach to identify what aspects of public and private schools work best and how public and private schools can co-exist and function within American society. The study will involve a critical appraisal of relevant scholarly literature as well as in-depth case studies of top-performing public and private schools in the United States. The researcher believes this methodology is the most appropriate in gathering the intended data for this study since it will be difficult to quantify certain aspects of best practices. A combination of both primary and secondary data is in congruent with a number of social researchers who stressed the need for a critical review of the literature as an integral part of virtually all research projects (Neuman, 2003; Gratton & Jones, 2003), as well as the need to incorporate primary data whenever possible (Dennis & Harris, 2002, p. 39). To achieve the intended purpose, this study will take the form of case study design and will follow the guidance provided by Mauch and Park (2003) to proceed in a linear fashion in order to obtain objective, reliable, and valid information. Only the best-performing schools in the United States will be included to eliminate discrepancies in terms of performance and resource endowment that would arise if rural schools were included in the design. Case study design is the most appropriate in this study since the main purpose is to identify the best practices that would provide opportunities for improvement in poor performing schools, a purpose that requires an in-depth study of the problem. As Neuman (2003) stated, a case study is a research method in which the researcher “examines in-depth many features of a few cases over duration of time…. The data is, usually, more detailed, varied and extensive” (p. 3). Being a qualitative study, there will be no definite variables. The target population for this study will be public and private school teachers in the United States of America. The researcher believes this population will provide the much-needed information concerning best practices in school leadership.

Significance of the Study

In a country like the United States of America, the need to acquire knowledge through education is key to the development of the society; hence, examining the contributions of both public and private schools in addressing this need is imperative. Identifying best practices in place at the top-performing public and private schools will aid in evaluating the current education system and identify opportunities for improving the contributions of the nation’s public and private schools to the society.

Most documented research on this field has concentrated on the effectiveness of the nation’s education system mainly from public schools point of view. The researcher, however, takes a broader scope and studies both the nations public and private schools identifying the opportunities for improving their contributions to the society. To the researcher’s knowledge, there have been no specific case studies to date concerning the best practices in place at the nation’s top-performing private and public schools. This study intends to fill this perceived gap.

Further, identifying these best practices including how public and private schools can co-exist will provide innovative approaches for improving the respective contributions of schools in the United States. The researcher believes that the findings of this study will be helpful to the nation’s policy makers and school administrators as well. Last but not least, this study will provide a significant framework for researchers interested in exploring this topic in the future.

Nature of the Study

This study intends to identify the best practices in United State’s top-performing public and private schools. Guided by research questions as listed below, the study will be qualitative and exploratory in nature. The qualitative research method used in answering these guiding research questions will include a review of the timely and relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning public and private schools in the United States and of how market forces affect their operations and performance. The review of literature will be supplemented with a series of case studies of the three top-performing K-12 public and private schools in the United States. The sole purpose of the case studies will be to draw broad conclusions concerning best practices in these different teaching environments. Quantitative elements such as academic performance measures will be involved in the overall analysis, but the nature of the study will remain primarily qualitative in order to allow for the interpretation of empirical observations and recommendations emerging from the case studies. The researcher believes that qualitative research method is the most appropriate in this study given the underlying goal. The main goal in this study is to identify the best practices in top-performing public and private schools in the United States by answering the underlying “what” and “why”. Apart from, academic performance, most elements of best practices are not quantifiable hence the researcher’s goal will only be achieved through qualitative approach. Further, this study has a limited scope in terms of the population hence it will be more appropriate to use a qualitative approach. Quantitative study would require a much bigger population hence might not work for this study. In this regard, Darlington and Scott (2002) cited the advantages of qualitative research in the social sciences, but suggested that the number of people who are interviewed in such projects should be limited because of its time-consuming and labor-intensive nature. The appropriateness of qualitative research methodology is further emphasized by Crowley (1994):

During the past two decades, researchers have increasingly used qualitative research methods to access traditionally unavailable data. Far from a unified set of principles, qualitative research methods encompass a range of procedures to select from based on their suitability to the research purpose. These methods are used across the social and physical sciences. (p. 55).

The study will take the form of case studies. In this design, schools located in urban centers of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Virginia, Michigan and California will be considered for the study. The appropriateness of a case study design in this study lies in the need to undertake an in-depth analysis of the problem. As Neuman (2003) stated, it is only through case studies that a researcher is able to collect more detailed, varied and extensive data essential for in-depth analysis of the problem. Through use of case studies, the researcher intends to study individual schools in their settings and then undertake a constant comparison approach to examine the similarities and differences in the case studies. A case study design will aid the researcher in achieving the intended goal of identifying what best practices are common to top-performing schools in the United States.

Research Questions

This study intends to recognize the best practices in the United State’s top-performing public and private schools including an evaluation of how schools in the United States can use these best practices to improve performance. The study, therefore, will try to find answers to a number of questions surrounding this topic as outlined below.

  1. What role, if any, should private schools play in the provision of educational services by the nation’s public schools? This question will guide the researcher towards examining the contributions of private sector in supporting the provision of education in the nation’s public schools.
  2. With proponents of school voucher programs citing an improvement in student achievements as an encouraging outcome of the program (Lubienski and Weitzel, 2008), it is prudent for every researcher to examine the impact of school voucher programs on student to teacher ratio in public schools in the United States. The study therefore seeks to answer this question; what impact have school voucher programs had on the student to teacher ratio conditions of the nation’s public schools?
  3. In response to the drastic budget cuts being experienced by states and municipalities because of the lingering economic downturn, the quality of public schools is at stake and many parents are turning to private schools (Hilliard, 2008, p. 30). The question is; are there cost-effective techniques being used in private schools that can be adopted by public schools without sacrificing quality of education or violating the federal mandates of NCLB, IDEA, and other comparable legislation? Likewise, are there cost-effective methods being used in the public schools that could benefit private schools?
  4. Public-private partnerships have increasingly become an important vehicle for delivering such important social infrastructure as roads, hospitals, water, urban railways and schools all over the world (Siemiatycki, 2007). With this in mind, this study tries to explore public-private partnerships in the United State’s education sector guided by this question; have there been collaborative initiatives between private and public schools in the U.S. in the past? And can such collaborative initiatives help the nation’s public schools become more successful?

Theoretical Framework

The broad theoretical area of this study involves primary and secondary education. The proposed study fits within this broad theoretical area by focusing on what works best for both public and private schools. These are important issues for a number of reasons. Despite the enormous amount of resources being devoted to primary and secondary education in the United States, some schools continue to struggle to provide high-quality educational services for their students, while others are using the limited resources they have available to achieve superior academic outcomes (Rossides, 2004, p. 667; Wolf, 2008, p. 415). Based on available evidence, it is reasonable to suggest that there is no single factor that produces low- and top-performing schools. Rather, it is most likely a combination of factors and the absence of one or more of these factors will result in less than optimum outcomes in the same way that an automobile must have all of the machinery in place to run smoothly (Coleman, 1966).

From a strictly pragmatic perspective, in an increasingly multicultural society, providing equitable opportunities for America’s diverse young learners is not only a legal mandate, it is a good investment in the nation’s future. Determining the optimum approach to the provision of educational services through the nation’s public and private schools is also congruent with the philosophy that before schools can make kids smart, they must first make them good citizens. This philosophy is as old as the American education reforms. Mann, in his common school movement agenda, foresaw an education system whereby students are taught common moral education and political creed (Berliner et al., 1995). The common school agenda according to Mann would create a society whose citizens have a consensus on moral and political values. As Mann maintained, schools are not just institutions where students are taught to pass exams, but also where students are molded to become good people in the society. According to Mann, “smart” is a measure of how best students appreciate the cultural and social class diversity in their school set ups hence put an end to class conflicts in the society (Berliner et al., 1995). From this theoretical framework, there should be a level playing ground and any sign of competition between schools should be eliminated. This study borrows from Mann’s common school theoretical framework by identifying the best practices in both private and public school, which when applied to American schools would make a significant contribution to the society. Mann’s common school model was unfortunately developed to discourage privatization of schools and can only be applicable in public schools. The 21st century is a much competitive century with increased demand for public-private partnerships (Siemiatycki, 2007). The definition of “smart” as used in education system today is very different from what it meant during Mann’s time in the 19th century. Some observers equate the perception of “smart” as a measure of academic success (Bunting, 2005, p. 12). For better or worse, this use of the educational system to provide American society with good citizens, and good workers, is longstanding. For example, Rossides (2004, p. 667) reported that the common school concept has characterized American education from the time of Thomas Jefferson to present. From a purely economic perspective, how best to provide all students with the educational services they need, and deserve, demands a more pragmatic approach. As Rossides (2004) noted, things have changed and today, “If we want good citizens and good workers/professionals, we have to figure out how to produce them directly” (p. 668). According to Rossides (2004), it does not matter which approach, be it public or private, so long as the end justifies the means. Rossides views suggest a system in which performance is enhanced through competition.

There exist varied theoretical models for studying the relative effectiveness of public and private schools in the United States. While some theorists favor competition between public and private schools (Rees, 1999; Coulson, 2005), others are in favor of student background as the best measure for examining performance outcome (Wilensky, 2002; Willms, 1991). The researcher agrees with Rossides and stresses that no matter which approach works best, the number one priority should be improving educational outcomes for American students. Public schools should learn from their private school counterparts; likewise private school should borrow some best practices from public school to ensure efficient and effective delivery of education to American young citizens.

In the post-September 11, 2001 climate, America’s public schools have increasingly been viewed as the most important institution available to teach Americans the tolerance that liberalist views as an essential ingredient in democratic citizenship (Godwin, Ausbrooks, & Martinez, 2001, p. 542). In public schools, students from different ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic strata, and gender are placed together in a classroom resulting in a diverse mix of race, religion, socioeconomic differences, and gender (Godwin et al., 2001, p. 542). The controversy in this argument lies in the fact that it only views public schools as institutions of molding citizenry forgetting the equal important aspect of student academic achievements. It is a well-documented fact that our public schools are not as effective as their private school counterparts (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006).

Considering all the above mentioned theoretical models and assumptions, determining what works best in private and public schools in the United States leads to a valuable enterprise that can provide a superior return on the investment of resources in these institutions. Exploration of this topic requires a combination of theoretical models and assumptions to be able to put this study among other related studies. Such an approach will ensure that the study addresses the weaknesses of prior theoretical frameworks and comes up with a much stronger model that can help improve performance outcome in our public and private school.

Definition of Terms

CriterionReferenced Competency Tests: Tests designed to align schools’ curricular offerings with grade-specific state and national standards (CRCT, 2008).

Educational Testing Service: A global nonprofit organization that provides testing and grading services for a number of standardized tests that are commonly used in American public schools (Leong, 2005, pp. 2135-2136).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Act legislation mandated that all public schools in the United States provide equal access to educational services for all students with disabilities (Turnbull, 2005a; Turnbull, 2005, pp. 320-321).

National Assessment of Educational Progress: Frequently referred to as “the nation’s report card,” the NAEP has been measuring and publishing academic achievement rates in various subject areas for grades 4, 8 and 12 in the United States since 1969 (IES, 2010, para. 6).

National Center for Education Statistics: Organization conducts periodic national-wide teacher follow-up surveys to identify trends in employment and teacher attrition (Boe, Cook & Sunderland, 2008, pp. 7-8).

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110): Law legislation requires public schools to reach annual performance benchmarks and provide an evaluation report every 2 years; schools that fail to achieve these performance benchmarks are required to develop and submit improvement plans. Among other provisions of the NCLB, schools that fail to achieve these benchmarks must allow their students to transfer to other schools (Mayers, 2006, pp. 449-450).


For the purposes of the proposed study, it will be assumed that no researcher bias will significantly affect the interpretation and synthesis of the qualitative data that emerges from the review of the literature and series of case studies of the three top-performing public and private schools in the United States. The researcher will assume that the selection criteria, upon which the designation as top-performing school are determined, are valid across the board as they are applied to the respective schools as described further in Chapter 3 below. The researcher will further assume that whereas parents with children in private schools prefer private schools for specific reasons, parents with children in public schools either prefer public schools because they are unable to afford the requisite private tuition, do not live within sufficient geographic proximity to send their children to a private school or possess fundamental ideological or religious differences from the private schools available in their area.

Scope, Limitations, and Delimitations

The study will focus on public and private schools in the United States and the three top-performing public and private schools, in particular, even if its broader scope covers private and public schools and their administration in various states in the U.S. Only top-performing schools in urban areas will be sampled. This study is thus delimited to urban schools in the United States excluding the rural population in the sample. The findings of this study may not, therefore, be generalized to the whole nation. Because of the unique academic performance measures used by the individual states, it will be difficult to generalize data concerning school performance. The study is also limited to top performing schools ignoring the possibility of best practices in average performing schools in the United States. The relatively limited number of private school teachers available for survey further poses a constraint to this study. The intended variety of views needed in this study might not be achieved under such limited number of responses. The findings of the study may not be generalized to other states or even comparable to demographic and socioeconomic school districts.


This chapter presented the background of the problem to be considered as well as a statement of the problem and the purpose of the proposed study. The theoretical framework and justification of the study are also presented in this chapter. The background information provided evidence enough to prove that public schools operate under a different set of circumstances compared to private schools and this in many ways may affect their performance compared to private schools (Grimes, 1994, p. 17). From the background information, it was also evident that private schools in the United States are widely regarded as providing superior educational opportunities (Meyer, 2007, pp. 12-13), but that there is some disagreement concerning this assertion (Wilensky, 2002). With this background in mind, the study was formulated to identify what works best for the top-performing public and private schools in the U.S. The researcher also formulated this study to address ways in which these practices in both public and private schools can be replicated in American schools to improve the nation’s general education performance was addressed. This formed the problem of the study. The methodological approach in this study was identified as qualitative with a case study design in its approach. A discussion regarding the significance of the study and its nature was followed by a review of the research questions that will guide the study. Finally, a description of the study’s theoretical framework and definitions of key terms used was followed by several assumptions that will be used throughout the research. The proceeding chapter will expound more on the background and theoretical framework guiding this study through undertaking a comprehensive review of literature.

Review of Related Literature

The importance of education is well documented. The United States maintains a compulsory educational system for its young learners. The nation’s compulsory education system, however, requires substantial investments of taxpayer resources making it a legitimate issue of focus for study to determine how these scarce resources can be used most effectively to achieve the greatest impact. To this end, this chapter provides a review of the relevant juried and scholarly literature to develop a background and overview of education in the United States, followed by a discussion concerning the relative effectiveness and other comparisons of public and private schools. An analysis of the important differences in public and private schools is followed by a summary of the research. This chapter presents a varied range of literature as was obtained from peer-reviewed articles, books, studies, germinal works and seminal works.

Background and Historical Overview

Education system is not a new phenomenon in American Society. It has existed for centuries, even though in a less organized format. Prior to the 20th century, the public system of education in the United States was not in any meaningful fashion. As Berliner and Biddle (1995) pointed out, schooling was more of a local affair with no central planning or coordination of the education system in the American society. People proceeded to fashion schools depending on their needs and what they considered best for themselves and their children (Berliner and Biddle, 1995). This unorganized development of schools resulted into the great heterogeneity reflected in the autonomy and diversity of the nation’s local schools (Berliner and Biddle, 1995, p. 240). Interestingly, many public schools were perceived as superior to private schools during this early period in American history. This superiority, however, was based on the approach used in education funding as opposed to performance outcome. As Power (1996) pointed out, the hostility towards private schools rested in their approach to financing of education that made them look more like pauper schools not in the fact that some Catholics and other citizens steered clear of private schools (p.127). For example, some Catholic schools that were administered by the Jesuits provided educational instruction without charging for tuition. American citizens thus considered them pauper schools hence well to do parents developed a very low opinion for such schools. As Power (1996) stated, during the early half of the 19th century,

Citizens of substance scorned such schools because of the stigma of pauperism inevitably attached to them. Catholic parents were sensitive about the appearance of pauperism, as were others, but Catholic parents had an additional reason: In many places and among many people their religious confession called up for questioning their patriotism. One easy way to allay suspicion of lack of allegiance to America and her values was to patronize the public school. (p. 127)

Indeed, the inculcation of patriotism and citizenship in the nation’s schoolchildren was a fundamental precept of the pedagogy of the era.

The primary difference that characterized the common school movement in the country’s public school system at that time was the establishment of a standard education system geared towards achieving specific state/nation policies. In this regard, Horace Mann, writing in the 1840s, advised:

Children in the common school were to receive a common moral education… [and] a common political creed…. [Mann].’ The outcome of the common school movement was intended to create an American society that was characterized by ‘… a consensus of political and moral values…. [Moreover] common schooling was to create a common… class-consciousness among all members of society. Social-class conflict would give way to a feeling of membership in a common social class if the rich and poor are mixed within the same school house,’ [Mann] (Berliner et al., 1995, p. 241).

Horace Mann was the founder of the common school movement in America. Mann designed a public school system whereby students with diverse cultural, religious and socio-economic class are mixed in a classroom set up and the school curricular focuses on the diversity and commonality of the American society (Berliner et al., 1995). One implication of the common-school model in the U.S. has been the deliberate and complete exclusion of religion from the schools. Many countries, in contrast, have some form of support for schools operated by religious groups. In many countries, including very small ones such as the Netherlands and Israel, there is a state secular school system, as well as publicly supported schools under the control of religious groups. The melting-pot ideology that served as the basis for the American educational system mandated that there should be a single approach to organizing and administering publicly supported schools (Coleman, 1990). American views concerning European religious intolerance also meant that these schools would not be religiously influenced (Coleman, 1990, p. 210). Despite this mandate, in a number of communities in the United States that were characterized by high levels of religious homogeneity (particularly Protestant communities), some religious influence still found its way into the public schools and this influence remained in place until the Supreme Court outlawed prayer in the public schools (Coleman, 1990, p. 210).

This lack of social class, curricular offerings, or a religious foundation to select students for different schools, also resulted in attendance in American public schools being controlled by students’ place of residence (Coleman, 1990, p. 214). The residence-based approach to student selection operated effectively in rural areas and smaller municipalities, and was congruent with the concepts of a secular democracy, but resulted in two conflicting trends with regard to the common school assumptions in American society (Coleman, 1990, p. 214). The first, and earlier, trend involved the relocations of the American population into urban areas with high population densities characterized by a high degree of economic homogeneity. The second trend worked in reverse of the first trend when large numbers of Americans fled these high-density urban areas for the suburbs when automobiles allowed people to commute following the end of World War II. This resulted in the emergence of suburban areas that were characterized by economically differentiated regions (Coleman, 1990, p. 240). As a result, there has been a growing perception that the guiding assumptions of common school are no longer being satisfied. The residence-based approach to school selection and assignment has consequently resulted in a public school system that mirrors the selective systems used in many European countries with students from low-income families disproportionately represented in many school districts (Coleman, 1990, p.240). Larger metropolitan areas are characterized by economically stratified and racially distinct set of school layers whereas the small cities and towns continue to have schools that portray the heterogeneous mix of race and economic class reflecting Horace Mann’s vision of the common school in America (Coleman, 1990, p. 242).

Although Mann developed his common school model in the early 19th century, our public schools in the 21st century still borrow from this model. Godwin et al. (2001), when advocating for racial and economic diversity in our public schools, restated the importance of social heterogeneity in addressing the concept of ‘common school’ upon which our public schools was built. Godwin and his associates observed that the important lessons about the diversity and commonality of American culture could only be conveyed through children’s experiences in attending schools with a heterogeneous mix of race and economic class, not through taking class lessons on the very topic (p.542).

Horace Mann’s common school concept was, however, not accepted by everyone in the United States. Sharp criticism came from the religious divide given the fact that common school concept excluded religious influence in the education system. Carl Kaestle argued that prior to 1830; the church played a major role in bringing uniformity in American rural schools, which were characterized by a lack of resources and legislation (Kaestle, 1983). Kaestle commented that heterogeneity of school layout only existed in large cities and that rural schools would not survive without the support from the church (p. 62-63). The common school movement was perceived to be anti-Catholic hence to the Catholics it was more of a religious battle than an education reform.

Indeed, today, the United States is no longer the melting pot of Horace Mann’s era, but rather a salad bowl of diverse student populations with an increasingly complex set of individual needs (Barefoot, 2001, p. 85). The introduction of various federal and state mandates such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which, require specialized services for these young learners to the maximum extent possible, has further exacerbated the problem for educators. As a result, the relative effectiveness of public and private schools has come under scrutiny in recent years, and these issues are discussed further below.

Relative Effectiveness of Public and Private Schools

A discussion concerning the relative effectiveness of public and private schools requires a comparison examination of these two approaches to delivering educational services. The ability of each one of these approaches to provide educational services is affected by numerous issues other than academic performance. While it is possible to compare similar private schools with one another, such a comparison would not carry as much weight when applied to a similar public school for various reasons that are difficult to quantify, but which represent important reasons that private schools may outperform (or under-perform) their public school counterparts. Because resources are by definition scarce, it is not surprising that the United States is not the only country that has become concerned about the relative effectiveness of its public schools compared to its private schools (Wormann, 2004). According to Berliner and Biddle (1995), a generalization of everyday features of education as a source of problems based on their familiarity and inability to monitor them closely may be difficult. Berliner and Biddle observed that American education has unique features that cannot be compared to any country in the world. Berliner and Biddle (1995) stressed that a comprehensive understanding of the common features found in American education system together with their consequences would only be achieved through studying American education from a historical perspective (p. 241). In support of this assertion, Berliner and Biddle (1995) cited the age-graded classroom that is most commonly used in America’s public schools. According to these authorities:

Age-graded curricula are designed for the ‘average’ student, but only a few students are actually ‘average.’ As a result, many students are bored, while others are anxiously confused by a good deal of primary instruction. And this means that the standard, age-graded classroom is not an efficient educative setting (Berliner & Biddle, 1995, p. 241).

A comprehensive understanding of this assertion calls for historical evaluating of American education system to trace the roots of age-graded curricula. American public schools are also publicly competitive in terms of the approaches that are used to measure student academic achievement. In this regard, Berliner and Biddle (1995) noted that American Public schools stress on competition among students.Public competition is enhanced through assigning students competitive tasks that are publicly evaluated, homework that is graded openly, examinations, spot quizzes, demand for recitation and so forth (Berliner and Biddle, 1995, p. 243).

By contrast, this type of public competition is less prevalent, particularly in socialist countries where such approaches are viewed as being contrary to the prevailing ideology (Berliner & Biddle, 1995). Many American public schools have, in addition, become too overcrowded and underfunded to perform much more than the minimal aspects of education. As Brouillette (2002) observed, it is a widely accepted fact among most people that the primary goal for public schools is to teach students how to write, read and compute. Yet most urban schools, currently, have a lot to achieve under quite a number of unfavorable conditions hence compromising their ability to achieve their fundamental goal (p. 8). Unlike their private school counterparts, many urban schools have been tasked with performing various administrative duties that are not truly academic in nature, and this contributes to their lower-performance outcomes when compared to private schools (Vinson & Ross, 2004). The public school in the United States now is also “a social and welfare institution. Some of the necessary services public schools provide include: recreation, cultural growth, emotional development, basic health care, food service, voter registration, draft registration, driver education, sex education, employment service, immunization and the collection of census data” (Brouillette, 2002, p. 8). In many cases, these additional responsibilities do not come with sufficient funding or the personnel needed to accomplish them efficiently and effectively. The impact of these additional mandates on public school performance also makes comparisons between public and private schools all the more difficult, and makes the delivery of high quality educational services for public school officials even more challenging. As Brouillette (2002) pointed out, the additional responsibility placed on public schools without proper planning and means to fulfill it has for sure drained the resources, i.e. time and energy, hence increasing the feelings of futility among the personnel in public schools (p. 8).

It is important to recognize that the nation’s public schools are providing educational services at a level at par with many of the other countries examined in the study conducted by Dronkers and Peters (2004), notwithstanding some fundamental constraints, as discussed further below. In the study by Dronkers and Peters (2004), a comparison of test results alone failed to identify best practices in any meaningful way.

Because resources are by definition scarce, and the costs associated with the American public school system are truly enormous, it just makes good business sense to identify best practices and determine what works best under what conditions (Coleman, 1990). Private schools typically spend far less compared to their public school counterparts in delivering the same end product in terms of academic performance (p. 37). The nation’s schools are not factories nevertheless and its pupils and students are not so many widgets to be churned out following a standard cookbook approach to academic development. As Lavy (2007) emphasized, the delivery of services and products in the private sector is to a greater extent controlled by market mechanisms, which discipline firms into giving consumer demands a high priority. Public schools unfortunately lack market discipline. “Schooling is compulsory and public, and students are simply assigned to attend their neighborhood school” (Levy, 2007, p. 87).

Compulsory public education is a costly mandate by any measure, but some parents may simply lack the means to send their children to private schools due to geographic proximity constraints or the lack of affordable private schools in their districts. As Lavy (2007) highlighted, parents and students dissatisfied with the education services offered in their public schools generally have no option but to attend private schools or relocate to a city or another neighborhood, an option that seems too costly for many people (p. 87). The issue of scarcity of resources is a recurrent theme throughout the literature on public and private schools, but there are some profound gaps in the research to date that make meaningful analysis difficult.

On the one hand, the increased focus on private schools has resulted in a number of national- and state-level studies comparing the performance of private and public schools according to various metrics (Willms, 1991, p. 7). On the other hand, however, various flaws or constraints that make meaningful comparisons difficult or impossible have characterized the vast majority of these studies. As Willms (1992) observed, in most cases, comparisons between schools are done without any statistical adjustment for the background and type of students enrolled in those schools. Willms stated that the findings from such studies are unjustifiable in their claim that best performing schools are those that have the most favorable pupil intake (Willms, 1991, p. 7). Student performance outcome is largely a factor of family background. Any conclusive comparison study of schools must consider the importance of family background on children’s academic performance and make statistical adjustments for student background. As Wilensky (2002) maintained, the top performance advantage in the United States is a class difference not a school difference. Wilensky (2002) suggested that any superior academic performance levels demonstrated by private schools compared to public schools could be best understood if student background is taken into account.

Public schools in the United States are, in addition, required to comply with a number of federal mandates that affect any comparison of such basic metrics as test results (Bracey, 2005). The type of student thus plays a major role in determining the overall academic performance. For instance, students with special needs may not perform as best compared to the other students. Students who have a history of indiscipline may not be good academic performers as well. Unfortunately, this category of students is only found in public schools. Any comparison study of schools must make statistical adjustments for such variables for its findings to be justified. Test taking as a measure of creativity mandated by NCLB may be doing more harm than good to the nation’s public school students. In this regard, Bracey (2005) suggested that, “taking a test is the opposite of being creative, and so No Child Left Behind could be the greatest innovation inhibitor in U.S. history” (p. 138).

Despite these disparities in the delivery of public educational services in the U.S. and elsewhere, it is important to keep in mind that these metrics also represent one of the fundamental ways in which other countries view the United States today. According to Bracey (2005):

America’s for-the-most-part-middling rankings in international educational comparisons have not produced the calamitous economic results that some have predicted for many years, because schools are only one part of one pillar. Let us be clear about this: education is critical to a nation’s welfare. Given education, though, test score differences between the developed nations are trivial. After all, by what criteria do countries get labeled as developed? One criterion is that they have a mature, universal, functioning education system that begins early and provides instruction through the postdoctoral level. (p. 138)

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) based on the request by the U. S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted one of the most ambitious studies concerning the relative effectiveness of public and private schools (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006). Using data that was used in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2003, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) computed aggregate test scores of fourth and eighth graders in both public and private schools to provide for a comparison study of students performance outcome. Student’s performance in reading and math was used as the main measure of comparison (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006). Other data used in the study included academic performance in public schools compared to Catholic, Lutheran, and Evangelical Protestant schools (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006). The findings of NCES study were published and released on July 14, 2006 by NCES. The results of the study determined that private-school students demonstrated higher levels of academic performance compared to public-school students. The high performance by fourth grade private-school students, however, diminished significantly when statistical adjustments were made to consider student characteristics. The public school students recorded a 4.5-point public school advantage in mathematics, but remained at par with private school students in reading (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006). When the same statistical adjustments were completed for eighth-grade students, private-school students kept a 7-point advantage in reading but were equal on mathematics performance (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006). As Petersen & Llaudet (2006) cautioned, the NCES study also had some weaknesses that included a perceived inconsistency in the classification of public and private schools as well as inclusion of factors that would be easily influenced by schools. When the same data was used with more accurate metrics, the study determined that private schools outperformed public schools across-the-board as shown in Table 1 and Figures 1-4 below (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006).

Table 1Comparative performance of private schools relative to public schools (as estimated from NAEP Data, 2003)

NCES Model I Model II Model III
(NAEP Test Score Points)
Overall private sector
Grade 8 – Math -0.2 3.1 *** 4.7 *** 6.5 ***
Grade 8 – Reading 7.3 *** 9.2 *** 10.8 *** 12.5 ***
Grade 4 – Math -4.5 *** 0.9 1.8 *** 3.4 ***
Grade 4 – Reading 0.1 6.8 *** 8.3 *** 9.8 ***
Grade 8 – Math 0.8 3.4 *** 5.0 *** 6.7 ***
Grade 8 – Reading 8.2 *** 9.1 *** 10.8 *** 12.4 ***
Grade 4 – Math -4.3 *** 0.2 1.2 2.8 ***
Grade 4 – Reading 1.5 7.1 *** 8.7 *** 10.0 ***
Grade 8 – Math 4.9 *** 8.1 *** 9.6 *** 12.0 ***
Grade 8 – Reading 7.2 *** 9.3 *** 10.8 *** 12.8 ***
Grade 4 – Math -2.9 ** 2.5 3.3 * 5.0 ***
Grade 4 – Reading -2.7 5.5 *** 6.6 *** 8.3 ***
Evangelical Protestant
Grade 8 – Math -7.6 *** -2.4 -0.6 0.9
Grade 8 – Reading 1.2 5.5 ** 7.0 *** 8.6 ***

Note: Significance levels noted above are as follows: 0.01 (***), 0.05 (**), and 0.1 (*).

Note. From “On the public-private school achievement debate,” by Petersen and Llaudet, 2006, p. 122. Copyright 2006 by Copyright Holder. Reprinted with permission pending.

Overall private sector
Figure 1. Overall private sector

Note. From “On the public-private school achievement debate,” by Petersen and Llaudet, 2006, p. 7. Copyright 2006 by Copyright Holder. Reprinted with permission pending.

Catholic schools
Figure 2. Catholic schools

Note. From “On the public-private school achievement debate,” by Petersen and Llaudet, 2006, p. 7. Copyright 2006 by Copyright Holder. Reprinted with permission pending.

Lutheran Schools
Figure 3. Lutheran Schools

Note. From “On the public-private school achievement debate,” by Petersen and Llaudet, 2006, p. 7. Copyright 2006 by Copyright Holder. Reprinted with permission pending.

Evangelical Protestant
Figure 4. Evangelical Protestant

Note. From “On the public-private school achievement debate,” by Petersen and Llaudet, 2006, p. 7. Copyright 2006 by Copyright Holder. Reprinted with permission pending.

According to the three alternative models that resulted from this modification, the private-school advantage ranges between 3-6.5 and 9-12.5 points in eighth-grade math and reading respectively. In another model, fourth graders in public and private schools were at par, but private schools still outperformed public schools by two and three points in the other two models (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006, p. 7). Comparable results were identified for Catholic and Lutheran schools and analyzed separately. While Evangelical-Protestant schools enjoyed an advantage in reading, they remained at par with public schools in math (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006, p. 7).

In reality, though, any study that seeks to measure student performance will be fraught with opportunities for misinterpretation or will be unable to capture the robust quality of data needed to make such comparisons meaningful. Parents that make their children’s education a high priority, for instance, may make significant economic and personal sacrifices in order to send their children to even a modestly priced religious-operated private school (Martinez, Thomas & Kemerer, 1994, p. 679). Such parents are more likely to devote the additional time and effort needed to help pupils and students succeed in an increasingly high-stakes environment (O’Bryan, Braddock & Dawkins, 2006, p. 402).

Lubienski and Weitzel (2008) carried out an analysis of recent large-scale studies concerning student achievement in public and private schools and found out that public schools are remarkably more effective compared to private schools when student background is considered. From the documented evidence in the studies, Lubienski and Weitzel observed that public schools are on average and sometimes more effective than private schools when measured in terms of student achievement outcomes Lubienski and Weitzel, 2008, p. 447). From the analysis, Lubienski and Weitzel (2008) also concluded that despite student achievement being used as the main argument in favor of voucher programs, there was no sufficient evidence found in the large-scale studies to support this claim. Indeed, even if academic performance is used as a measure of which approach is superior, the differences between public and private schools have become less apparent in recent years. For instance, Wilensky (2002) noted that, “With the decline of K– 12 quality in most public schools in the United States since 1970, the average quality of parochial and public schools has converged” (p. 76).

On the contrary, Jimenez, Lockheed and Paqueo (1991) carried out a comparison study of the relative effectiveness of public and private schools in developing countries including Columbia, Tanzania, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Thailand. Even after making adjustments for student’s family background, students from private schools generally outperformed students from public schools in randomized math and language tests (Jimenez et al., 1991). Jimenez et al (1991) also found out that the unit costs of public schools are higher compared to those of private schools, but advised that these findings are not conclusive enough to be used in favor of massive privatization of the education system. In their meta-analysis of the test score of literature, Hedges, Laine and Greenwald (1994) found out that there is a strong effect of school resources on performance outcome. Hanusheck (1994), however, rebutted their findings questioning the validity of the technique used by Hedges, Laine and Greenwald (1994) to arrive at such a conclusion. Hanushek (1994) stated that if the estimates in Hedges et al. (1994) meta-analysis were accurate, then the U.S. should have recorded impressive performance during the 1970s and 1980s since this period saw massive investment in public education.

Despite the ample evidence in literature on the education policy to discredit private school competition (Simon and Lovrich, 1996), there appears to be a gap in research to validate the claims. While proponents argue that competition is indeed important in improving public school performance outcome, critics maintain that competition promotes ‘creaming’, a phenomenon that can have serious negative effects on public school performance (Lovrich, 1996, p. 667). Wang and Walberg (2001), in disapproving the ideology of competition between public and private schools as the best approach to improving performance outcome, stated that if families are free to choose which school to take their children to, it is most likely that parents who will take advantage of the situation are those that are well informed, highly motivated and economically well off. According to Wang and Walberg, school choice program would result in a creaming effect in which the less fortunate or incapable families are left with less desirable options while the more capable families take highly desirable opportunities (Wang and Walberg, 2001, p. 102).

While Wang and Walberg’s assertions appear reasonable, it is important to keep in mind that parents of lesser economic means may be just as motivated, perhaps even more, to ensure their children receive quality education. Such parents would likely benefit the most from school choice programs. In this regard, Rees (1999) reported that competition is in fact good for the nation’s public schools. Rees (1999) stressed that competition is good for learning. To emphasize this point, Rees cited positive gains in quality of education that have resulted from programs that include religious educations (Rees, 1999, p. 37). In support of this assertion, Rees (1999) cited examples from New York, Virginia and Wisconsin where school choice initiatives resulted in improved academic outcomes.

While competition can be said to be good for the system in the long term, some scholars suggest that creaming can have an inordinately adverse effect on the students that remain behind in public schools. As Swift (2003) advised, “Creaming off bright kids into grammar schools has unacceptably damaging effects on those left behind” (p. 50). Given the opportunity, it would seem that the invisible hand of competition would compel public schools to become better academically while becoming more efficient in the use of existing resources in the same fashion as their private school counterparts (Rees, 1999, p. 37). As Rees (1999) observed, “When public schools are faced with the possibility of large student transfers, and a corresponding loss of funding, they have shown a willingness to make improvements both in how and what they teach” (p. 37). Even here, though, public schools may be faced with some mandates and requirements that does not burden their private school counterparts, and private schools may enjoy a further competitive advantage in terms of academic performance as well (Bolick, 2003). Public schools may be required to accept a disproportionate number of students that have shown a proclivity for violence, while private schools can refuse to accept such students (Bon, Faircloth & Letendre, 2006, p. 150; Defiore, 2006, p. 453). It may be a difficult job, certainly, but someone has to do it and young people deserve the opportunity to achieve and fulfill their potential. In this environment, identifying what is working best for top performing public and private schools becomes a more qualitative assessment than a quantitative one simply because it largely depends on who is asking about what and why. There remains a fundamental dearth of timely studies concerning the effectiveness of school choice programs on compelling changes in public schools simply because few states have been able to provide parents with alternatives based on the legal ramifications involved (Ryan & Heise, 2002, p. 2043; Cowen, 2008, p. 301).

Efforts along this line over the years have shown some promise, but some of these have been deemed unconstitutional and have been discontinued. The 1970s, for example, experienced a widespread closure of Catholic schools. As a result, pressure mounted on public schools to absorb students from those schools hence creating a crisis in public schools (Bolick 2003). In response to the crisis, New York and Pennsylvania enacted ‘parochiaid’ laws whose main purpose was to support religious schools financially. ‘Parochiaid’ laws were intended to ease the pressure on public schools given that New York and Pennsylvania had the highest number of catholic schools. The financial assistance that was provided pursuant to this legislation was comprised of direct subsidies to the parents and private schools, but the practice did not last long. As Bolick (2003) reported, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down ‘parochiaid’ in Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist in 1973 on the basis of its affiliation to religion since the financial aid was restricted to private schools, majority of which were religious schools. In its ruling, the Court concluded that the implementation of ‘parochiaid’ laws had a primary effect in promoting religion hence unconstitutional as far as education system is concerned (pp. 4-5). The Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist case law effectively stopped further voucher initiatives at the time; however, the decision provided a point of departure for future debate on school voucher initiatives. In this regard, Bolick (2003) added that: “Nyquist put an end, for the time being, to notions of school choice while at the same time suggesting a possible course—what later would be dubbed ‘neutrality’—upon which school choice proponents could craft new innovations” (p. 5). It is in fact reasonable to suggest that the ability of parents, of all economic means, to choose where their children attend school is fundamental to the analysis of what role public and private schools should be play in the 21st century (Harrison, 2005, p. 197). As Harrison (2005) emphasized, parental choice represents one of the key issues involved in the debate over the proper function and purpose of public and private schools in America today:

What is the best way to organize education and achieve the greatest social benefits? Specific matters as to how schools are run–such as class size, teacher certification, teacher salaries, student testing, homework levels, and the curriculum–are important, but the primary issue is whether these matters are resolved through the choices of parents in a market setting or through government decisions in the political process. (p. 197)

The studies to date, though, suggest that competition is good for the system in general and school choice appears to represent a good start in this direction (Rees, 1999, p. 37). Hoxby used the New York State Department of Education data to examine the effect of school choice program on student performance outcome (Rees, 1999). I his study, Hoxby compared school districts where parents had a wider range of public schools to choose from with districts where choice was limited by the small number of public schools within the district (Rees, 1999, p. 37). Hoxby comparison study revealed that the overall student test scores increased by three full percentile points in districts where public schools compete heavily with private schools for the same students (Rees, 1999, par. 10). Hoxby also found out that students’ wage gains after graduation increased by four percent, and the probability of college graduation increased by 0.4 percent in district with high public-private competition (Rees, 1999, par. 10).

According to Hoxby’s findings, competition between public and private schools enhance academic performance within the district in question. Hoxby reported a twelve percent increase in future wage gains and probability of college graduation among students opting to transfer to private in a school district has a positive effect in the performance outcome of public school (Rees, 1999, par. 11). His study revealed an 8-percentile point improvement in the public school student test scores (Rees, 1999, par. 11). From these findings, it is clear that competition has a positive effect on public schools, which have to adjust their curricula to to match that of competing private schools (Rees, 1999, par. 11). Hoxby study also revealed that the presence of private schools Harrison (2005) also stressed this point when he suggested that the best means to encourage good teaching practices, foster innovation, and meet the need of disadvantaged students is through creating a market place in which suppliers are held accountable by consumers (p. 198). Harrison’s asserted benefits could be amplified further if the half-measures used to date were replaced with a completely open system that provides free choice between public and private schools without regard to economic means. Harrison (2005) pointed out that the highest benefits would be derived from a market system in which consumers have a choice and suppliers have an open entry point (p. 198). Likewise, Coulson (2005) cited purely economic considerations in his analysis: “Education markets, it has been argued, are more efficient, academically effective, and responsive to the demands of families than state-run school monopolies” (p. 337). This is not to say that all authorities are of a like mind concerning the relative effectiveness of private schools compared to public schools, despite some researchers suggesting that the competition represented by private schools has forced public schools to improve in order to compete (Campbell, 2008, p. 488).

According to the U.S. Center for Education Statistics (U.S. Department of Education, 1992), about one in ten high school students attended private educational institutions in the closing years of the 20th century (Grimes, 1994, p. 17). The author of the seminal study on student performance in private and public schools in 1966 reported that today:

American education is and has been overwhelmingly public education. Throughout this century, the percentage of American children in private schools has remained at about 10 percent of the total school population, and most of those children have been in Catholic schools. Despite the lack of growth in the percentage of students in private schools, perceived problems with the public schools have focused increased attention on private schools. (Coleman, 1990, p. 37)

This increased attention on private schools has resulted in a growing body of evidence concerning the respective performance of public and private schools in delivering high-quality educational services. The majority of documented evidence supports the conclusion that private schools are doing a better job of educating the nation’s youth, but there is much more involved in this analysis than an across-the-board comparison of academic achievement. As noted above, public schools districts across the country are frequently saddled with a number of federal and state mandates that may not apply to their private school counterparts (Defiore, 2006, p. 453). As a result, many school districts across the country have authorized charter schools for at-risk students. Charter schools are schools where academic achievement may lag behind private schools, but where students manage to receive a high school diploma when they might not otherwise be able to do so in public schools representing yet another indication of how private competition is forcing public schools to change (Bohte, 2004, p. 503).

Generally speaking, in these early years of the 21st Century, Catholic schools appear to be characterized by both higher quality, on the average, and greater equality than the public schools (Shokraii, 2004a, p. 62; Shokraii, 2004b; Meyer, 2007, p. 12). This appears anomalous because public schools are far more expensive, which should result in higher quality, and are mandated to increase the equality of educational opportunities in the United States (Coleman, 1990, p. 37). While there may be no one answer to this anomaly, Coleman (1990) suggested that the reason is due, at least in part, to the organization of public education in the United States, which is grounded in several fundamental assumptions that reinforce this disparity in the delivery of educational services today.

Other Comparison studies of Public and Private Schools

Dronkers and Peters (2004) used the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2000 data to study the relative effectiveness of public, private government-dependent and private-independent schools in 19 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (including the United States). According to the OECD, PISA is “a collaborative effort among OECD member countries, and assesses educational outcomes of 15-year-old students in three domains—reading literacy, mathematical literacy, and scientific literacy—through common international tests” (PISA, 2008, p. 2). The PISA assessment approach is meant to expand the analysis of school performance beyond the testing of school-based curriculum. The assessment is intended to measure to what extent students nearing the completion of their compulsory education have achieved proficiency in the knowledge and skills in each of the literacy domains that are deemed required for complete participation in society (PISA, 2008, p. 3). In particular, the PISA assessment approach attempts to examine: student’s preparedness for future challenges, ability to further their studies, ability to effectively analyze reason and communicate their ideas, and the best practices in schools (PISA, 2008, p. 3).

To achieve their analysis, Dronkers and Peters (2004) used a multi-level approach as a control test for: sociological and demographic characteristics of students and parents; behavioral and attitudinal characteristics of students and parents; school composition; teaching and learning conditions of schools and the school climate. The analysis determined that with factors such as student type, parent and social composition kept constant, public charter schools were more effective than comparable public schools (Dronkers and Peters, 2004). The authors attributed this fundamental difference in the effectiveness of private government-dependent schools to a better school climate. The different learning and teaching conditions in private government-dependent and public schools, however, failed to account for this increased charter school effectiveness in the 19 OECD countries used in the study (Dronkers & Peters, 2004). Dronkers & Peters, however, cautioned that the foregoing results should not be used as evidence to blow the trumpet about private schools’ high performance outcome. PISA data did not provide any information on student’s prior achievements hence any judgment about the school’s efficacy on raising performance outcome based on such data would be misleading (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006, p. 3). Because Petersen and Llaudet (2006) identified significantly different results when statistical adjustments were made to the NECS data, they also emphasized, “Our results are not offered as evidence that private schools outperform public schools, but as a demonstration of the dependence of the NCES results on questionable analytic decisions” (p. 5).

Important Differences between Public and Private Schools

In their analysis of the relative effectiveness of public and private schools in delivering quality educational services, the staff of Great Schools (2008) reported the following considerations described in Table 2, appendix B. Lubiensky and Crane (2008) emphasized that, “To a student in math class, it probably matters little what the school’s governing structure looks like” (p. 689). In his study of the relative effectiveness of public and private schools in the United States, Coulson (2005) identified several of these governance factors including those shown in Table 3, appendix 3.

Taken together, it is apparent that there are a number of further confounding factors that affect the ability of researchers to make meaningful comparisons of the relative effectiveness of private and public schools in delivering educational services. One of the more salient issues that emerge from many of the studies to-date is the importance of family background on children’s academic performance. For example, in his analysis of the private versus public school debate, Wilensky (2002) concluded that the best performance outcome in both public and private schools in the United States is more of a class difference than public vs. private difference. To come to this conclusion, Wilensky (2002) stated that studies of school achievement that compares students with similar family background and taking similar courses in public and private schools have managed to prove that performance outcome is a function of family background not school type (p. 472). These factors, Wilensky (2002) suggested, can also explain any superior academic performance levels demonstrated by private schools compared to public schools. In this regard, Wilensky (2002) added that, “The alleged private school advantage trumpeted by enthusiasts for the all-purpose solution, school vouchers, is entirely due to these differences in the social composition of the schools and the percentage of students in an academic track” (p. 472). There has also been a growing perception, among both educators and the general American public that “private schools” usually equate to “better.” Lubienski and Crane (2008) also added to this debate. Lubienski and Crane (2008) observed that even after making statistical adjustments for the differences in family background, expressed in both public and private schools, rigorous studies still managed to find positive ‘private school effect’ on student performance outcome (p. 689). Some researchers have cited superior organizational attributes, social capital and the community nature of private schools as the main factors explaining the extra boost in achievement (Lubienski and Crane, 2008).

This perception among the lay community and educators has formed the basis for many of the reform initiatives directed at improving academic performance by American students in recent years. All of these reform initiatives are based on the widely held perception of private schools as being better than their public-school counterparts (Lubienski & Crane, 2008, p. 690). To emphasize this point further, Lubienski and Crane (2008) concluded that indeed the assumption of the effectiveness of private schools is deep rooted in American thinking such that every parent, irrespective of social class, strives to find their children private school placement (p. 690).

From the perspective of at least one advocate of vouchers, in a careful review of recent empirical evidence comparing the relative effectiveness of private and public schools, which found that the costs of private schools are higher, school choice only serves to amplify system inequality while individual student achievement remains about the same (Levin, 1998). Van Slyke and Roch (2004) also make a comparable point when they compared education system to market factors in the business world. The authors emphasized the need for schools to ensure satisfaction of the public through fostering student achievement when they stated that:

If service providers are to be accountable to citizens and responsive to the changing levels of citizens’ satisfaction with services, then it is critical that providers not only measure satisfaction but also be able to identify factors outside of changes in service quality that may influence satisfaction. (p. 191)

Beyond the foregoing, private schools enjoy another advantage over their public-school counterparts in that they are able to select and retain the best performing students based on examination selection criteria and to expel them if they prove to be too much trouble (Wilensky, 2002). Public schools, unfortunately, become the receivers of the latter. Public schools, therefore, have to take the burden of providing education to students who are rather rejects according to the private school policy, given the need to comply with federal mandates.

One of the more unfortunate consequences of whichever system is measured, is that both private and public schools in the United States continue to underperform their counterparts in other countries. Besides, as Wilensky (2002) noted, international comparisons show that both public and private schools in the U.S. continue to lag behind despite recent improvements and when similar students are compared, there is no significant difference in student achievements in both American public and private schools (, p. 473). Despite this relative underperformance, American public schools are at yet another disadvantage compared to private schools because they may also lack the resources needed to deliver high-quality educational services that their private-school counterparts enjoy. As Rossides (2004) emphasized, “Significant improvements in education can be made only if there are drastic improvements in the life circumstances of America’s lower classes. Improving the life circumstances of the lower class citizens also means providing their schools with the resources they need” (p. 667). A report from Bushaw (2007) cited the results of the most recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools, which found out that the majority of Americans agree that public schools remain underfunded, and suggests that a dearth of political leadership is responsible for this continuing lack. “There clearly is a failure in America,” Bushaw (2007) added:

But it is a failure of political leadership, not of the public schools. Certainly, we need better schools, and the achievement gap is a serious threat to our society and our economy. The public understands this threat and is prepared to support change through the existing system of public schools. (p. 6)

Likewise, Hochschild and Scovronick (2003) do not mince words when it comes to the relationship between resources and quality in the delivery of educational services in today’s politically charged atmosphere. They said: “Critics are right when they point out the terrible quality of education in many inner-city schools,” they advised, and suggested that the critics are also right “… when they insist that all Americans should know that everyone did not share the experience of European immigrants and does not now share their viewpoints” (p. 184). These are tall orders for any school system, of course, but the mandate for public and compulsory education is clear and half-measures will not suffice. In the analysis of the relationship between resources and academic outcomes, it is important to take into account how America’s school system is funded across the country and how these differences affect a comparison of performance in international terms.

There are three fundamental differences between public schools in affluent European democracies and American schools that must be taken into account in the analysis of their respective performance as well:

  1. The United States is unique in its relative automatic promotion of students from grade to grade whatever their school performance. The consequences include a large minority of American high-school graduates who still read at eighth-grade level or do math at the sixth-grade level. As Wilensky (2002) noted, the American education system is best described as “Undemanding programs, underperforming pupils” (p. 473).
  2. American schoolteachers rank low in average status and income (compared to other college graduates or white-collar workers or average per capita income). This reflects three handicaps: huge district inequities; weaker teacher training; and a generally lower rate of teacher unionization than that of Europe or Japan. In Japan, teachers are almost totally organized in a deeply entrenched and politicized union; comparable American unions are less densely organized, more divided (e.g., AFT, NEA, separate state organizations, and a substantial nonunion sector). Regarding education, American secondary-school teachers are uniquely trained in Schools of Education with a focus on methods more than substance; in Europe and Japan alike, they are recruited mainly from higher-status university departments emphasizing subject matter (Wilensky, 2002, p. 471).
  3. Extreme decentralization resulting in huge inequities in funding from state to state, district to district, school to school, which is to some extent unique to the United States. Exacerbating this handicap in funding and performance is America’s reliance on property taxes for school funding. Because this tax, the most unpopular of all, creates intense tax resistance, it is a highly unreliable source of revenue (Wilensky, 2002, pp. 471-472).


While the topic of school performance is of growing concern to educationists and policy makers alike, there remains a lack of consensus on the best practices associated with best educational outcomes. Whereas some authors cited competition as the best approach to improve performance in American public schools, it is clear that performance outcome is a function of many factors of which competition is just one part of the equation. Besides, both public and private schools share a number of common goals in terms of desirable academic outcomes and classroom environments that are conducive to learning, but operate under significantly different funding and legal frameworks (Lubienski & Crane, 2008, p. 689; Wilensky, 2002, p. 471). Beyond these commonalities, though, there exists a complex continuum of quality indicators that may or may not be related to the amount of resources available but contributes to the overall performance of the schools involved (Coulson, 2005, p. 337). While it is difficult, and probably inappropriate, to make across-the-board comparisons of the effectiveness of public schools versus private schools using metrics such as academic performance because of these fundamental differences, the fact remains that some method of gauging the effectiveness of a school system is needed, and academic performance is a common measure (Petersen & Llaudet, 2006, p. 4). It is clear from the literature review that competition contributes positively to performance outcome. However, there remains a considerable lack of empirical evidence to support this assertion. Despite the wide conclusion that private school out perform public schools, there is a lack of timely evidence to justify the assertion. Most studies base their judgment on student scores without making statistical adjustments to take into considerations the burdened responsibility of public schools. A perceived gap in current literature identifying the best practices associated with the reported best performance is also evident. It is clear from the literature reviewed that this topic has received very little research attention in the past five years unlike in the period between the 1990s and early 2000s. This perceived gap led the researcher to design this study to undertake a broader perspective and instead of just comparing performance outcome between public and private schools, concentrate on identifying what works best for both public and private schools in the U.S.

Chapter Summary

This chapter provided a preliminary review of the relevant peer-reviewed, scholarly and organizational literature to develop a background and overview of the issues under consideration and a discussion of the relative effectiveness of public and private schools in the United States. The American public school system as used in the 21st Century traces its roots to the common school model proposed by Mann, which viewed schools as institutions for molding good citizenry and patriotism. The literature also revealed that across-the-board comparisons are constrained by a number of factors including the mandates under which public schools must operate (Wilensky, 2002, p. 471; Lubienski & Crane, 2008, p. 689). While private schools have a recommendable performance advantage over public schools, the available body of literature advised against using such a claim in favor of school voucher programs stating that it could be misleading (Jimenez et al., 1991; Lubienski and Weitzel, 2008). Performance outcome is a measure of many factors as shown in the discussion of literature. While some researchers cited family background (Willms, 1991; Wilensky, 2002), others have cited superior organizational attributes, social capital and the community nature of private schools as the main attributes of the best performance outcome (Lubienski and Crane, 2008). Another important issue that emerged from the literature reviewed was the important role of student’s family background in shaping student’s performance outcome (Willms, 1991; Wilensky, 2002). With that brief summary of the literature concerning the proposed study, a more complete description of the proposed study’s methodology, supporting rationale and population to be studied is provided in Chapter 3 below.


As noted in the introductory chapter, the purpose of the proposed qualitative study is to identify what aspects of public and private schools work best in achieving superior academic outcomes. While the purpose of private and public schools is virtually identical, they are characterized by fundamental differences in how they are funded with the latter being largely supported by mandatory taxes and the former supported by voluntary contributions by sponsoring organizations and parents. It is, therefore, important to determine how the top performing public and private schools use these resources to achieve their high level of performance. This chapter provides a description of the research method to be used in the proposed study, including the rationale for the research methodology and design selected, and their appropriateness achieving the study goals. Data collection and analysis procedures as well as the validity for this study are also presented in this chapter.

Research Method and Design Appropriateness

A qualitative approach will be used in this study. This will involve a combination of both primary and secondary data to provide a variety of information needed to make recommendations for improving performance in American public and private schools. The study will consist of a critical review of relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly secondary resources as well as conducting relevant primary research in the form of in-depth case studies. A combination of primary and secondary data approach is highly in congruent with a number of social researchers who emphasized the need for a critical review of the literature as an integral part of virtually any research project (Neuman, 2003; Gratton & Jones, 2003) as well as the need to incorporate primary data whenever possible (Dennis & Harris, 2002, p. 39). The topic under study is social science in nature guided by “what” and “how” types of questions as it identifies the best practices in the nation’s top-performing schools hence qualitative research remains the most appropriate method to find answers to such questions. The study topic also is qualitative in nature and identifying variables would be difficult, hence the rationale for qualitative approach.

From the description of research method, it is clear that this research will take the design of case studies to undertake an in-depth study of individual cases in their settings. All of the top-performing public and private schools used in this study are urban schools with the top-performing public schools being located in Alexandria, Virginia, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and Cerritos, California. The top-performing private high schools are located in Milton, Massachusetts, Wallingford, Connecticut and Exeter, New Hampshire, all of which are non-church affiliated. In this design, all the top performing public and private schools in the listed states are eligible for inclusion in the study so long as they are located in urban centers and are in the America’s Gold medal list, 2009. The researcher will, however, only select the top three schools from this list representing top-performing public schools. This study requires an in-depth analysis to be able to identify some of the best practices in the nation’s top performing schools. A case study design is thus the most appropriate design that will allow for in-depth study of individual schools. According to Neuman (2003), a case study is a research method in which the researcher “examines in-depth many features of a few cases over duration of time. Cases can be individuals, groups, organizations, movements, events, or geographical units. The data obtained is usually more detailed, varied, and extensive” (p. 3). Similarly, Feagin and his associates emphasized that:

The case study offers the opportunity to study these social phenomena at a relatively small price, for it requires one person, or at most a handful of people, to perform the necessary observations and interpretation of data, compared with the massive organizational machinery generally required by random sample surveys and population censuses. (Feagin et al., 1991, p. 2)

Picking the top-performing schools from already defined population will go a long way towards achieving the research goal of studying best practices in top-performing schools hence reducing the risk of missing them out as would be the case in random sampling. A pre-defined sample will also minimize the risks of missing out on the most appropriate case study samples as schools will be picked from school performance ranking list from which only the top-performing schools will be considered. The proposed methodology for this study is qualitative approach requiring a collection of detailed information about the samples, a method that can only be achieved through case studies hence the rationale for case study in this study.

Population, Sampling, and Data Collection Procedures

Population: The proposed study will be carried out in selected top-performing K-12 public and private schools in the United States. The study targets a population consisting of teachers, administrators and, to some extent, parents of students attending the selected schools.

Sampling: The proposed study intends to examine three top-performing private schools and public schools each of comparable grade levels as selected by U.S. News & World Report, which has performed this comparative analysis for the past three years. The researcher settled for the top three schools from this long and elaborate list, given the fact that this study is about identifying best practices in the top performing schools. Table 4 below provides the list of the three top-performing public schools for 2009. Since the researcher is also interested in evaluating how these schools utilize the available resources, data concerning per-student costs will be obtained during the telephonic interviews with the teaching staff at these schools.

Table 4: Three top-performing public high schools in the United States: 2009

Rank School name/location Quality-adjusted
Exams per
Test Taker
College Readiness
1 Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology,
Alexandria, VA
6.9 100.0
2 International Academy,
Bloomfield Hills, MI
5.7 100.0
3 Whitney High School,
Cerritos, CA
4.1 100.0

Note: In almost all cases students at private schools are not required to take the statewide accountability tests which are mandatory for U.S. public high schools. Since private schools do not have the state testing data that U.S. News uses for the first two parts of the America’s Best High Schools rankings, they are not included in the U.S. News America’s Best High Schools rankings.

The researcher finds it prudent to consider three of the private high schools that are consistently cited as being among the top performers, as well as the most expensive even though there are no comparable ratings of private high schools in the United States. These include Milton Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall and Phillips Exeter Academy as shown in Table 5 below.

Table 5: Top three private high schools in contiguous United States

Rank School name/location High School Enrollment Tuition
1 Milton Academy,
Milton, Massachusetts
670 $34,470 (day classes only)
2 Choate Rosemary Hall,
Wallingford, Connecticut
831 on campus (19 abroad) $34,320 (day classes only)
3 Phillips Exeter Academy,
Exeter, New Hampshire
1,000 $29,920 (day classes only)

As many willing respondents as possible, from the above schools will be interviewed. The study will thus remain open to all members of the target population. All members of staff and school administrators will have an equal opportunity to provide their views hence provide the in-depth nature of information needed in this study. The researcher will, however, only sample a desirable number of respondents for interviews. The sample frame will include school principal or administrator who will randomly designate at least ten interviewees from each school. Apart from teachers and administrators, parents of students attending these schools will also be interviewed. The researcher intends to select parents of ten top performing students in each school; only students in their final years will be considered to allow for an evaluation of their progressive achievements. Given the time consuming nature of data analysis in qualitative research, the researcher believes such a sample frame will be representative and easy enough to work with. This limited convenience sample is consistent with the advice provided by Darlington and Scott (2002) who emphasized that:

Participation in qualitative research requires a considerable commitment of time and energy and, often, the willingness to commit to reflection on deeply personal experiences. Researchers often have to take as many participants as they can get, within the constraints of time and other resources. (p. 53)

Telephonic interviews with teachers, administrators, and to the extent possible, parents of students attending the selected schools identified as top-performers will be used. To achieve some level of confidentiality, the researcher will assign numbers to interviewees rather than using their names. The results of the interviews will be recorded using extensive notes as opposed to tape recording and summarized as described below.

Informed consent, confidentiality, and geographic location information

All interviewees who participate in the case studies:

  1. Will be provided with an informed consent form that conforms to university guidelines;
  2. Will be guaranteed that their input will be used for academic research purposes only; and,
  3. Will be assured that they can withdraw their participation in the research study without any repercussions.

The geographic locations selected for this analysis will depend on which public and private schools have been designated most recently as top performers.

Data Collection

Both primary and secondary data will be applicable in this study. The data collection approach for the proposed study will consist of two important sources as outlined below:

  • A comprehensive literature review to provide the theoretical and background information on the proposed study topic and form the basis for the case study component as well. The literature review will be accomplished by consulting both public and private university libraries, reliable online sources such as EBSCO, Questia, federal and state educational services as well as the researcher’s personal library. Data collected from these sources forms the backbone of this study, as it will provide a theoretical context that guides this study. Secondary data will be applicable to research findings on education performance, government publication data on school performance, and any other relevant information on best practices. Such data will be appropriate in this study since the main goal is to identify the best practices in top performing schools in the United States.
  • A series of case studies of the top-performing public and private schools. Primary data will be collected through telephonic interviews with teachers, administrators, and to the extent possible, parents of students attending the selected schools. Telephonic interviews technique is more appropriate in this study since the researcher will be able to come up with additional questions depending on the responses from the respondents hence an in-depth study as opposed to the case of a questionnaire. Primary data collected will provide information on such issues as teacher to student ratio in classroom settings and teacher and student performance levels, administrative/parental policies governing each school’s education delivery (to include special classes offered, or specialized curriculum), and the school’s enrollment policy. Other important primary data will include perceptions among educators concerning parental support, parental perceptions of school climate, median teacher credentials, number of special needs students, cost to attend school, governance (to include state funding), the quality and effectiveness of the leadership in place at the school, and perception of private- public relationship in education delivery. This information will be appropriate in finding solutions to the research questions stated in chapter one.

The study will be largely qualitative in its approach but with limited elements of quantitative methodology to cater for the limited quantitative data that will require quantitative techniques of analysis. This approach is consistent with Benz, C. R& Newman (998) and Neuman (2003) who pointed out that:

Both qualitative and quantitative research use several specific research techniques (e.g., survey, interview, and historical analysis), yet there is much overlap between the type of data and the style of research. Most qualitative-style researchers examine quantitative data and vice versa. (Neuman, 2003, p. 16)


This study is qualitative in nature. No specific instruments will, therefore, be used in data collection, but an identical format will be followed in the interviews to develop each of the case studies to ensure the uniformity of analyses. The limited quantitative data will be obtained from school records hence no need for a specific instrument. For this purpose, a series of questions will be used in a semi-structured interview format that allows interviewees to expand on issues they feel are important while still providing continuity and uniformity to the resulting feedback. Such an approach is appropriate in this study given that the researcher intends to carryout an in-depth study of the selected cases. The questions used in the telephonic interviews will be reiterated in the data analysis with corresponding answers from interviewees and a list of the questions included as an appendix. This approach is congruent with the guidance provided by Klanderman and Staggenborg (2002), which cited the advantages of telephonic interviews as being more flexible than the more rigid structured interview format, allowing the interviewer to digress and to probe based on interactions during the interview (p. 92). The use of this approach to develop the case study component of qualitative methodology is also highly appropriate for the purposes of the proposed study based on the observation by Klandersman and Staggenborg (2002) that, “Semi-structured interviews are particularly useful for understanding social movement mobilization from the perspective of movement actors or audiences” (p. 92). Semi-structured interview format also has the added advantage of providing researchers with empirical findings that might not emerge using a structured interview approach. In this regard, Klandersman and Staggenborg (2002) added that semi-structured interviews, “provide greater breadth and depth of information, the opportunity to discover the respondent’s experience and interpretation of reality, and access to people’s ideas, thoughts, and memories in their own words rather than in the words of the researcher” (pp. 92-93) hence justifying its selection in this study. Last but not least, the semi-structured interview approach for the case study component of this study was deemed appropriate based on its ability to add to the body of existing knowledge in ways that relying on secondary resources would not provide.

Data Analysis

Constant comparison technique will be used for the purposes of data analysis in this study. This will involve coding of the information obtained during telephonic interviews. A comparison of codes to find consistencies and differences will then be carried out using SPSS software. This technique is the most appropriate in this research since data will be in story form and the main goal of the study lies in identifying what best practices are common in the selected schools. The findings from literature review and the case studies of top-performing public and private schools will be qualitatively synthesized to identify opportunities for improving the contribution of both types of schools to American education and to develop a set of best practices for collaborative efforts between public and private schools.

Internal and External Validity

The researcher intends to undertake this study to identify the best practices in American top performing public and private schools and to address how these practices can be implemented to improve performance in the nation’s public and private schools. The internal validity of the study will lie in its ability to identify the causal relationship between best practices and the perceived best performance in the identified top-performing public and private schools. It is only after a establishing a solid causal relationship that the researcher will be able to confidently recommend the identified best practices for adoption in American public and private schools. The external validity, on the other hand, will be to evaluate the applicability of the findings to other schools in the United States. Will it be possible to generalize the findings to other American public and private schools? The researcher assumes that the findings and the recommendations of this study will be generalized to other schools and the recommendations will be applicable to other public and private schools alike.

Chapter Summary

This chapter described the proposed study’s research method and design, the population to be studied, the sampling procedures as well as the data collection procedures that will be followed together with supporting rationale for this approach. The research methodology was identified as qualitative involving a combination of literature review and case study design. The selection of this method based its rationale on the nature of the topic under study as well as the need to incorporate both primary and secondary data in social research as emphasized by Neuman (2003) Gratton & Jones (2003) and Dennis & Harris (2002). Studying pre-defined top-performing public and private schools, the target population consisted of teachers, administrators and parents. Identified sampling technique involved a mixture of random sampling and selection of pre-defined samples. The researcher selected a convenience sample size basing its rationale on the time consuming nature of the proposed study as emphasized by Darlington and Scott (2002). The researcher also selected telephonic interviews as the most appropriate data collection technique. A semi-structured questionnaire was preferred to guide the data collection process basing its rationale on Klandersman and Staggenborg (2002) who emphasized the rationale for semi-structured interviews as the most appropriate instrument to undertake an in-depth study. The constant comparison technique was identified as the most appropriate technique for data analysis. With that comprehensive summary of the proposed research method, the succeeding chapters will involve a synthesis of case study data with the findings of the review of the literature in the concluding chapter.


America’s best high schools: Gold medal list. (2009). U.S. News & World Report. Web.

Barefoot, J. S. (2001). Melting pot or salad bowl? ABA Banking Journal, 93(9), 85. Web.

Bellamy, T., & Goodlad, J. (2008). Continuity and change in pursuit of a democratic public mission for our schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(8), 565-570.

Benz, C. R., & Newman, I. (1998). Qualitative-quantitative research methodology: Exploring the interactive continuum. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Berliner, D. C. & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America’s public schools. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

Boe, E. E., Cook, L. H. & Sunderland, R. J. (2008). Teacher turnover: Examining exit attrition, teaching area transfer, and school migration. Exceptional Children, 75(1), 7-8. Web.

Bohte, J. (2004). Examining the Impact of Charter Schools on Performance in Traditional Public Schools. Policy Studies Journal, 32, 501–520.

Bolick, C. (2003). Voucher wars: Waging the legal battle over school choice. Washington, DC: Cato Institute.

Bon, S.C., Faircloth, S.C., Letendre, G.K., (2006). The school violence dilemma. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 17(3), 148-157 W.

Brouillette, L. (2002). Charter schools: Lessons in school reform. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bunting, J. III (2005). Class warfare: It is wrong that America’s most privileged families have abandoned military service. American Scholar, 74(1), 12.

Bushaw, W. J. (2007). The public seems to get it. School Administrator, 64(2), 6.

Campbell, D. E. (2008). The civic side of school choice: an empirical analysis of civic education in public and private schools. Brigham Young University Law Review, 8(2), 487-489. Retrieved 21st March 2011 from

Coleman, J. S. (1990). Equality and achievement in education. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Coulson, A. (2005). Measuring market education: Suggestions for ranking school choice reforms. The Cato Journal, 25(2), 337.

Cowen, J. M. (2008). School choice as a latent variable: Estimating the ‘complier average causal effect’ of vouchers in Charlotte. Policy Studies Journal, 36(2), 301-302.

Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT). (2008). State of Georgia department of educatio. Web.

Darlington, Y., & Scott, D. (2002). Qualitative research in practice: Stories from the field. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Defiore, L. (2006). The state of special education in Catholic schools. Catholic Education, 9(4), 453-455. Web.

Dennis, C., & Harris, L. (2002). Marketing the e-business. London: Ruotledge.

Downey, Jayne A.; Cobbs, Georgia A. (2007). “I actually learned a lot from this”: a field assignment to prepare future preservice math teachers for culturally diverse classrooms The Free Library. (2007). Web.

Dronkers, J. & Peters, R., (2004). The effectiveness of public and private schools from a comparative perspective [PDF Document]. Paper retrieved from a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. Web.

Feagin, J. R., Orum, A. M. & Sjoberg, G. (1991). A case for the case study. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Georgia Public Policy Foundation. (2008). Interactive report card with detailed spending data. Web.

Godwin, K., Ausbrooks, C. & Martinez, V. (2001). Teaching tolerance in public and private schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(7), 542. Web.

Gratton, C., & Jones, I. (2003). Research methods for sport studies. New York: Ruotledge.

Grimes, P. W. (1994). Public versus private secondary schools and the production of economic education. Journal of Economic Education, 25(1), 17.

Hanushek, E. A. (1994). “Money might matter somewhere: A response to Hedges, Laine and Greenwald.” Educational Researcher, 23(24), 5-8. Web.

Harrison, M. (2005). Public problems, private solutions: School choice and its consequences. The Cato Journal, 25(2), 197. Web.

Hedges, L. V., Laine, R.D. and Greenwald, R. (1994). “Does Money Matter? A Meta- Analysis of Studies of the effects of Differential School Inputs on Student Outcomes.” Educational Researcher, 23(3), 5-14.

Hilliard, C. A. (2008, April). The new homeroom. The Village Voice, 53(15), 30-31.

Hochschild, J. L. & Scovronick, N. (2003). American dream and the public schools. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hoxby, C. M. (1994). “Do Private Schools provide competition for Public Schools?” National Bureau of economic Research Working Paper No. 4978. Web.

IES National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). NAEP – Overview. Web.

Jimenez, E., Lockheed, M.E. & Paqueo, V. (1991). The Relative Efficiency of Private and Public Schools in Developing Countries. The World Bank Research Observer, 6 (2), 205-218.

Kaestle, Carl F. 1983. Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780– 1860. New York: Hill and Wang.

Klandermans, B. & Staggenborg, S. (2002). Methods of social movement research. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lavy, V. (2007). Using performance-based pay to improve the quality of teachers. The Future of Children, 17(1), 87.

Leong, N. (2005). Beyond Breimhorst: Appropriate accommodation of students with learning disabilities on the SAT. Stanford Law Review, 57(6), 2135-2136. Web.

Levin, H. M. (1998). Educational vouchers: Effectiveness, choice, and costs. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 17(3), 373-392. Web.

Lubienski, C. & Crane, C. (2008). What do we know about school effectiveness? Academic gains in public and private schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(9), 689-690. Web.

Lubienski, C. & Weitzel, P. (2008). The effects of vouchers and private schools in improving academic achievement: a critique of advocacy research. Brigham Young University Law Review, 2, 447-448.

Martinez, V., Thomas, K., & Kemerer, F. R. (May 1994). Who chooses and why: a look at five school choice plans. Phi Delta Kappan, 75(9), 678-682. Web.

Mauch, J. E. & Park, N. (2003). Guide to the successful thesis and dissertation: A handbook for students and faculty. New York: Marcel Dekker.

May, M. (2005). Improving teacher preparation. Journal of Social Studies Research, 29(2), 4-5.

Mayers, C. (2006). Public Law 107-110 No Child Left Behind Act Of 2001: Support Or Threat To Education As A Fundamental Right? Education, 126 (3), 449-461. Web.

Meyer, P. (2007). Can Catholic schools be saved? Lacking nuns and often students, a shrinking system looks for answers. Education Next, 7(2), 12-13. Web.

Neuman, W. L. (2003). Social research methods: Qualitative and quantitative approaches, 5th ed. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

O’Bryan, S., Braddock, J. H., & Dawkins, M. P. (2006). Bringing parents back in: African American parental involvement, extracurricular participation, and educational policy. Journal of Negro Education, 75, 401-414.

Petersen, P. E. & Llaudet, E. (2006, August). On the public-private school achievement debate. Paper prepared for the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association. Philadelphia, PA, (pp. 1-58).

Power, E. J. (1996). Religion and the public schools in 19th century America: The contribution of Orestes A. Brownson. New York: Paulist Press.

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). (2008). Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Web.

Rees, N.S. (1999). Public school benefits of private school vouchers. Policy Review, January/February, 37. Web.

Rossides, D. W. (2004). Knee-jerk formalism: Reforming American education. Journal of Higher Education, 75(6), 667-703. Web.

Ryan, J. E. & Heise, M. (2002). The political economy of school choice. Yale Law Journal, 111(8), 2043-2044. Web.

Shanker, A & Rosenberg, B. (1992). Do private schools outperform public schools? The choice controversy, P. W. Cookson (ed.), 128 –145. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press.

Shokraii, N. (2004a). School Choice: A Report Card. Web.

Shokraii, N. H. (2004b). Why do at-risk students thrive in Catholic schools? USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education), 126(2636), 62-63.

Siemiatycki, M. (2007). What’s the secret? Confidentiality in planning infrastructure using public/private partnerships. Journal of the American Planning Association, 73(4), 388.

Simon, C. A. & Lovrich, N. P., Jr. (1996). Private school enrollment and public school performance: Assessing the effects of competition upon public school student achievement in Washington State. Policy Studies Journal, 24(4), 667.

Swift, A. (2003). How not to be a hypocrite: School choice for the morally perplexed parent. London: Routledge.

Turnbull, H. R. (2005a). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act reauthorization: Accountability and personal responsibility. Remedial and Special Education, 26(6), 320- 321.

Turnbull, H. R. (2005b). The IDEA as Amended In 2004 (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Van Riper, T. (2006). Most expensive private schools. Web.

Van Slyke, D. M. & Roch, C. H. (2004). What do they know, and whom do they hold accountable? Citizens in the government-nonprofit contracting relationship. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 14(2), 191-193.

Vinson, K. D. & Ross, E. W. (2004). Defending public schools. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Wang, M. C. & Walberg, H. J. (2001). School choice or best systems: What improves education? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Wilensky, H. L. (2002). Rich democracies: Political economy, public policy, and performance. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Willms, J. D. (1992). Monitoring school performance: A guide for educators. Washington, DC: Falmer.

Wolf, P. J. (2008). School voucher programs: What the research says about parental school choice. Brigham Young University Law Review, 8(2), 415-416. Web.

Appendix A

Table 2: Important differences in public and private schools

Difference Public Schools Private Schools
Cost Public schools cannot charge tuition. They are funded through federal, state and local taxes. When you pay your taxes, you are paying for your child’s education and the education of other children in your community. Private schools cost money. Private schools do not receive tax revenues, but instead are funded through tuition, fundraising, donations and private grants. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the median tuition for their member private day schools in 2005-2006 in the United States was close to $14,000 for grades 1 to 3, $15,000 for grades 6 to 8 and $16,600 for grades 9 to 12. The median tuition for their member boarding schools was close to $29,000 for grades 1 to 3, $32,000 for grades 6 to 12. Note that of the 28,384 private schools in the United States, about 1,058 are affiliated with NAIS. The Digest of Education Statistics 2005 from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that for the 1999-2000 school year, the average private school tuition was about $4,700. Parochial schools generally charge less. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, in their annual statistical report in 2005-2006, the average elementary school tuition for Catholic schools (in 2005) was $2,607; the average freshman tuition (for 2002-2003) was $5,870. Catholic Schools enroll more students (49%) than any other segment of private schools
Admissions Public schools admit all children. By law, public schools must educate all children, including students with special needs. To enroll in a public school you simply register your child by filling out the necessary paperwork. Private schools are selective. They are not obligated to accept every child, and in many private schools admission is very competitive.
Curriculum Public schools offer a general program, designed for all children, which usually includes math, English, reading, writing, science, history and physical education. In addition to these key subjects, many public schools offer programs in music and art. In a public school, the substance of what children learn is mandated by the state and learning is measured through state standardized tests. In a note, the staff adds that the charter school movement is picking up momentum in many states; these schools are public, but many offer specialized programs and smaller classes Private schools have the flexibility to create a specialized program for students. For example, private schools may use art or science in all classes, or take children on extended outdoor trips that blend lessons across the curriculum. Private schools can create their own curriculum and assessment systems, although many also choose to use standardized tests.
Teachers All teachers in a public school are usually state certified or, at a minimum, working toward certification. Certification ensures that a teacher has gone through the training required by the state, which includes student teaching and coursework. Teachers in private schools may not be required to have certification, and instead often have subject area expertise and an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject they teach.
Students The children at most public schools usually reflect the community. Students may be split up based on ability or interests, but in many public schools, there is a diversity of student backgrounds. The student population at a private school is determined through a selection process; all students must apply and be accepted in order to attend. Although students may be from different neighborhoods, they will probably have similar goals and interests. This tends to create a fairly homogenous student body.
Special Needs Students Due to special education laws, public schools must educate all children, and provide the necessary programs to meet their special needs. This means that most public schools have special education programs and teachers who are trained to work with students who have particular needs. Private schools do not have to accept children with special needs, and many choose not to (although there are a small number of private schools specifically designed for special needs children). As a result, most private schools do not have special education programs or teachers trained to work with students with severe special needs. Private schools will try to help all the students they admit, but extra resources may also come at an additional cost.
Class Size Many states recognize the value of small classes and have provided funding to keep class sizes small in grades K-3. As students become older, class size tends to get bigger in public schools, especially in large school districts and urban schools. Private schools are generally committed to providing small classes and individual attention to students. Many parents choose private schools for this reason.
Governance Public schools must follow all federal, state and local laws in educating children. Such laws usually include specifics about funding, program development and curriculum. Private schools are not subject to as many state and federal regulations as public schools. Since private schools are funded independently, they are not subject to the limitations of state education budgets and have more freedom in designing curriculum and instruction

Appendix B

Table 3: Legal and regulatory conditions affecting public schools in the United States

Legal or regulatory condition Description/Impact on School Choice
Admissions Requirements Since Adam Smith, it has been well understood that markets rely on specialization and the division of labor. By restricting the ability of schools to target particular clienteles, government-imposed admissions restrictions impede both of these factors.
Certification Policy Government-required teacher certification creates a barrier to entry into the education labor market, interfering with the market’s teacher selection process. In practice the consensus of evidence indicates that traditional U.S. teacher certification programs do not lead to higher student achievement. A fact consistent with international evidence. Government certification thus arbitrarily and dramatically reduces the pool of candidates for teaching jobs, thereby diminishing competition for those jobs and creating artificial pressure for higher salaries and lower quality.
Class Size Policy If schools are not free to vary the size of their classes, one avenue of specialization is closed off, and the development of techniques for improving learning in large and small classes will be stunted. The imposition of a particular range of acceptable class sizes would thus impede the operation of the marketplace.
Curriculum Regulations One of the chief avenues for educational specialization is the selection of what children are taught. For the education marketplace to work efficiently, schools must be free to offer any curriculum they wish, and families must be free to choose schools whose curricula they value. To the extent that the government intervenes in the determination of curriculum, the operation of the market is impeded.
Policy on School Prices Prices are an integral part of the market mechanism, providing an incentive for producers to produce more of what the public wants and less of what it does not. By fixing prices, as the Milwaukee voucher program does for participating private schools, it eliminates this means by which information about consumer demand is communicated
Registration Requirements The amount of bureaucracy and paperwork that new schools must deal with in order to register with the state poses a barrier to entry proportional to the time and difficulty required to comply with registration requirements.
Religion Limits In Vermont, religious private schools are forbidden to participate in the state’s tuitioning (voucher) program. Florida’s own A+ voucher program was recently ruled in violation of that state’s constitution for including religious schools. To the extent that certain religions or philosophies are forbidden, the free choice of consumers is impeded.
Salary Policy Under some school choice programs, teachers’ salaries are set by the state rather than by individual schools. School managers must be free to set the salaries of their employees on a case-by-case basis in order for the market to behave efficiently
School Accreditation Requirements In some states, such as Ohio, all private schools must be members of a government-sanctioned accrediting body. The accrediting bodies set their own standards that can exclude schools that might in fact be of interest to families. Such requirements therefore impede the operation of the marketplace.
Tax Credit Program Has Sunset Clause Entrepreneurs considering entering a market are concerned not only with current conditions but also with conditions in the foreseeable future. If a school choice program has a sunset clause (i.e., is scheduled to expire after a certain number of years or is only funded for a limited period), this will reduce the likelihood that new schools will be created. The recent small-scale voucher program for Washington, D.C., for example, is only budgeted for five years, after which it will have to be appropriated new funding or will expire.
Teacher Selection Policy Education markets depend on the freedom of individual school operators to select their own teachers. Restrictions on that freedom, or the outright provision of teachers to private schools by the government interferes with the operation of the market.
Termination Policy If schools cannot readily terminate the employment of teachers who are failing to satisfy their customers, it becomes more difficult for schools to do a good job of serving families.
Testing Requirements Testing is a valuable service in education markets, one that schools and independent testing services readily provide, but the imposition of mandatory government testing programs interferes with school autonomy. Mandatory testing exerts a homogenizing effect on curricula, impeding specialization, and focusing the attention of schools on the subjects tested at the expense of subjects not tested. The idea that a single test or battery of tests can adequately capture all the varied demands of education consumers is tantamount to Hayek’s “fatal conceit,” running precisely contrary to market principles.
Voucher/Subsidy Copay Policy When voucher-accepting schools are either forbidden from charging copayments or are penalized for doing so by a reduction in the voucher amount, this has an effect on the likelihood that private schools will choose to participate in a nonmandatory voucher program.

Appendix C


Informed Consent: Participants 18 years of age and older

Dear Research Participant,

My name is Cyndi Krupa and I am a student at the University of Phoenix working on a Doctor of Education degree. I am conducting a research study entitled Identifying Opportunities for Improving the Contributions of Public and Private Schools to American Society.

The purpose of the research study is to identify what aspects of public and private schools work best and how public and private schools can co-exist and function within American society. The proposed study’s research design will proceed in a linear fashion in order to obtain objective, reliable, and valid information following the guidance provided by Mauch and Park (2003). The research variables to be considered are public schools and private schools with public and private school teachers in the United States representing the population group under consideration.

Your participation will involve a telephonic interview. Your participation in this study is voluntary. If you choose not to participate or to withdraw from the study at any time, you can do so without penalty or loss of benefit to yourself. The results of the research study may be published but your identity will remain confidential and your name will not be disclosed to any outside party.

In this research, there are no foreseeable risks to you.

Although there may be no direct benefit to you, a possible benefit of your participation the end results of the research could potentially give you new, updated information in the education/school venue. To include the relative effectiveness of Public and Private Schools, and how their school can potentially contribute to our American society.

If you have any questions concerning the research study, please call me at 719-290-0611 and/or [email protected].

As a participant in this study, you should understand the following:

  1. You may decline to participate or withdraw from participation at any time without consequences.
  2. Your identity will be kept confidential.
  3. Cyndi Krupa, the researcher, has thoroughly explained the parameters of the research study and all of your questions and concerns have been addressed.
  4. If the interviews are recorded, you must grant permission for the researcher, Cyndi Krupa, to digitally record the interview. You understand that the information from the recorded interviews may be transcribed. The researcher will structure a coding process to assure that anonymity of your name is protected.
  5. Data will be stored in a secure and locked area. The data will be held for a period of three years, and then destroyed.
  6. The research results will be used for publication.

“By signing this form you acknowledge that you understand the nature of the study, the potential risks to you as a participant, and the means by which your identity will be kept confidential. Your signature on this form also indicates that you are 18 years old or older and that you give your permission to voluntarily serve as a participant in the study described.”

Signature of the interviewee _____________________________ Date _____________

Signature of the researcher ______________________________ Date _____________