“If You Send Your Kid To Private School, You Are a Bad Person.” So says a
Slate articletoday that’s already racked up thousands of hate-shares on Twitter and Facebook.
Allison Benedikt’s argument is pretty simple: Sending your own kid to private school makes you insufficiently invested in improving public schooling for others, and therefore a bad person.
Instead, we should all send our kids to public school so we all feel a political imperative to make public schools better. After all, Benedikt argues, the cost isn’t that high: she went to a crappy public school, and as a result her cultural literacy is poor, but she managed to get a good job writing clickbaity articles for Slate anyway.
Benedikt acknowledges that her no-exit plan to improve public schools “might take generations” to work and admits that “Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.” But the academic research gives us no reason to believe that Benedikt’s plan would improve public school outcomes over any time frame.
After all, she’s not the first person to realise that the existence of private schools might affect public school quality. A lot of academics have looked into the question of how private schools affect public schools, and the results are inconclusive.
In 2002, Professors Clive Belfield and Henry Levin at Columbia University Teachers’ College looked at the existing research and found that “across districts and counties, the effect of private school competition on public school outcomes is mixed.” Of the 12 studies they identified on the topic, 3 found that private competition improved public schools, 3 found that it worsened them, and 6 found no effect.
That’s not terribly surprising, since you’d expect two offsetting effects: private schools might disproportionately attract the best students out of public schools, but competition might force public schools to improve so they can attract students away from privates.
Next time Benedikt decides to tell people they’re bad if they don’t subject their children to a substandard education as part of a generations-long project to improve public schooling, she should do a literature review first to make sure that project would even work.
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