Value of Education in Public Schools Compared to Private Schools

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The Value of Education in Public Schools vs. Private Schools

The debate on the value of education offered in public compared to private schools is not new among scholars and policymakers. However, there seems no agreement among them regarding the issue. According to Watkins, students in private schools outperform those in public schools, private learning institutions inculcate good morals values to students, have higher graduation rates, and ensure efficiency (para. 1-2). However, there are still disagreements among researchers about these claims (Bedrick para. 4-5). Parents look forward to understanding whether private schools provide better quality than public schools or not to make informed decisions when choosing where to enroll their children. The paper presents a comprehensive comparative analysis of the value of education offered in public schools compared to the one offered in public schools.


High performance is one of the leading reasons parents and guardians look forward to receiving after investing in education. The level of performance differs in private and public schools. First thing, there is a common belief that private schools always outperform public schools. However, some scholars belief that this is not always the case. A study conducted by Watkins indicates that students in public schools are increasingly performing almost the same as those in private schools in fourth-grade mathematics and reading (para1). The report underlines that learners in private schools only outperform those in public schools in eighth-grade reading (Watkins para. 1). However, this report contradicts with Lips et al study which shows that public schools in the US perform low in reading and math (para 3). According to Lips et al., only about 33% f learners in fourth-grade are proficient in math and that the US public schools rank in the middle of the global assessment of math and science comprehension (para.3-4). The authors further noted that even suburban schools that traditionally thought to perform better are doing badly in their academic performance (Lips et al. para 2-4). The report indicates that about 14,000 public school districts in the US, only about 6% of them have average student math achievement which would place the country in the third upper third of worldwide performance (Lips et al. para 2-4).

However, some researchers have refuted the use of math performance as a measure of value students get from private and public schools. For example, Bedrick claims that private schools show higher performance in math because they are slow to adopt new math curriculum (para. 4). He argues that "government schools were more likely to embrace the new math curriculum than private schools, which tended to continue to emphasize traditional math content." (Bedrick para. 4). From Bedrick's point of view, performance in math might not be a standard measure of differences in math skills among students (para. 4). Such comparison approach should be substituted with random assignments carried in both private and public schools, also referred to as the golden standards (EdChoice para.1).

Graduation Rates

The rate of graduation is also another important indicator of the value students get from the schools they attend. Contrary to EdChoice's view that public schools perform better than private schools (para.1), the graduate rates of students in public schools is low in the US. According to Lips et al. report published on the heritage foundation, the graduation rate in the US public schools has remained stagnant at about 40 percent since the 1970s (para, 3). Further worrying data presented by Lips et al. shows that less than 50% f the students in public schools in large US cities graduate (para.3). Cass also noted low graduation rates in public schools and terms them as wastage of students' time (para. 5). In a study carried out at Amarillo, Cass found that less than 50% of students who enroll in the school make it to the second year, less than 15 percent of those who proceed to the second year make it to third year, and less than 33% graduate in four years (para. 5). The study further indicates that only about 54% of those who graduate from the school earn higher than 25,000 USD (Cass para. 5). Although the study was based only in one school thereby raising some questions regarding its relevance, the findings are in line with Lips et al. study that also showed low graduation rates in public schools (para.4). Given the time spend in school, the cost incurred, such students seem worse off for studying.

The Brookings Institute and Heritage Foundation also showed worrying low graduation rates in various regions including California, New York, and Texas. According to Cass, such states have resolved to eliminate or lower their requirements for graduation or manipulated data on graduation rates in order to achieve a higher rate than private schools (para. 6). Other public institutions resort to outright fraud to manipulate grades thereby raising their graduation rates (Cass para.6). For instance, an investigation carried out by the U.S Department of Education in Los Angeles revealed a widespread graduates miscalculations. According to Cass, graduation rates rose from 53% in 2011 to about 73% in 2017 in Washington, D.C but an audit conducted countrywide showed that about 33% of the graduating students had not met the district graduation requirements (para.6-7). As evident, there is a worrying trend in terms of graduation rates in public schools.


Parents and guardians also take their children to school in order to help them gain moral values that will make them resourceful to society in the future. McCluskey holds a strong view that public schools impart wrong morals to students (para. 3). McCluskey notes that most public schools do not teach religion, "you believe that faith is essential to your child's education? you are absolutely unequal; teaching religion is impermissible in any public school" (para. 4). McCluskey's argument reflects the fact that most public schools in the US were de facto Protestant institutions hence they rendered other religions second-class citizens (McCluskey para. 3). Although this is an important observation, education policies have changed in the US allowing students from different religious backgrounds to exercise their faith.

Nonetheless, private schools offer better religious and moral values than public schools. According to McCluskey, private schools empower "all people to access coherent, rigorous content with their values and desires" (para. 4). Notably, most countries across the globe such as the US champion liberty and equality. However, when it comes to education these have only been attained through private schools (McCluskey para. 4).


Efficiency is another value students seek to obtain in schools they attend. The debate on efficiency levels between private and public schools is based on market structure narrative. On one hand, public schools are perceived as a free market with low competition. According to Harris, school is a free market commodity implying that parents are not compelled to use a particular school (para.6). Harris further notes that no matter how bad public schools are, they always draw a large number of students (para 6). However, Harris presents a different view that, unlike private schools, public schools tend to overlook quality and efficiency as they have to meet the high demand for free education (para. 7). However, Harris makes an important observation that the main concern with education is not merely efficiency, but leveling the playing ground and providing opportunities to all learners.

Given the fact that guardians and parents pay much attention to the students the schools attract, private schools tend to have stronger incentives than public schools to ensure quality, efficiency, and offer leveled ground for all learners by focusing on individual learner's need. Notably, unlike in a private school, in a public school or free market, vulnerable students are likely to end up with few goods because the competition is low and that they are excluded from enrolling in high performing schools that attract strong learners.


Parents and guardians deserve honest information on whether private or public schools offer better values to students. Holding other factors such as individual characters constant, private schools, offer far much better values to students. First, it is imperative to note that public schools enroll large numbers of students because the demand is high and education is free or affordable to many people. As such, some schools focus on equality at the expense of quality and efficiency.

On the other hand, private schools are expensive, attract bright students, hence the administration ensure quality to encourage the parents and guardians to pay the fees. Additionally, it is evident that public schools not only in the US but also in other countries continue to have low graduation rates where some schools have even tried to manipulate the graduation requirements to compete with private schools. Although performance measurement based on selected subjects, mainly reading and math has some issues, private schools have also emerged better than public schools in subject evaluation. Private schools also teach religion thus ensuring good morals among students as opposed to public schools. Therefore, private schools offer better values to students than public schools.

Works Cited

Bedrick, Jason. Yes, Private Schools Beat Public Schools. CATO Institute, March 28, 2014.

Cass, Oren. How the Other Half Learns: Reorienting an Education System That Fails Most Students. 2018 Manhattan Institute, 28August 2018.

EdChoice. Gold Standard Studies: Evaluating School Choice Programs. 2018.

Harris, Douglas. Why managed competition is better than a free market for schooling. Brookings 17 March 2017.

Lips, Dan, Marshall Jennifer, Burke Lindsey, Sheffield Rachel, Richwine Jason, and Walter Evan. Choosing to Succeed. The Heritage Foundation,  2013.

McCluskey, Neal. Private Schools vs. Public Schools - Why Private Schools Are Better. CATO Institute, 3August 2016.

NCES. Private School Enrollment. 2018.

Watkins, Shanea. Are Public or Private Schools Doing Better? How the NCES Study Is Being Misinterpreted. The Heritage Foundation,  2006.

August 14, 2023



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