I attended private schools from kindergarten through secondary school and was often told by the faculty that students who attended private schools got a better education, one that made them more prepared for college, than a public school education could provide.

There are many issues that complicate a fair comparison between the two, including:

  • Parents of private school students are more likely to take interest in their children's performance because they are paying a lot of money
  • Private schools have a reputation of higher teacher to student ratio
  • Private schools can be more selective in which students are accepted

Is there any research that shows that one type of education is better than another, while accounting for the various demographic differences between private and public schools?

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    Your second point seems irrelevant: if private schools have a better teacher-student ratio, that would likely have a real effect. In addition, private school students are less likely to have come from poor environments which may hinder learning. Apr 7, 2011 at 1:52
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    @David Thornley: Thanks for adding the additional issue of home environment. Addressing your concern about my second point: Private schools have a reputation of higher teacher to student ratios; I'm not claiming this as a fact, and I'm also not claiming that overcrowding is inherently a trait of public schools. If the difference between a good education and poor education were only determined by teacher to student ratios, then the claim that private school educations are automatically better then public would be incorrect.
    – oosterwal
    Apr 7, 2011 at 12:23
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    The public school system differs widely from country to country. If you only care about US schools, specify it in your question.
    – Christian
    Apr 7, 2011 at 14:44
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    Since the question is open to any geographical location it would be nice to compare countries with long tradition of public schools to countries with long tradition of private schools. In my country private schools are often considered an easy way to get some sort of diploma and a way out for those who failed admittance tests for public schools. On the other hand private schools were allowed in 1992, so that could have an impact. Unfortunately, I could find no research of any kind comparing private and public schools so all information comes from eyewitness accounts.
    – AndrejaKo
    Apr 8, 2011 at 0:21
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    This is purely anecdotal evidence(at best) so I will put it in as a comment and not as an answer, but in my experience, the effort put in by the student and the attention paid by the parents is far more important than which school a child goes to.
    – Kevin
    Apr 11, 2011 at 18:26

1 Answer 1


There was a study a few years ago by the Center for Education Policy that indicates that no, it does not make a difference. They found, in part:

there is no real difference between the academic performance given by public and private school students from the same low-income bracket and background(emphasis by me, not from the study)

The study suggests that parent involvement is a bigger factor than the specific school type. It DID show that SAT scores tend to be higher for students in private schools, but in many other criteria, students performed equally well.

Some of their other findings include:

  • Low-income students attending public high schools performed just as well academically as low-income students attending private high schools.
  • Neither private school students nor public school students with similar background characteristics were more likely to attend college.
  • Young adults at age 26 who attended private school are no more likely to be engaged in civic activities than young adults who attended a public school.
  • Private school graduates aren't any more satisfied with the jobs they hold at age 26 than are public school graduates.
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    +1 but, I would put in bold in the citation: from the same low-income bracket and background, since this is a crucial (and really interesting) factor in the study. (many people just skim over the answers and just read NO).
    – Zenon
    Apr 12, 2011 at 2:00
  • It's too bad the focus on findings ws based around the low-income bracket since I feel like low-income households contribute in other ways to success. Throwing money at it won't necessarily help. I'd like to see some conclusions comparing mid/high-income students as well. Also, I find it poor that this cite was left out of your answer: [I]t appears that private schools simply have higher percentages of students who would perform well in any environment based on their previous performance and background. I think it's showing that perhaps private school add to the resilience of attendees
    – Kevin Peno
    Apr 12, 2011 at 21:49
  • Also, it should be noted that the reference site and study cannot be validated because the original source is no longer available.
    – Kevin Peno
    Apr 12, 2011 at 21:51
  • Update: found the study here (replication and press release ). It is unfortunate that secular private schools were used in the study since I think the comparison is unfair vs. non-secular public and private schools.
    – Kevin Peno
    Apr 12, 2011 at 21:55
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    @Kevin: The conclusion you draw from that additional quote contains a "Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc" fallacy. Don't you find it possible that parents with a history of financial success, and thus the ability to pay for private school, would be more likely to teach their children to succeed?
    – Ben Voigt
    May 20, 2011 at 23:32

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