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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Public School Teachers and Private School Kids  | e-mail post

Earlier this month, the Fordham Institute released a study [study in PDF only] by Denis Doyle, Brian Diepold and David DeSchryver comparing the rates of enrollment in private schools by the children of public school teachers as compared to the general population. Fordham is a a non-profit organization focused on the reform of primary and secondary education, and has a great deal of information and commentary for people interested in education policy.

The study presented some very interesting statistics, the primary one being that among urban American families, 21.5% of public school teachers send their kids to private schools as compared to 17.5% of the all urban families. (For those interested, their data is based on the U.S. Census Public Use Microdata Sample from the U.S. Census "long form," and is discussed at the end of the research note.)

While that 4% difference may not seem large, think about it this way: a family with a public school teacher in it is 23% more likely to send their child to a private school than the average family. (And thus even more likely compared to families without public school teachers, if they were broken out as a separate class.)

The differential is particularly stark in some cities:
It's not bad everywhere, however: Minneapolis-area public school teachers are slightly less likely to send their kids to private schools. This is also true in Cleveland, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and a number of other cities. Regardless of these cases, there is a story in numbers like this.

I'm not going to rehash the whole report in this note. The key thing to pull out of the document is the authors' point that these numbers are important because we should presume that teachers are connoisseurs of education, so to speak. That is, in the same way you assume that the lawyer other lawyers use for certain litigation is probably the best at it, you should likewise assume that public school teachers have well-informed opinions about where children should be educated.

As any economist will tell you, the only real way to know what someone thinks is revealed preference: don't ask them, watch them. If public school teachers send their kids to private schools, that is some compelling evidence of a public school system in need of serious repair, especially when you are talking about cities like Chicago or Nashville where the differential is so dramatic.

The authors point out that one thing this research doesn't account for with respect to school selection for public school teachers is the teachers who choose to move to specific suburbs in a community because of higher-quality schools, moving to Northbrook from Chicago or to Edina from Minneapolis, for example. I think this would be difficult information to discern, as schools are presumably not the sole critieria for a move.

An additional interesting line of inquiry the authors don't mention is the number of private school teachers who elected to teach at a private school instead of a public school purely, or primarily, to have free or deeply-discounted tuition for their children. Ideally, this sample would address only secular or nominally religious private schools, to avoid possible bias due to faith-based considerations. As private schools tend to pay less than public schools, this is one of the primary reasons I have heard given for teaching at them; I certainly knew several teachers at my parochial high school for whom this was the reason.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Monday, September 27, 2004
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