Taking background characteristics into account, low-income students attending public urban high schools generally performed as well academically as students attending private high schools, according to a new study by the Center on Education Policy, using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988-2000.

The study also found that students attending traditional public high schools were as likely to attend college — and that young adults who had attended any type of private high school were no more likely to enjoy job satisfaction or to be engaged in civic activities at age 26 than those who had attended traditional public high schools.

“This CEP-commissioned study, for the first time, included a range of family educational activities and attitudes towards schooling. When these were taken into account, the private school advantage went away. This suggests that the private school advantage is a chimera; it merely shows that private schools contain a larger proportion of children whose parents have characteristics that contribute to learning than do public schools.”

The report’s author, Harold Wenglinsky, notes at the end of the study: “Although families do make a considerable difference, the good news is that concerned parents are not unique to any race, religion, geographic region, or social class, and there are as many of them in urban areas as suburban areas.”

The bad news, as the report suggests, is that on a large scale neither public nor private schools have served low-income students well.

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