The power play between the public and private education has been fought for centuries. This struggle exists on the national level as well as within the privacy of the household. Often it has been the mantra that private schools are superior by the higher standardized test scores of their students, compared to public schools. Once, it was only that those who opposed the institution of public education wanted to improve it. However, within the last few decades, these opponents of the public school system want to disassemble the whole edifice and usher through the complete privatization of education on a national standard.
Yet, there are two sides to this story. While the private school sector wishes to monopolize the national educational system there are glaring, if often unheard of, facts in their way. There is, of course, the private school sector’s favorite bell to ring, standardized test scores for American students have been falling. However, the most credible test, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) says different. This test, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card," has stood for over four decades as the touchstone for assessing the progress of fourth and eighth grade mathematics and reading proficiency. The NAEP scores have risen steadily since the mid-1970s. Even with the small downturn of mathematics scores in 2015, the NAEP scores today stand at the highest level in both grades, in both mathematics and reading proficiency, since the test was first administered.
Most notable about these test results is the demographics of the schools at the time. Between 1988 and now the percentage of students in public schools from low income households have nearly doubled. As of 2013, over half of the United States’ public school students live in low-income households. Furthermore, the increase in the NAEP score results has been seen across all major ethnic groups. If, indeed, the public school system has been failing to produce quality standardized test scores, should these factors of an increasing population and a decreasing economy lead the NAEP results downhill? Perhaps that should be the case. Yet with the increasing test scores of what is one of the most reputable and standardized tests, perhaps, then these public schools are not failing after all.
There is, and always will be, some limitations when looking at standardized test scores. As any educator, parent or student, in the public or private sector can attest to, the scores do not and cannot provide the whole picture of the student. Too much emphasis on these tests will lead to a mania of memorization and little if any enrichment of the student. With that being said, the “evidence” of standardized test scores cannot advocate for private schools.
Finally, look at the reason public schools were founded. As a country, America has promised affordable education for all of its citizens, the continued increase of students from every socio-economic class over the decades is a testament to that promise.