Traditionally, students attending private schools have fared better on achievements than their public school counterparts. But in a new University of California study, students from the California public school system scored equally with those from private schools.
Private schools can be selective in their enrollment and usually have a pool of high achievers to begin with, notes Julius M. Sassenrath, chairman of the UC Davis education department. So ''the only way to really compare them is to equate for selectivity,'' he says.
His study paired 49 public school students and 49 private school students making sure that each pair was essentially ''identical,'' with matching socioeconomic backgrounds, intelligence, ethnicity, gender, and age. Each group of 49 students from Eureka to San Diego consisted of 30 whites, 10 Hispanics, and 9 blacks. And each group had 24 girls and 25 boys.
Prior to graduation, the high school seniors were given math and reading sections of the Stanford Test of Academic Skills. Average reading scores for the public schools group and private schools group were both 33.10 out of a possible 50. Math scores only showed a minute difference, with private school students averaging 30.12 and public school students averaging 30.10.
Dr. Sassenrath concludes that private and public schooling has about the same influence on academic achievement in reading and mathematics. Further, he suggests, the study indicates that any political decision on the issue of tuition tax credits for students attending private schools should be based on financial and legal reasons rather than on the claim that private schools necessarily lead to higher scholastic achievement.