Most Americans Favor Private Education

SHOULD GOVERNMENT HELP TO MAKE IT MORE AFFORDABLE?

Most Americans believe private and parochial schools offer the best education for children. That’s the result of a new Gallup survey evaluating Americans’ view of various education options. Public schooling ranked last.

About 71 percent of Americans said private schools provided an “excellent” or “good” education. According to Gallup, that number “is only a bit higher than the 63 percent positive rating for parochial schools but far outpaces the percentages for charter schools (55 percent), home schooling (46 percent) and public schools (44 percent).”

Gallup found that political party affiliation made a significant difference in responses. “Both party groups rank private schooling as the most effective,” the Gallup researchers said in a release, “with 76 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats saying it provides students with an excellent or good education. Parochial schools rank second for both. However, charter schools rank third among Republicans, followed by home schooling and then public schools. For Democrats, charter schools tie with public schools at 48 percent, while home schooling is rated worst at 38 percent.”

The overall rankings are the same as the only other time Gallup conducted this survey, in 2012.

Leigh Jones, writing for WORLD, said the survey suggests an obvious question. Since the vast majority of parents believe private education is best, yet only about 10 percent of children go to private schools, she asks, “How different would the American education landscape be if all parents could afford to send their children to the school of their choice?”

The likely answer: very different. The tragic news is that as a nation, we are not making it happen, even though we could afford to. The cost of a Christian school education varies widely, and the cost of educating a first grader is different from that of educating a 12th grader, because of the athletic and other facilities high schools need. But even accounting for all that, it appears that the average cost of a Christian education is less than $10,000 per year per student. In 2014 taxpayers spent nearly $12,000 educating each child in the public school system.

Public school proponents argue that public schools spend more money because they take all comers. The kids they educate are harder to teach, have less support at home, and often have special needs. Given the current system, that’s likely true. However, that coin has two sides. It forces the educational system into a “one-size-fits-all” approach that doesn’t allow for the custom needs of the individual student.

In short, it would be cheaper and produce a better outcome if we could figure out a way to provide more options for poor and lower middle-class families to send their children to private schools. Such a process would serve those kids better, and free up more public school resources to deal with those who remain.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has pushed for greater school choice, though it is not clear how far she’ll get given the opposition to school choice by the National Education Association (NEA) and the many state-level teachers unions. But the American people seem to be increasingly open to the idea. Opposition to vouchers dropped from 44 percent to 37 percent in the past year alone. Need-based voucher programs (providing vouchers to the poorest students) seem to be gaining support across political lines. Even Sen. Cory Booker, a liberal Democrat from New Jersey, has come out in favor of vouchers.

Of course, Christians should be wary of government money infiltrating Christian schools. That’s why many Christian leaders favor tax credits rather than vouchers. Yet it seems to me that both have their place, depending on circumstances. After all, the point of school choice is an acknowledgement that one size does not fit all.

And given this recent survey highlighting the poor performance of America’s public schools, perhaps the time has finally come for a broader look at all the choices available to us.

Image courtesy of Steve Debenport at iStock by Getty Images.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.


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  • Steve

    School choice leads to competition, which leads to better results.
    The public school system has near-monopoly numbers of attendees. It is one of the most socialist systems we have in this country. When there is little to no competition the quality suffers.
    That is likely part of the reason for its low regard among the people surveyed.