Private Schools and the Public Interest

September 9, 2009

I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Just not in my neighborhood. While you are at it, drop by and beg for permission to run for office.

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Regular JPGB readers will recall the survey that the Goldwater Institute sponsored showing an appalling lack of civic knowledge among Arizona high school students, both public and private. Sneak preview: a special Oklahoma remix is on the way.

Well, guess what, we also asked a series of questions about political tolerance, volunteerism and satisfaction in the same survey.

Yesterday the Goldwater Institute released two studies: Tough Crowd: Arizona High School Students Evaluate Their Schools and Better Citizens, Lower Cost: Comparing Scholarship Tax Credit Students to Public School Students.

Let’s start with the latter study, which focuses on political tolerance and volunteerism. I could fish up absurd quotes from people about how only public schools can teach proper civic values, and how scary private schools under a choice system are certain to indoctrinate children into all sorts of dangerous anti-democratic ideologies. You being a discriminating consumer of education blogs, however, makes the task unnecessary.


So what happens when you ask a standard set of political tolerance questions to samples of public and private school students in Arizona? Try this:

Tolerance 1











Mmkay, maybe public schools aren’t doing much better at teaching tolerance than they are in teaching reading. Next we asked:

Tolerance 2













So a high percentage of kids, especially in public schools, like the idea of a personalized language police. Disturbing. Next:

Tolerance 3













Hello ideological segregation! Next:

Tolerance 4













Mmm-hmm, we’ll just have all the candidates drop by your house and ask for permission to run. Be sure to wear your ring so that the candidates can kiss it.

Ah well, tolerance isn’t the only civic virtue- volunteerism counts as well. Next we asked:

Tolerance 5












and while we were at it:


Tolerance 6













There were no meaningful differences between private school students attending with the assistance of a tax credit scholarship, and those who did not receive a scholarship. A minimum of 41% of tax credit scholarships are given out by groups that employ a means-test, so it is not the case that the private school kids are all wealthy and attending Dead Poet Society Schools, which are few and far between here in Arizona in any case.

Of course not all, and perhaps even none of the observed differences can be attributed to the actions of the schools. This however seems very unlikely. This was a survey of high-school students. I know I didn’t have a clue about my family income when I was in high-school, and thus wouldn’t believe the numbers we might get from asking about it, so we didn’t ask.

These results however strongly debunk the notion that private schools function as intolerance boot camps. In fact, it is much easier to build that sort of a case against public schools with the available data, though more research ought to be done.

Arizona’s $2,000 tax credit scholarships are looking like quite the bargain compared to $9,700 Arizona public schools. If you care about tolerance and volunteerism, that is.

More soon on how Arizona high school students view their schools.