Food For Thought

Public or Private School?
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor, George Mason University

Public or Private School?

The voucher and testing issues have fueled the controversy between public and private school supporters. Many people believe that the quantitative and qualitative experiences obtained in a private school environment are superior and are willing to pay the extra cost to send their children to these schools. In an effort to formally obtain the opinions of parents/non-parents on this issue, I had my research class conduct a phone survey of 300 households in the Northern Virginia area. The class asked each respondent to comment on the following statement: "Sending your child/children to a private school would provide them with a significantly better education." The respondents were asked to use the scale strongly agree, agree, not sure, disagree and strongly disagree in stating their opinion. The following chart shows how all the respondents answered this question.

Total Respondents

Total RespondentsThe respondents of this survey slightly disagree that private schools provide a significantly better educational experience. The chart shows a closely divided opinion with 37.6 percent agreeing that students will receive a superior education in private schools while 47.5 percent disagreed with the statement. The data was also analyzed by several demographic categories in an attempt to determine what factors may have influenced the respondent. Gender was one of the demographic areas that was further analyzed to determine if a significant difference existed between males and females when answering this question. The following chart illustrates this comparison.

Male Versus Female

Male Versus FemaleThe chart shows that males and females differ on the subject. The difference is significant at the .001 level, with females being more supportive of public schools than males. These findings also parallel my research findings on the value of the SOL tests, where females were more skeptical of the tests’ ability to accurately measure a child’s knowledge.

A second demographic category attempted to answer the question: Does the educational level of the respondent influence their support for either public or private schools? The following chart shows the results of this survey when the information was analyzed using college as the comparison factor.

College vs. Non-College

College vs. Non-CollegeThe chart shows that little difference exists between the respondents when the data is analyzed by the demographic category of college versus non-college. The statistical analysis of the data also showed no significant difference existing between these groups.

Both parents and non-parents responded to the survey question. A comparison was done to determine if parenthood influenced the respondent’s decision. The following chart shows this comparison.

Parent vs. Non-Parent

Parent vs. Non-ParentAgain this chart shows only a small difference in the way respondents answered the question when compared by the categories of parent and non-parent. The statistical analysis also confirmed that no statistically significant difference exists when the data is compared by parent/non-parent demographic category.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor  or to John Bonfadini, 7500 Forrester Lane, Manassas, VA 20109.

Does their child’s present grade level influence their response to this research question? The parents’ responses were categorized according to the grade level of their youngest child — elementary, middle, or senior high. The following graphically shows the responses by using the demographic category of the respondent’s youngest child’s present grade level.

Child’s Educational Level

Elementary-Middle-High School

Elementary-Middle-High SchoolThe chart shows a difference of opinion existing among parents with children in different grade levels. To determine if a significant difference existed among the categories, a one-way analysis of variance was performed. Significant difference was found between the parents of elementary school children and those with children in senior high. Parents of elementary school children are more supportive of private schools than parents of senior high students.

Survey Conclusions

This survey respondent group sheds some light on the controversy existing between those supporting private or public school education. You probably have your own opinion. Certainly this limited survey shows the need to constantly monitor public opinion as attempts to implement new teaching strategies or funding methods are discussed. Many other studies have supported the findings of this study, showing that gender plays a significant role in determining how the respondent will answer. This study also showed that experience with the educational system has a role in forming conclusions. It appears that parents who have children reaching the senior high level in public schools are more supportive of public education when comparing it with private education. Factors such as the respondent’s educational level or parental status did not significantly influence responses.

Public Educators Can Be Cautiously Optimistic

My personal view is that both private and public schools play significant and different roles in educating our society. Most students will always attend public schools, and it’s nice to see that a majority of parents think highly of that educational environment. But I caution public educators about being overly enthusiastic about the results of this survey, since a third of the respondents think that their children would receive a better education in private school. Improving the educational experience of every child should be our goal.


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