Sarah Theule Lubienski didn’t set out to compare public schools and private schools. A professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she was studying math instructional techniques when she discovered something surprising: Private schools—long assumed to be educationally superior—were underperforming public schools.
She called her husband, Christopher A. Lubienski, also a professor at the university. “I said, ‘This is a really weird thing,’ and I checked it and double checked it,” she remembers. The couple decided to take on a project that would ultimately disprove decades of assumptions about private and public education.
Studying the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, they have found that, when controlling for demographic factors, public schools are doing a better job academically than private schools. It seems that private school students have higher scores because they come from more affluent backgrounds, not because the schools they attend are better educational institutions. They write about these conclusions—and explain how they came to them—in their book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools. Here’s an interview with the Lubienskis about their work, edited and condensed for clarity and length.