Why private school is doing better than public

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Whether we point to its funding or its sociology, the private school has been the subject of strong criticism since the start of the school year. While public education is struggling to reform, and it is still afflicted with a high failure rate – one in five 15-year-old students does not master the fundamentals,  according to the 2012 Pisa survey – the looks accusers turn to private education, which would not assume its share of responsibility.

What do we blame him for? To benefit from public subsidies without being subject to the same constraints as public schools since they can choose their students. In a noteworthy column , the economist Thomas Piketty called for private establishments to be integrated into the school map. More recently, the essayist Caroline Fourest questioned the Debré law of 1959 which defines the relationship between the State and private schools, calling for the former to stop subsidizing these “competitors of the secular school”. .

Does private education contribute to the social divide?  

In France, there is no doubt that the private sector does not participate in social diversity. On the contrary ! The favored strata are very strongly overrepresented there. The latest studies by the Department of Evaluation and Forecasting indicate a difference of 16 points with public education for the privileged strata, and the opposite difference for the disadvantaged strata.

The children of workers, employees and the unemployed are clearly under-represented. There are 11% of scholarship holders in the private sector, 28% in the public sector, and this gap has widened by 2 points since 2011. The tension between the two sectors is growing. And this, within a constrained framework, since the share of the private sector is set at 17% of the total number of students.

This proportion results from an unwritten rule: when the Ministry of Education creates jobs, it always does so “in due proportion” to each of the existing sectors. In the 1980s, this proportion was 77 for the public sector and 23 for the private sector. It is now 80 to 20. This rule helps to stem the growth of private education, because demand remains very strong. Each year, he claims to refuse between 40,000 and 50,000 students, for lack of sufficient teachers to supervise them.

In his column, Thomas Piketty proposes that we apply the school map to private schools…

But it is legally impossible! The Constitution does not allow it. The freedom of parents to choose a private establishment is a constitutional freedom. Unless you change the Constitution, you can’t do it. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has summed up the issue well: forcing parents and preventing them from choosing their establishment are the surest ways to wake up the school war. You have to find gentle methods.

School map in Paris: “The big night of social diversity, I don’t believe in it”

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The only one that we do not apply, which would require a strong political will, and to confront the privileged social strata, would be to modulate the financing according to the social origin of the pupils welcomed in the establishments, a little like that takes place in Priority Education Zones.

I have known departments that practiced this progressiveness on the sly. Thus in Seine-Maritime, the academy inspector, without saying anything to anyone, had “coefficientized” all the pupils according to their social category: 1 for the favored categories, 1.1 for the average categories and 1.2 for disadvantaged groups. Certainly, since 2015, the allocation of resources takes into account the sociological profile of the academies. The principle is laudable, but the effects are not sufficient.

Does the grouping together of children from privileged backgrounds explain the best results in the private sector?

This is a delicate subject, on which there is no precise research. Indeed, private establishments generally have better results than public establishments. In France, this gap, as calculated by the OECD in the 2012 Pisa survey, is 31 points. It depends on the social origin of the students. Affluent backgrounds are associated with better school results.

But this is not the only explanation. Because when we neutralize the social criterion, with 8 more points, the private sector continues to have a better score. Private school, regardless of social origin, is more effective than public school! It is no coincidence that the best academies in France are located in the West, where the private sector welcomes half of the students, well above the 17% of the national average.

How to understand that private education is more effective, even after the neutralization of the social criterion?

In this regard, the Court of Auditors has made calculations: private education is a blessing for public finances! A high school option costs half as much in the private sector as in the public sector, for example. The teachers are less senior, the State does not finance the buildings…

I would point out several factors to explain this paradox, and first of all the treatment of absenteeism: short-term absences are mostly replaced in the private sector; in the public, they are less than 30%. Clearly, the private sector ensures the continuity of the public service better than the public service itself!

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