The American public schools are in trouble by several measures. (See: “Edjumication.”) One measure is public confidence in the public schools. Only 37 percent of Americans say that public school students get a “good or excellent education.” In contrast, 60 percent say that children who are home-schooled get a “good or excellent education”; 69 percent say that children who attend a parochial school get a “good or excellent education”; and 78 percent say that children who attend a private school get a “good or excellent education.” On Wall Street this would be called a “sell order” for public schools.
How can we interpret these figures? Well, curriculum for all schools are pretty much the same because they are mandated by state Departments of Education. So, that isn’t the key. Public school teachers and parochial school teachers are drawn from pretty much the same pool of job candidates. So the “quality” of the teachers isn’t the key. So, why do 37 percent of people believe that students get a “good or excellent education” while 69 percent believe that students in parochial schools get such an education? I conjecture that there are two factors/beliefs that play a role. On the one hand, public schools have to take anyone who comes along, then try to get them through. It’s difficult in the present environment to permanently expel or fail a troublesome or weak student. They just disrupt or slow-down the progress of whatever classroom they happen to inhabit. In contrast, the parochial schools can either reject or shed problematic students. What constitutes “problematic” is up to the schools themselves.
On the other hand, parochial school really means “Catholic school” in almost every instance. In 2014, 48 percent of Americans believed that government should “promote more traditional values,” while 48 percent thought that government should not “favor any values,” and 4 percent didn’t know. In 2015, 43 percent thought that government should “promote more traditional values,” while 51 percent think that government should not “favor any values,” and 6 percent didn’t know. “Spotlight” aside, the Catholic church stands for “traditional values,” while—in the mind of many people—the public schools stand for no values or corrosive values.
What explains the high regard for home-schooling? I conjecture that it is motivation. Home-schoolers may be deranged or fanatical, but they’re also committed to doing the best they can for their students because they are also their children. This may reflect a judgement by home-schooling parents that public school teachers are under-motivated and under-prepared, but also that the environment in both the public schools and the Catholic schools are toxic. On the one hand, many home-schooling parents are evangelical Christians to whom a secular or Catholic environment is obnoxious. On the other hand, many are secularists who think the current obsession with testing and preparation for being a “productive member of society,” rather than an independent thinker, is obnoxious.
Finally, what explains the very high regard for private schools? That’s simple. They are the most selective institutions other than home-schooling. They are rigorously academically-oriented. The teachers usually are not products of mud-sill teacher preparation programs. Rather they are people with real BAs in academic subjects from real places. They get paid a lot less than do public school teachers, but have much heavier demands on their time. The trouble is that they are few in number, really picky about who they let in, and they cost an arm and a leg.
So, there are several possible lessons here. One is that the public schools are the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of larger social forces. A second is that picking on public school teachers isn’t going to solve the problems. A third is that the public schools bleed public support for the schools in parallel with their loss of students. A fourth is that trying to coerce students back into the public schools isn’t going to work unless and until the schools address the issues that caused so many people to despise the public schools.
 “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 September 2012, p. 19.
 My own perspective is shaped by the following factors. I went through the Seattle public schools from K through 12. I teach at a little Catholic college, where I serve on the Teacher Education Committee. As a result, I meet a lot of Education students. Some of the students in the program go on to teach at public schools and some go on to teach at parochial schools. I don’t see a dime’s worth of difference between the two sets of teachers. One of our sons went through the public schools from K through 12; the other spent his last four years at an “elite” private school. Public school teachers today don’t seem to me to be much worse than when I was in school.
 “Poll Watch,” The Week, 16 October 2015, p. 17.
 There’s this Gahan Wilson cartoon from a ways back that shows some balding guy in a tweed jacket and horn-rimmed glasses getting sworn in as a witness. The clerk holds out the Bible and says “Do you swear to tell the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth—and not in some sneaky, relativistic way?”