Monday, March 30, 2009

Private Schools Run Away with Northern Kentucky Science Fair Honors

The “North Area Counties of Kentucky Exposition of Science” was held on March 21, 2009, and the list of winners is now posted.

To put it mildly, the winners’ list is dominated by the Northern Kentucky parochial schools. In fact, a Catholic school won the school-level award for both junior (grade 5 to grade 8) and high school levels of the competition.

This actually is a little surprising, because some recent studies have claimed that there are no advantages for private schools.

Anyway, that urban legend has been shot full of holes by this science fair, which was open to all students in the 30 county area of Northern Kentucky.


Anonymous said...

I am generally in favor of greater choice in school selection but - a private school dominating a science fair does not necessarily shoot holes in the "urban legend". Generally, there is there is agreement that private schools outperform public schools. The question is why that is the case. There is a pretty big selection bias and you can't just compare the results without controlling for other variables. What the article that Richard linked argues is that the primary determining factor is not whether a student attends public or private but what their family background is. The science fair results do not refute this. It would be more useful to show an actually study that indicates that private/public makes a difference even when controlling for other factors.

Richard Innes said...


If you find that study, please let me know.

Some recent reports try to use the NAEP to show that after accounting for all the variables, public schools do better than private schools.

There are at least two problems with those studies.

First, a lot of private schools won't have anything to do with the NAEP, so the private school samples are dubious. This is especially so when we start to talk about student subgroups such as different races' performance.

The second issue is that the multi-variate analysis required always degenerates into some sort of off the cuff decisions about how to weight different factors.

For example, is poverty more important than race, or is a strong family the ultimate trump, as you indicate? Depending upon the weights assigned, the results can vary all over the map.

Given that such studies have major problems, I am left considering that with 30 counties participating, including some of the very top performing public school districts in the state (e.g. Ft. Thomas, Beechwood, etc.), the parochial schools still ran away with the prize(s).

The Catholics were clearly outnumbered, but they "surrounded" the competition, anyway.

Anonymous said...

My God, what a total distortion of the results to suit your preconceived outcome! Did you actually attend the Fair and look at the exhibits?

Public school science fair projects are almost always done outside of class time with only the limited support the teacher or a parent can give. The kids in private school who compete, however, are often allowed to use the bulk of their school day for weeks or months at a time in preparation. The science fair essentially becomes their only curriculum for a huge chunk of the school year---to the exclusion of other subjects. There's no way a public school would be allowed to do that. Only sports are allowed to eat up that much of a public school kid's day!

I challenge you to actually attend the Fair next year to look at the projects submitted by the private schools and then tell me you believe they were done after school and on weekends without school support. For someone who purports to understand data, you sure don't seem to have much of a problem comparing apples and oranges.

Private school outperform public school because only rich and upper middle class kids go to them, not because of superior pedagogy. Swap the student bodies and you would swap the test scores.

Anonymous said...

I am the teacher of the school that won the NKU Science Fair. I use scientific method throughout the year with hands on activities whenever possible. The students do their science fair projects at home and present them to the class the week before our fair. Our school fair involves all students, grades 1-8, all of whom work on their projects at home except for one day of explanation and a hand out of "how to's" for Mom and Dad. Since we do science (rather than just memorize it) on a regular basis, there is an obvious carry-over into doing well in science fairs. We have all kinds of students at our school, wealthy and not so, intelligent and less so. The students and parents involved in success in the science fair place a strong emphasis on learning and some even missed sports events to spend a Saturday on science. Today, nine of those students and their parents spent the day at EKU participating in the state fair. We won two firsts today. And, by the way, we and two other Catholic schools just participated in the NAEP science and math tests a few weeks ago.

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