Coulson still clueless

Posted on September 1, 2009



In his most recent response to my response:

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/09/01/author-of-the-private-school-spending-study-responds/

Coulson continues to miss the entire point of my report and misunderstand methodological detail. First, Coulson assumes that the entire point of the report is to show that private schools spend a lot and that they spend more than public schools. The point is that some do and some don’t. The report is about the variation and factors associated with that variation.

Coulson continues to obsess over the potential bias in the sample of religious schools in particular noting that those attempting to maximize revenue are more likely to file their tax returns and make them public in a timely manner through sources such as Guidestar. Perhaps. But, what I have shown of those schools – the largest group reporting being Christian Association Schools – is that they spend very little. I have triangulated this aggregate spending data with data on class size and teacher salaries (from other sources) to show the relationship among these factors. CAS schools spend very little, have low teacher salaries and teachers with relatively weak academic backgrounds. If this is a select group of upward bias spending CAS schools, I find that somewhat depressing. But it is possible. In any case, it does not compromise the findings or policy conclusions of the report. Note that on certain key characteristics that drive spending, the schools in the IRS 990 sample were comparable to all CAS schools in the NCES Private School Universe. That is the purpose of comparing the class sizes between the two. Again, the CAS schools reporting IRS 990 represented nearly 30% of student enrollment in CAS schools based on the NCES PSU survey (which really isn’t a universe. there are missing schools).

The front end of the report (pages 15 to 23) spends a great deal of time pointing out the distribution of children in private schools by affiliation. I included this front end specifically because I wanted the reader to know what I was and was not able to address in relation to private schooling generally. The report is very clear that Catholic schools are noticeably absent in financial filings despite their enrollment dominance in some regions. Perhaps some financial accountability is in order for these schools if we expect them to play such a strong role in serving the public good. However, in some regions, Catholic schools on average take a back seat to CAS schools and Independent Schools combined, both of which are relatively well represented in the analysis. This is true in the South. See figure 8, page 23. Private Independent schools do include some very elite schools (though I’ve excluded boarding schools from the analysis) but are a more diverse group and larger sector of schools than Coulson acknowledges. And, I was able to compile IRS filings for Independent Schools serving about 75% of the total Independent School population in the states and labor markets in the analysis.