To the surprise of many, a study led by sociologist William Carbonaro of Notre Dame’s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity found that kindergartners in public schools make equal or slightly greater academic gains than their private school counterparts.
However, the study’s findings present something of a paradox—albeit one that is more apparent than real. “On the one hand, it is reassuring that public kindergartners do as well or slightly better than private kindergartners in producing learning gains, ” Carbonaro says. “On the other hand, this remains something of a hollow victory because private schools’ students still have substantially higher test scores at the end of kindergarten.”
Carbonaro believes the disparity is caused by simple socioeconomic reality: The children of wealthier and better-educated parents usually start school with a significant lead over their less-privileged counterparts. “Both the financial costs of private schooling and other self-selection factors ensure that the private schools will have a more advantaged population of students than public schools,” Carbonaro says.
For that reason, he recommends that public schools institute full-day kindergarten classes to help marginally prepared students catch up to their more advantaged public and private school classmates before they encounter greater academic challenges in subsequent grades.
The Notre Dame study is the first to examine learning gains at the kindergarten level.