Écoles: le secret du privé

Extrait de : Écoles: le secret du privé, Alain Dubuc, La Presse, 01 novembre 2010


On connaît la cassette. Les écoles privées, en partie subventionnées, drainent les meilleurs étudiants. Cet écrémage permet au privé d'afficher d'excellents résultats scolaires. En outre, il affaiblit l'école publique en le privant de ses meilleurs éléments. Voilà pourquoi le gouvernement doit cesser de subventionner les écoles privées, pour que les enfants reviennent dans le giron du réseau public et contribuent ainsi à le redynamiser.

Ce discours, au coeur du débat, est simpliste. La réalité, elle, est pas mal plus complexe. Une intéressante étude économique, publiée l'an dernier, démontre par exemple que l'écrémage n'est pas le principal facteur de succès des écoles privées. Elle montre aussi que l'appauvrissement du public est moins sérieux qu'on le dit. Une étude comme celle-là ne clôt évidemment pas la discussion, justement parce que les choses sont compliquées. Mais elle rappelle que les dogmes sur lesquels repose tout ce débat sont fragiles. Et qu'un peu plus de subtilité et de nuances ne feraient pas de tort.

Les écoles privées, au secondaire, sont plus populaires qu'ailleurs au Canada. Elles attirent un élève sur cinq, parce que le financement couvre 60% des coûts, ce qui permet d'exiger des frais de scolarité abordables pour les classes moyennes. Leurs résultats scolaires sont nettement meilleurs que ceux du public - notes, taux de passage, incidence du décrochage.

La thèse voulant que cette performance repose sur un succès facile, la capacité des écoles privées d'aller chercher les meilleurs étudiants grâce à la sélection, est contredite par les économistes Pierre Lefebvre et Phillip Merrigan, de l'UQAM, dans un cahier de recherche du CIRPÉE. Je résume grossièrement cette étude savante.

Avec les données d'une enquête longitudinale de Statistique Canada, qui permet de suivre des cohortes d'enfants, les auteurs constatent que les jeunes qui passent du primaire public au secondaire privé voient leur performance académique s'améliorer. Leurs résultats en mathématiques augmentent de cinq à 10 points. Le score des écoles privées tient donc largement au fait qu'elles améliorent le rendement scolaire de leurs élèves. On ne se contente pas de recruter de bons élèves, on les rend meilleurs.

Bien sûr, l'écrémage existe, avec la et à cause de la motivation des familles qui choisissent le privé. Mais d'autres facteurs entrent en jeu, comme l'environnement pédagogique du privé, sa valorisation de la performance académique et le fait que les enfants y travaillent beaucoup plus fort que dans le public.

Il est vrai que la performance du privé est remarquable. Avec le PISA de 2006, le Programme international pour le suivi des acquis des élèves, de l'OCDE, qui mesure les connaissances des élèves de 65 pays, dont le Canada, les étudiants québécois du privé ont des résultats exceptionnels. En mathématiques, leur note est de 594, largement devant les pays qui dominent le classement mondial, Taiwan, avec 549 et la Finlande, avec 548.

Ce qu'on sait moins c'est que les étudiants du secteur public québécois ont aussi une excellente note, 530, ce qui les place au premier rang canadien, aux côtés de l'Alberta, et au sixième rang mondial, devant la Suisse, le Japon, l'Allemagne! Autrement dit, notre secteur public, au plan académique, ne semble pas mal en point. Ce succès du public s'explique sans doute en partie par la qualité de nos programmes en maths. Mais il tient aussi à la concurrence qu'impose un secteur privé fort, qui a forcé le public à réagir et à se dépasser.

Que peut-on en conclure? Si on force le retour des jeunes dans le réseau public, on met fin à ce climat d'émulation. On les prive aussi de l'environnement académique du privé qui leur permettait d'obtenir de meilleurs résultats. Une solution mécanique colorée par de la pensée magique.


Voici un résumé du rapport :

Introduction

Most empirical work on the impact of schooling choices made by parents for their children on academic achievement encounters the problem of spurious correlation of parental choice and achievement as unobserved variables such as parental tastes for the quality of education are correlated with both parental choice and achievement of children in school.

In the United States, abstracting from the current wave of research on whether vouchers, charter schools, and other reforms that increase choice in education improve the quality of education.

This paper addresses the issue of selection into private schools by exploiting the relatively generous public subsidizing of private high schools in the province of Québec, the second most populous province in Canada, to identify the causal impact of attendance in a private high school on achievement in mathematics without the use of instrumental variables. Because the supply of private high schools is much higher than for grade schools for historical reasons and that they are highly subsidized, 60% of transitions from the public to the private sector occur at the end of grade school, we assume that the transition from public to private schools are exogenous conditional on variables such as income and child fixed effects.

Québec’s private schools

Among all the ten Canadian provinces, Québec has the most extensive sector of private schools. Table 1 shows the number of students in public and private primary and secondary schools for the school year 2003-2004 in Québec and in the four other Canadian provinces who dedicate public funds to private schools as well as total subsidies. In the other five provinces there are also private schools, but they are not subsidized and enrolments are very low.

Régions

Type of schools

Cvcle 1: * 1994-95

Cvcle 2: * 1996-97

Cvcle 3: * 1998-99

Cvcle 4: t 2000-01

Cvcle 5: t 2002-03

Cvcle 6: t 2004-05

 

Québec

 

 

Public

389.035

540,221

665,036

685,545

631,457

450,963

Private

21,441

45,413

68,833

72,682

77,753

81,130

% private

5,22

7,75

9,38

9,59

10,96

15,25

Manitoba.
Saskatchewan.
Alberta &
British Cohunbia

Public

548,162

789,440

970,069

924,861

835,658

629,206

Private

26,034

48,251

61,347

51,677

50.6S4

44,851

% private

4,53

5,76

5,95

5,29

5,72

6,65

Newfoundland.
Prince-Edward-Island.
Nova-Scotia.
New-Brunswick &
Ontario

Public

832,403

1.191.455

1.419.990

1.410.145

1.287.780

985,282

Private

32,728

46,804

36.49S

43,737

41,332

34,048

% private

3,78

3,78

2,25

3,00

3,10

3,34

Total

Public

1,769.600

2.521.116

3.055.095

3.020.551

2.754.895

2.065.451

Private

80,203

140,468

166,678

168,096

169,769

160,029

% private

4,53

5,57

5,46

5,57

6,16

7,74

 

Outcomes in public and private schools

School performance can be measured by high school graduation rates, the average number of years used to obtain a high-school degree, and access to postsecondary education (college and university). Along all these dimensions, private schools do better than public schools. Québec’s Ministry of Education administers unique exams in French and English, History, Math, and Physics, for students in grades 4 and 5 of secondary level schools.

As of June 2005 and for all schools, the overall average score and pass rate in these exams were, respectively, 73.3% and 83.3%.

·         In private schools, the overall average score was 80.8%, compared to 71.4% for public schools.

·         The pass rate was 80.6% for public schools and 94.5% for the private schools.

For the 2002 cohort,

·         53% of students in public schools obtained their high school diploma after 5 years (the “normal” length after primary school)

·         compared to 83% for students in private schools.

Role of selection, based on academic performance

A contentious issue in the public debate about educational choices is the role of selection, based on academic performance, into private schools. Opponents of the use of public funds to finance private schools, especially the Association of Public School Boards, argue that the higher performances of the private sector are the “natural” result of the selection of “highly skilled” students. If an important fraction of “bright students” enroll in private schools, there is a decline in both the overall quality of public school students and of the performance of the lesser-skilled students remaining in public schools (the “cream skimming effects”). Finally, opponents to the subsidization of private schools argue that an objective comparison of the academic performances of public and private schools requires comparing students from the same socio-economic backgrounds.

Private schools can and do select their students.10 In a 2006 document on admission, the Federation of private schools reports that “70.0% of students who took an admission exam for grade one of secondary school were admitted, 17.6% had their application rejected because of space limitations, and 5.4% have been turned away because the school did not have the specialized human resources to respond to the special needs of these students” (p.3). This suggests that almost 25% of the candidates have seen their applications in private schools rejected because of their results at the entrance exam.

Conclusion

This paper demonstrates that sending a child to a private school can, ceteris paribus, improve his ranking in mathematics. More precisely, it empirically supports the hypothesis that children who attend private schools in the province of Québec benefit from their parents’ decision to send them to this type of school (a positive effect of the treatment on the treated). The effect is large as it ranges from 5 to 10 percentile ranks and 15 to 40% of a standard deviation. Estimates we suppose suffer less from possible bias are in the higher range of effects. These effects, although for only one outcome, a score on a math test, are similar to the effects estimated for American Catholic schools.

The evidence demonstrates the potential gains obtained from a competitive system of schools.

For school year 2007-2008, private high schools educate 18% of high school students and 6.6% of grade school children in Québec. Table 6 shows that public schools have reacted to the flight of students to private schools by offering particular pedagogical projects mainly in urban settings.

The long existence in suburban and urban settings of private schools points to the observation on outcomes that reflect long term effect of alternatives to public schools.

Our results provide some evidence that subsidizing private schools could be a wise policy to improve performance. Because we use relative measures of performance, it is difficult to ascertain whether such a policy would increase average test scores, but given that children rank better once they move to a private school could demonstrate that they are better prepared for tests, more motivated and possibly be putting more effort in academics.

One of the main mechanisms that can justify these subsidies is the creation of a more competitive system with more choices for parents that can lift the quality of all schools. In fact, some evidence against the “cream skimming hypothesis” and for the “tide lifting all boats” hypothesis are the results presented in Table A4.

When comparing the math scores for children at the same level of schooling in Québec and the Rest of Canada in public schools, we find that the children in Québec are on average doing better than those in the rest of Canada despite the fact that a much larger proportion of children are in private schools in Québec and are doing better than children in public schools. The sample of children in the Rest of Canada is much more representative of all children than the sample of children in public schools where the more talented children are underrepresented. Therefore, competition could be driving up scores in public schools.

The difference between children in Québec and the rest of Canada is certainly not attributable to differences in income as the mean income of families with children in Québec is smaller than for the rest of Canada.

What do these results suggest for policy purposes? The Québec experience shows that opening up public schools to more competition; with some subsidies to private schools as well as a regulated environment for these schools is a prudent way to raise performance within and across schools (elite public schools).

To provide more fact-based precise suggestions for policy we need to answer directly the question of why private schools are more effective than public schools.

Source : Public Subsidies to Private Schools Do Make a Difference for Achievement in Mathematics: Longitudinal Evidence from Canada, Pierre Lefebvre et Philip Merrigan, CIPRÉE, Août/August 2009