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Secrets of private schools revealed

Michael Birnbaum, one of the Post's newest and youngest reporters, has just shamed this geezer columnist by producing a feature on Monday's education page full of stuff I didn't know. Go to our education page for the "Public data on private schools" link to Birnbaum's story, "Mining the Web for public data on private schools." It is full of tantalizing information you won't find on private school web pages and ways to discover even more.

It turns out that 68 percent of private schools nationally, and 74 percent in the D.C. area, have a religious orientation. Private schools nationally are sending nearly twice as large a percentage of their students to four-year colleges as public schools do.

The largest private school in this area is the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, followed by three Catholic schools (Bishop O'Connell, Good Counsel and Paul VI) and then an independent school, St. Stephen's and St. Agnes.

Birnbaum has found a little-known database at the U.S. Department of Education Web site that appears to be a gold mine. Private schools tend to be cautious about revealing data about themselves. They are in competition with other schools and don't want statistics to be misinterpreted. Sadly, that means parents and students often have little information to help them decide which schools are better for them. They are forced to visit every school that might be a possibility, when a more consistent source of information that allowed them to make quick comparisons would save them some time.

Those of you who like to make careful searches should look at what Birnbaum has found.

By Jay Mathews  | November 2, 2009; 1:52 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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I couldn't find the article listed on the Education homepage, but I did find it here:

I looked at the NCES data for the school we wanted to send our oldest to had we been able to afford the pricey tuition. I didn't think it offered much in the way of useful information.

The statistic that I would love to find but haven't seen anywhere is the selective college placement rate EXCLUDING legacies. The "Wall Street Journal" lists the schools with the top placement rates but without knowing how many of the those are legacies the data is extremely misleading.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | November 3, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Here's the "secret" of private schools: accept only students whose parents want them to learn, and don't accept students who come to school with problems. Not a big secret. . .

Posted by: mrobmsu | November 3, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

CrimsonWife's point about legacies is quite right. All of the lists I have seen of high schools with the greatest success getting kids into the Ivies tend to show schools where a high percentage of parents are Ivy grads. My wife watches carefully the Harvard admits at Sidwell Friends, and rarely finds one who is NOT a Harvard legacy.

Posted by: jaymathews | November 4, 2009 8:26 AM | Report abuse

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