The Effect of Private Education on Political Participation, Social Capital and Tolerance: An Examination of the Latino National Political Survey

Author(s): Jay P. Greene, Joseph Giammo, and Nicole Mellow

Source: Greene, Jay P., Joseph Giammo, and Nicole Mellow. 1999. "The Effect of Private Education on Political Participation, Social Capital and Tolerance: An Examination of the Latino National Political Survey." The Georgetown Public Policy Review. 5(1): 52-67.

Link: Link: budget-policy-and-the-surplus/

Previous studies have shown a strong correlation between the amount of education individuals receive and their political participation.  In addition, the more education individuals receive, the higher their levels of social capital and tolerance for others.  This article provides nuance to those findings by asking if the type of school attended also influences these factors. Green, Giammo and Mellow investigate differences in the effectiveness of public and private schools in terms of disseminating civic values to Latino students.  The authors find a significant relationship between civic values (political participation, social capital, and tolerance) and school sector differences.

The authors utilized data from the 1989 wave of the Latino National Political Survey (LPNS), which collected interview data from a nationally representative sample of approximately 3,400 adult Latinos in the United States.  Political participation was measured by participation in the 1988 presidential election, such as voting, political rally attendance, or financially supporting a political campaign.  Social capital was measured by membership in five types of organizations (charitable, Hispanic, social, sports, or work), and tolerance was measured by asking individuals if members of a group they disliked should be able to hold political office, teach in schools, or participate in public rallies. 

This study demonstrated that attending private school resulted in significant increases in all three dependent variables for Latinos when compared to public school attendees.  Specifically, political activity was positively related to the number of years spent in private school, as were tolerance and social group membership.

The authors lacked the data to explain the institutional influences causing the differences in civic participation, tolerance, and social group membership between public and private school graduates, but they suggest that because public school enrollment is commonly driven by housing location, public schools could be reinforcing geographic racial segregation in the minds of their students.  Thus, they argue, this institutional “othering” of different races undermines the civic values that schools attempt to instill in their students.  Meanwhile, private schools reinforce a common identity and purpose that can transcend race or other divisive differences, thus leading to higher levels of civic engagement.  They suggest that this might be a particularly effective explanation give the fact that Catholic schools make up a large portion of private schools in the U.S., since Catholic schools have been shown to be especially effective in helping cultivate civic values in students (Bryk, Lee, and Holland 1993).

This study sheds light on how an individual's school sector enrollment impacts his or her public engagement later in life.  The authors used the LNPS with the intention of investigating how such sector differences might account for variation in the uptake of civic values by a population with a disproportionately high number of immigrants.  Although their results are suggestive of a possible explanation for differences in political socialization for immigrants and non-immigrants, the analyses did not include a measure of respondents’ own immigrant status, or that of their parents and grandparents.  If immigrants and their children and grandchildren and disproportionately represented in public schools, then a portion of the private school effect that the authors report may actually be explained by immigrant status rather than being a true sector effect. 

Likewise, the omission of variables measuring religion, both at the institutional and individual levels suggests that the strength of the authors’ findings might be overstated.  At the institutional level, the authors collapsed the secular and religious private school groups (likely because of small sample sizes), leaving the differences between secular and religious private schools’ effectiveness in providing political socialization an open question.  Further, because private school attendance is generally associated with family religiosity, not accounting for this very likely misattributes some variation in the outcomes measured in the article to sector rather than family religion.

Along the same lines, the analysis left out important control variables, such as parents’ income level and employment status and occupation at the time respondents were in school, which could also account for some of the differences in civic participation, tolerance, and social group membership the authors attribute to private school effects.  Future projects that include a more fine-grained measure of school sector, and that account for family religiosity and other demographic variables and immigrant status will be better suited to provide explanation for variation in political socialization by school sector for immigrants and their children.

Bryk, Anthony S., Valerie E. Lee, and Peter Blakeley Holland. 1993. Catholic schools and the common good. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Keywords: Latino, School Effects, Civic Participation, Community

Sector: Catholic,  Private,  Public

Outcomes: Civil and Political,  Cultural Impact

Date Posted: 2016-01-12