The Effect of Public and Private Schooling on Anti-Semitism

General Information

The Effect of Public and Private Schooling on Anti-Semitism
Jay P. Greene and Cari A. Bogulski
Publication Type
Working paper
UARK Education Reform Working Paper
Most major American Jewish organizations oppose voucher and other school choice programs based in part on the fear that private, mostly religious, schools do not check the development of anti-Semitism as well as do government-operated public schools. To examine whether private and public schools differ in their effect on the emergence of anti-Semitic attitudes in adults later in life, we conducted a large survey of a nationally representative sample of adults in the United States. Subjects were asked to provide details on the type of school they attended each year between 1st and 12th grade, including whether the school was public or private, religious or secular, and whether it was affiliated with a particular religious institution. We also adapted a series of measures used by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to gauge people’s anti-Semitism.

We find that the more people attended private school when they were younger, the more favorable their attitudes toward Jews. This finding holds even after controlling for a variety of background characteristics, including age, gender, race, childhood family religion, childhood economic circumstances, mother and father’s education, being raised by two parents, and being born in the United States. The reduction in anti-Semitism associated with private schooling is roughly as large as that produced by having parents who are college educated rather than high school dropouts.

The benefit of attending private school on reducing anti-Semitism is concentrated among religiously affiliated private schools. Secular private schools are similar to secular public schools in the level of anti-Semitism among their former students. We therefore have some reason to believe that religious, mostly Christian, institutions are playing an important role in restraining anti-Semitism.

The overall picture on American anti-Semitism is more worrisome than earlier research by the ADL suggests. The ADL measure of anti-Semitism asks respondents to agree or disagree with a series of 11 anti-Semitic statements. But the ADL survey failed to offer subjects neutral response options, like “don’t know” or “no opinion.” In our study, we added those options and discovered that between one-third and one-half of the subjects switched to a neutral answer. A large portion of people who the ADL would have coded as not anti-Semitic are in fact ignorant or indifferent when confronted with anti-Semitic stereotypes. Although the level of anti-Semitism uncovered in our survey remains relatively low, the situation is more concerning than earlier research would lead us to believe.

If we wish to reduce anti-Semitism, major Jewish organizations may wish to reconsider their historic opposition to vouchers and other private school choice programs. Rather than posing a threat, private, especially religious, schools appear to help restrict the development of anti-Semitism.