Catholic Schools Are Better?

Terence Jeffrey, editor-in-chief of the conservative website CNSNews, recently wrote a commentary suggesting that we should abandon public schools in favor of vouchers since students from private Catholic schools are performing a lot better than students from public schools in the United States National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams. Of course, Jeffrey is correct in citing that scores of students from Catholic schools are higher than those students from public schools. Unfortunately, jumping to the conclusion that public schools are not performing up to their task is really not supported even by the scores in the NAEP exams. It is not necessarily true that the high scores of students from private Catholic schools is directly a result of how Catholic schools educate their students. It is equally incorrect, for instance, to claim that Ateneo de Manila, a private Catholic school in the Philippines, educates its high school students better than a public high school simply because its students are more successful in college. The reason why this is clearly wrong is that, in fairness, we cannot compare oranges and apples.

Above copied from CNSNews

Private schools are selective. First, parents have to pay tuition. Thus, there already lies an income gap between families who send their children to a Catholic school and those who send their children to a public school. This is a big factor since poverty seriously influences basic education. In addition, it is not only the family income but also a parent's engagement is expected to be different between these two groups. Sending one's child to a private school, after all, is a choice made by the parents. Lastly, even admission to these schools by itself is often selective.

Considering only the scores students reach in a standardized exam to arrive at how well schools are performing is indeed careless. Catholic schools in the United States do perform better than public schools in both reading and math exams:

In the Grade 8 math exam, a larger percentage of students from Catholic schools reach the proficient level:

The difference is even bigger when it comes to the Grade 8 exam:

Considering however the difference between schools that have a large percentage of its students qualifying for the free lunch program (a good proxy for measuring family income) can already explain most of these differences:

Public schools serve everyone. This is the huge difference between private and public schools. Public schools cannot refuse admission. These schools will gladly take your child even if you are an irresponsible parent who does not engage in your child's education. These schools will accept your child regardless of disabilities and income. These schools take a large fraction of English language learners and minority students. Using scores in standardized exams to trash public school education is not just inappropriate. It is very misleading and dishonest.