NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Catholic School Students Outperform Public Ones

October 11, 1999

Do children attending private and parochial schools score higher than public school students of similar background on tests that measure cognitive skills? If not, the case for school choice is weakened.

In the first study of its kind on students in a major U.S. city, Heritage Foundation researchers analyzed the math scores from the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test taken by African-American fourth- and eighth-grade students in the District of Columbia's public and Catholic schools.

Holding family background characteristics constant -- such as the number of parents, neighborhood income effects, reading materials in the home and whether or not the mother has at least some college -- the study found:

  • The average (median) African-American eighth-grader in a D.C. Catholic school performs better in math than 72 percent of his or her public school peers.
  • On average, Catholic school students in fourth grade scored 6.5 percent higher than their public school counterparts.
  • However, the difference widened to an 8.2 percent higher score for Catholic school eighth graders compared to public school students.

The District of Columbia was used because it is the only entity that provides city-level data that include socioeconomic characteristics along with the test scores. Black students were used for comparison because they are the only D.C. ethnic group large enough for statistical analysis. Catholic schools were chosen because they make up the largest single group of private school students in D.C.

Source: Kirk A. Johnson, "Comparing Math Scores of Black Students in D.C.'s Public And Catholic Schools," Report No. 99-08, October 7, 1999, Center for Data Analysis, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, (202) 546-4400.


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