NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Student Performance In Public, Catholic Schools

October 1, 1996

Data from the U.S. Department of Education show that 76 percent of all students in Catholic schools are enrolled in college-prep courses, compared to only 45 percent in public schools. Poor, black and Hispanic students are far more likely to take advanced classes in Catholic schools.

Moreover, Catholic school students are more likely to enroll in such difficult courses as algebra, geometry and trigonometry than their public school counterparts -- even if their parents do not have college degrees.

  • In public high schools, second-year algebra is studied by 65 percent of students whose parents have college degrees, but by only 43 percent of students whose parents do not.
  • In Catholic schools, the figures are 62 percent of those whose parents have college degrees and a whopping 65 percent of those whose parents do not have college degrees.
  • In geometry, 84 percent of public schools students whose parents have a college degree take it, but only 59 percent of those whose parents do not.
  • Yet in Catholic schools, geometry is studied by 91 percent of students whose parents have degrees and an astonishing 92 percent of students who do not.

Although fewer students overall attempt trigonometry, the same sorts of ratios exist. Experts say that many public school educators fear that higher academic demands will lead to higher dropout rates. But the National Educational Longitudinal Survey reports that public school dropout rates are 7.6 percent between the eighth and 10th grades -- compared to just 1.3 percent in Catholic schools.

The survey also found that only 34 percent of those who had attended public schools expected to earn graduate degrees when they were interviewed two years after high school graduation. But 59 percent of those who had been enrolled in Catholic schools expected to do so.

Moreover, public school children from single-parent families were twice as likely to drop out of school than those from two-parent families. But in Catholic schools the drop out rate from both groups is the same. Finally, parent participation in after-school activities is substantially higher in Catholic than public schools.

Source: Diane Ratitch (New York University and Brookings Institution), "Testing Catholic Schools," Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, October 1, 1996.


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