Here is one demonstrable fact about the difference between Catholic and public schools: Students who study at Catholic schools do better in reading and math.
We know this because students who attended Catholic elementary schools in 2019 tested better in mathematics and reading than students who attended public schools.
The latest issue of the Digest of Education Statistics, published by the U.S. Department of Education, includes the average reading and math scores that fourth and eighth grade students achieved in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, tests that were administered in 2019.
Table 221.32a from this digest shows the average reading scores.
Fourth graders in public schools, it says, scored an average of 219 (out of a possible 500) in the NAEP reading test. Catholic school fourth graders scored 235.
The Catholic-school fourth graders won.
The same table shows that eighth graders in public schools scored an average of 262 in the NAEP reading test, while Catholic school eighth graders scored an average of 278.
The Catholic schools won again.
The same pattern held in the math scores reported in Table 222.32a.
Public-school fourth graders scored an average of 240 in the 2019 NAEP math test, while Catholic-school fourth graders scored an average of 246. Public-school eighth graders scored an average of 281 in math, while Catholic-school eighth graders scored an average of 293.
It did not matter whether the schools were located in a city, a suburb, a town or a rural area. In every location for which the digest had sufficient data on Catholic schools, it showed that the Catholic schools beat the public schools in reading and math.
In reading, Catholic-school fourth graders outscored public-school fourth graders 234 to 213 in cities, 236 to 225 in the suburbs, and 237 to 216 in towns. In rural areas, there was not enough fourth-grade data on Catholic schools, but the average score of 219 from rural public school was less than the scores for Catholic schools in cities (234), suburbs (236) or towns (237).
Catholic school eighth graders outscored public-school eighth graders in reading 277 to 257 in cities, 280 to 266 in suburbs, 275 to 258 in towns, and 281 to 263 in rural areas.
In math, Catholic-school fourth graders beat public-school fourth graders 243 to 235 in cities, 250 to 244 in suburbs, and 243 to 237 in towns. Again, the digest did not publish a math score for Catholic-school fourth graders in rural areas, but the 240 scored by rural public-school fourth graders was lower than the Catholic-school scores for cities (243), suburbs (250) and towns (243).
Catholic-school eighth graders beat public-school eighth graders in math by 291 to 276 in cities, 297 to 286 in the suburbs, 290 to 276 in towns, and 293 to 282 in rural areas.
Public schools did not consistently lose to Catholic schools in reading and math because they lacked funding. According to Table 236.75 in the digest, public elementary and secondary schools in the United States spent $13,834 per pupil in the 2016-17 school year.
The District of Columbia, according to the digest, spent $30,115 per pupil on its public schools that year. New York led all states, spending $24,377. Idaho spent the least — at $8,599 per pupil.
In that same 2016-17 school year, according to a page on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The average per pupil tuition in parish elementary schools is $4,400, which is approximately 74.7% of actual costs per pupil of $5,887.”
“The secondary school mean freshman tuition is $9,840, which is about 70.6% of actual costs per pupil of $13,939,” says the USCCB website.
“The difference between the per pupil cost and the tuition charged is obtained in many ways, primarily through direct subsidy from parish, diocesan or religious congregation resources and from multi-faceted development programs and fundraising activities,” says the USCCB.
Taxpayers pick up the full cost of the public schools.
In fact, parents who send their children to Catholic schools pay twice. First, they pay taxes to subsidize the education of other peoples’ children in government-run schools, and then they pay tuition to fund their own children in the Catholic school.
But there is an obvious way to improve the academic performance of children who are currently stuck in government-run schools: Give them a chance to go to a private school — whether religious or secular.
Local governments can accomplish this by giving parents of every school-age child a voucher equal to the cost of educating that child in a local public school. Then those parents can choose whether to redeem that voucher at a government-run school or a private school.
President Joe Biden opposes school choice.
His campaign issued a statement to Politifact last July that said: “Joe Biden opposes the Trump/(Betsy) DeVos conception of ‘school choice,’ which is private school vouchers that would destroy our public schools. He’s also against for-profit and low-performing charter schools, and believes in holding all charter schools accountable. He does not oppose districts letting parents choose to send their children to public magnet schools, high-performing public charters or traditional public schools.”
The fact that Biden believes school choice “would destroy our public schools” indicates he does not believe they could compete on a level playing field with Catholic and other private schools.
The test results prove he is right.
So, why does he want to keep children imprisoned in schools that could not survive if their parents had freedom of choice?