Frequently Asked Questions About Faith-Based Private Schools

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  How has the number of faith-based schools changed since 2001-02?

The total number of faith-based schools across 21 different religious affiliations decreased overall by 1,243 schools since the 2001-02 school year. The number of faith-based schools increased for 11 religious affiliations and decreased for nine religious affiliations. Other Lutheran schools remained constant.

  How has the number of faith-based school students changed since 2001-02?

The total number of faith-based school students across 21 different religious affiliations decreased overall by 86,860 students since the 2001-02 school year. The number of faith-based school students increased for 14 religious affiliations and decreased for seven religious affiliations.

  How do faith-based White enrollments compare to the population at large?

The proportion of White students enrolled in faith-based schools is lower than the American population at large, 70 percent compared to 78 percent. Research indicates that faith-based schools offer more racially integrated environments than public schools.Jay P. Greene and Nicole Mellow, "Integration Where It Counts: A Study of Racial Integration in Public and Private School Lunchrooms," Texas Education Review, Spring 2000/Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 15-26; and Jay P. Greene, "Civic Values in Public and Private Schools," in Learning from School Choice, eds. Paul E. Peterson and Bryan C. Hassel (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1998), pp. 83-106. Additionally, seven empirical studies examining integration in private schools participating in parental choice programs find they are more integrated than students’ previous public schools. One study finds no difference in racial integration levels.Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Third Edition, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 17, 2013, pp. 18-22.

  How do faith-based minority enrollments compare to the population at large?

The proportion of minority students enrolled in faith-based schools closely reflects the American population at large, with no more than a five percentage point difference for any ethnic/racial group. Faith-based schools enroll roughly the same proportion of American Indian/Alaska Native students, students of multiple races, and Asian/Pacific Islander students. Faith-based Black student enrollments are 4 percentage points lower than the American population; while Hispanic student faith-based enrollments are 5 percentage points lower. Research also shows private and faith-based schools participating in parental choice programs for low-income and minority students are more racially integrated than surrounding public schools.Howard L. Fuller and George A. Mitchell, "The Impact of School Choice on Integration in Milwaukee Private Schools,"Current Education Issues, No. 2000-02, May 2000 (Marquette University, Office of Research); Jay P. Greene, Jonathan N. Mills, and Stuart Buck, "The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program's Effect on School Integration," SCDP Milwaukee Evaluation, Report #20, School Choice Demonstration Project, April 2010; and Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, "An Evaluation of the Effect of D.C.'s Voucher Program on Public School Achievement and Racial Integration after One Year," Education Working Paper No. 10, Manhattan Institute Center for Civic Innovation, January 2006. See also "Can school choice lead to more integrated schools?" Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

  Where do most higher-income families send their children to school?

The median annual American household income is just under $53,000, and less than 40 percent of American homes with children under the age of 18 have annual incomes of $75,000 or more.U.S. Census Bureau, USA Quick Facts (2011). See also U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance in the United States: 2011, Detailed Tables. See "All Households, With Children Under 18 Years" on the 2011 Household Income Table of Contents page. Yet 85 percent of all families in this highest income bracket send their children to public schools—not private schools. In fact, just 11 percent of high-income American families send their children to private schools; while 3 percent send their children to both types of schools.

  Do faith-based schools enroll disadvantaged students?

Yes. Students are deemed low-income, special needs, or English learners based on their participation in federal education programs: the National School Lunch Program (free and reduced-price lunches), Title I of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind), and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The way these students are counted gives artificially low counts in private schools, particularly faith-based private schools. Overall 56 percent of private schools do not participate in federal education programs.Gayle S. Christensen, et al., Private School Participants in Programs under the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Private School and Public School District Perspectives, prepared by the Urban Institute for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service, 2007, pp. xiii, 11, 17, 25, 47, and 61. Thus significant numbers of private school students who are from low-income families, have special needs, or are English learners are not counted simply because the educational services they receive are not funded by the federal government.

Comparing available faith-based school and district public school data with comparable U.S. Census Bureau data reveals enrollments of special student populations in faith-based schools better reflect the American population at large than district public school enrollments.

  How do the academic outcomes of faith-based and public school students overall compare?

Analyses of by the U.S. Department of Education have shown “that students who had attended private school in eighth grade were twice as likely as those who had attended public school to have completed a bachelor’s or higher degree by their mid-20s (52 versus 26 percent).”Martha Naomi Alt and Katharin Peter, Private Schools: A Brief Portrait. Findings from The Condition of Education, 2002, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, August 2002, p. 24. Based on its ongoing reviews of student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card), the U.S. Department of Education summarized, “For the past 30 years, NAEP has reported that students in private schools outperform students in public schools.”Marianne Perie, Alan Vanneman, and Arnold Goldstein, Student Achievement in Private Schools: Results from NAEP 2000–2005, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, December 2005, p. 2. The most recent available NAEP results for faith-based schools confirm that assessment. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that 10 NAEP scale-score points are roughly equivalent to one grade level (or academic year) of learning.NAEP scale scores were originally designed to allow for what are called “cross-grade comparisons” that translated into an annual scale-score point gain of 10- to 11-points. In other words, 10 NAEP scale score points approximates one grade level (or academic year) of learning. Officials from the U.S. Department of Education no longer officially sanction that estimation because NAEP scales are not consistent across grades. Yet researchers note those scales have not changed dramatically, and that this rule of thumb remains a helpful guide. See, for example, Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement: New Evidence from NAEP Mathematics Data, National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, January 2006, p. 5; and David Thissen, Validity Issues Involved in Cross-Grade Statements About NAEP Results, commissioned by the NAEP Validity Studies (NVS) Panel, formed by the American Institutes for Research, January 2012. By that measure, faith-based school students overall perform up to two grade levels ahead of their public school peers, depending on grade levels and subjects.

For most years and subjects, Catholic schools are the only faith-based schools with disaggregated NAEP results because they have sufficiently large sample sizes for reporting purposes. Results for Lutheran and Conservative Christian faith-based schools, each with the next largest faith-based enrollment shares, are also reported when their sample sizes meet reporting standards; however, the availability of reported results varies significantly across grades and subjects for all of these faith-based schools.

  How do the academic outcomes of faith-based and public school students by sub-groups compare?

Students who attended private schools in eighth grade are twice as likely to have completed a four-year college degree or higher by their mid-20s (52 versus 26 percent), according to the U.S. Department of Education.Martha Naomi Alt and Katharin Peter, Private Schools: A Brief Portrait. Findings from The Condition of Education, 2002, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, August 2002, p. 24. Importantly, students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (referred to as socioeconomic status or SES) who had attended private school in eighth grade were more than three times as likely as their public school peers to have earned a bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties (24 versus 7 percent).Martha Naomi Alt and Katharin Peter, Private Schools: A Brief Portrait. Findings from The Condition of Education, 2002, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, August 2002, p. 24.

Minority and low-income students attending faith-based schools also perform better than their public school peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card). The generally accepted rule of thumb is that 10 NAEP scale-score points are roughly equivalent to one grade level (or academic year) of learning.NAEP scale scores were originally designed to allow for what are called “cross-grade comparisons” that translated into an annual scale-score point gain of 10- to 11-points. In other words, 10 NAEP scale score points approximates one grade level (or academic year) of learning. Officials from the U.S. Department of Education no longer officially sanction that estimation because NAEP scales are not consistent across grades. Yet researchers note those scales have not changed dramatically, and that this rule of thumb remains a helpful guide. See, for example, Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement: New Evidence from NAEP Mathematics Data, National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, January 2006, p. 5; and David Thissen, Validity Issues Involved in Cross-Grade Statements About NAEP Results, commissioned by the NAEP Validity Studies (NVS) Panel, formed by the American Institutes for Research, January 2012. By that measure, minority and low-income faith-based school students overall perform up to two even three grade levels ahead of their public school peers, depending on grade levels and subjects.

The tables below summarize the faith-based school NAEP reading and math advantage for Black, Hispanic, and low-income students, defined as being eligible for free and reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch program. Sample sizes for the following student sub-groups were frequently too small to meet reporting standards, and therefore they are not included: American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, and students of two or more races.

  What does scientific research say about the academic outcomes of faith-based schools?

The most rigorous scientific studies find that attending private and faith-based schools increases the likelihood of high school graduation, college attendance, as well as improved reading and math scores. These are compelling findings, especially since students participating in these studies are overwhelmingly from low-income families and had previously attended underperforming public schools. Not all research finds a private or faith-based school advantage.The following studies found little or no statistically significant benefit: William Sander and Anthony C. Krautmann, "Catholic Schools, Dropout Rates, and Educational Attainment," Economic Inquiry, April 1995/ Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 217–33; Dan D. Goldhaber, "Public and Private High Schools: Is School Choice an Answer to the Productivity Problem?" Economics of Education Review, April 1996/Vol. 15, No. 2, 93–109; and William Sander, "Catholic Grade Schools and Academic Achievement," Journal of Human Resources, Summer 1996/Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 540–48. Yet the preponderance of scientific research does. In fact, University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform Chair Jay P. Greene dismisses what he calls the “inconclusive research myth,” noting the only thing that varies about the research is the scope and magnitude of the private school benefits—not whether those benefits exist. As Greene puts it, “If similar results were produced for a method of fighting cancer or housing the homeless, we might expect reporters and analysts to be elated about such promise.”Jay P. Greene, Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools—And Why It Isn't So (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006), p. 155.

There have been 12 “gold standard” random assignment studies from 1998 through 2012 focusing on the academic outcomes of students attending private schools through parental choice programs.For an excellent summary, see Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Third Edition, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 17, 2013, pp. 4-8. See also Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, March 2011, pp. 8-13; Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Gold Standard Studies; and “Does school choice have a positive academic impact on participating students?” This scientific method distinguishes between control and treatment groups, similar to medical trials, which allows researchers to isolate the effect of schools on student performance rather than other influencing factors.

No gold standard study has ever found a negative impact on students attending private schools though a parental choice program. On the contrary, 11 of the 12 gold standard studies find that attending a private school improves academic performance for all students (6 studies) or some students (5 studies). The sole exception was a 2004 analysis that found attending private schools in New York City had at best only a “trivial” impact on black student achievement.Alan Krueger and Pei Zhu, "Another Look at the New York City School Voucher Experiment," American Behavioral Scientist, January 2004/Vol. 47, No. 5, pp. 658-698. That finding was subsequently discredited for the unscientific methods used.Paul E. Peterson and William G. Howell, "The Latest Results from the New York City Voucher Experiment," Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, November 3, 2003; William G. Howell and Paul E. Peterson, "Voucher Research Controversy," Education Next, Spring 2004/ Vol. 4, No. 2; and Howell and Peterson, "Randomized Trials in New York City; Dayton, Ohio; and Washington, D.C." and Appendix E in The Education Gap, 2006 revised edition. See also Jay P. Greene, Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools—And Why It Isn't So (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006), p. 153; and Forster, A Win-Win Solution, 2013 edition, pp. 7-8.

  Do faith-based school promote democratic citizenship and civic values?

Yes. Faith-based school students show “greater civic proficiency than students who attend assigned public schools. …strong evidence has accumulated that private—particularly Catholic—schools are a private means to the very public end of facilitating civic engagement,” as one expert put it.David E. Campbell, "Bowling Together: Private Schools, Public Ends," Education Next, Fall 2001/Vol. 1, No. 3. See also "Making Democratic Education Work," Chapter 12 of Paul E Peterson and David E. Campbell, Eds., Charters, Vouchers, and Public Education (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2001). Available results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as the Nation’s Report Card), indicate Catholic school students across grade levels perform about two years ahead of their public school peers in civics.

Numerous studies using scientifically rigorous methods also compare the promotion of civic values in private and public schools. Fully 59 findings from 21 studies examining civic values and faith-based schools have been conducted using various scientific methods. The overwhelming majority of those findings (33) found that faith-based schools do a better job of promoting civic values than public schools. Twenty-three findings were neutral, and just three findings concluded public schools do a better job promoting civic values.Patrick Wolf, "Civics Exam," Education Next, Summer 2007/Vol. 7, No. 3. See also "The 21 studies that generated the findings in 'Civics Exam: Schools of Choice Boost Civic Values'," Education Next.

There have also been seven recent studies focusing on private schools participating in parental choice programs.Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Third Edition, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 17, 2013, pp. 23-25. Five find that private school parental school choice improves civic values and practices. David Fleming, "Choice, Voice and Exit: School Vouchers in Milwaukee," paper delivered at the national conference of the American Political Science Association, September 1-4, 2011; David Fleming, "Privatization, Political Learning and Policy Feedback," paper delivered at the national conference of the American Political Science Association, August 30-September 2, 2012; Patrick Wolf, Paul Peterson, and Martin West, "Results of a School Voucher Experiment: The Case of Washington, D.C. after Two Years," Harvard University, August 2001; David Campbell, "The Civic Side of School Reform: How Do School Vouchers Affect Civic Education?" Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, April 16, 2002. Two find no visible impact.Howell and Peterson, "Randomized Trials in New York City; Dayton, Ohio; and Washington, D.C." in The Education Gap, pp. 1-27; and Paul E. Peterson and David Campbell, "An Evaluation of the Children’s Scholarship Fund," Harvard University, May 2001. No empirical study has found that private schools participating in parental choice programs undermine civic values and practices.Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Third Edition, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 17, 2013, pp. 23-25.

  Do faith-based schools save public funds?

Yes. On average, faith-based private school tuition is almost half of public school per-pupil funding, less than $7,100 versus slightly more than $12,000.Unadjusted dollar amounts are for the 2007-08 school year. The tuition figure represents the average of faith-based private school tuition amounts from Thomas D. Snyder and Sally A. Dillow, Digest of Education Statistics, 2011, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, June 2012, Table 64, p. 103. The public school per-pupil funding amount is from the U.S. Census Bureau, Public Elementary–Secondary Education Finance Data, Table 11. States Ranked According to Per Pupil Public Elementary-Secondary School System Finance Amounts: 2007-08. This means every student who attends a faith-based private school instead of a public school saves public funds. A back-of-the envelope estimate of the savings to taxpayers from the nearly 4.4 million students attending faith-based private schools amounts to nearly $53 billion in public funds each year.The savings estimate is derived by multiplying the number of faith-based students by the national public school average per-pupil funding amount: 4,360,456 faith-based students X $12,028 = $52,447,564,768. Figures are from the 2007-08 school year, and amounts are in unadjusted dollars.

Private school parental choice programs help save public funds because scholarship amounts are typically high enough to cover most (if not full) tuition, but they are still lower than state and local public school student funding averages. This means that whether programs are funded by government appropriations (voucher scholarships) or by tax-deductible contributions (tax-credit scholarships), there is a net public savings. Several rigorous analyses conducted during the past decade all find that parental choice programs result in savings to taxpayers and school districts. No rigorous analysis has found a negative fiscal impact.Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Third Edition, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 17, 2013, pp. 15-17.

Another way to estimate the annual savings from students attending private schools through parental choice programs is to calculate the difference between state and local public school student funding averages and parental choice scholarship averages, then multiply those amounts by the number of private school scholarship students. This basic calculation is less precise than the methods used in the previous analyses. Yet it suggests a $1.9 billion annual savings to state and local taxpayers from students attending private and faith-based schools instead of public schools through the 27 voucher, tax-credit, and educational savings account (ESA) programs that were operational as of the 2012-13 school year and had available data as of March 2013.

  How do parental satisfaction levels with faith-based schools compare with public schools?

Parents and the American public have consistently shown higher levels of satisfaction with private schools compared to public schools. Many additional analyses of individual private school parental choice programs find that parental satisfaction levels are much higher with chosen private schools.Greg Forster, A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Third Edition, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 17, 2013, p. 7; and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, School Choice, "Do Americans favor school choice policies?" Since 1993, the U.S. Department of Education has also disaggregated parental satisfaction survey results according to faith-based and nonsectarian private schools, as well as chosen and assigned public schools.Sarah Grady and Stacey Bielick, Trends in the Use of School Choice: 1993 to 2007, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, April 2010, Figure 9, p. 30, Table 8, pp. 31-32. Assigned public schools routinely have significantly lower parental satisfaction levels that hover around 50 percent; while chosen pubic schools have slightly higher satisfaction levels at around 60 percent. In contrast, parental satisfaction levels with faith-based schools have remained near or above 80 percent.

Inner-city parents nationwide as well as parents of school choice scholarship students also express strong support for private schools. Two to three times as many private school parents give their children’s schools an A grade or say they are “very satisfied,” and more D.C. voucher parents give their children’s private schools high marks than public school parents.