The Catholic School Effect

A professor at Brown University and a researcher at the University of Munich have collaborated to discover the effects of Catholic schools on the overall education of a number of countries. Their article, entitled “Every Catholic Child in a Catholic School,” cites evidence to support the historical Catholic resistance internationally to public education and its effects today. Their findings indicate that countries that had a Catholic population that resisted government-mandated schooling in the 19th century now have higher student performance today for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Due to space constrictions, this article focuses only on the American results.

They demonstrate the relationship between “early resistance to state schooling and the current extent of private schooling to examine the effect of competition on student achievement across countries.” The results indicate that the existence of parochial and private education benefits not only students in those private schools, but also public school students as well. They have found that “private competition reduces educational expenditure per student in the system, so that the better educational outcomes are obtained at lower cost.”

Countries that had a higher percentage of Catholics in 1900 now have a greater overall number of private schools. By the early twentieth century, the US had as many as 5,000 Catholic schools. “Although American Catholic schools never enrolled more than a small fraction of the national student population, as late as 1980 they accounted for almost 80 percent of enrollment in private elementary and secondary schools.” To understand the national effects of such schools, the researchers used data from twenty-nine countries that participated in a study in 2003. “Not only do school systems with more extensive private sector competition improve educational outcomes, they also do so at lower costs.”

Competition usually spurs organizations to work harder for higher achievement. Why would education be a different matter? Perhaps the introduction of the voucher system might induce a healthy competition that would benefit American education.

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