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Opinion: It’s not always easy to compare schools

Originally published Friday, Aug. 6, 2004.

Here’s something to ponder: In Washington, D.C., public schools spend about $11,000 per pupil, while Catholic schools serving the same area spend about $5,500. Yet, the Catholic school students on average consistently score better than public school students, are more likely to go to college and are far less likely to go to jail or wind up as wards of the state.

What are the other differences between those two sets of schools that make the Catholic schools come out looking so good?

There are several. First, and most obvious, is the fact that Catholic schools offer faith-based education in which religious instruction is part of the curriculum, whether the student is a Catholic or not. You don’t like instruction in Catholicism and Christianity? Go to school somewhere else. This winnows out the majority of children, while focusing on those in whose family’s religion is an important part of life. Statistically, families in which faith plays a part tend to put a greater emphasis on children and education.

Second, Catholic school teachers and teachers in other church-sponsored schools earn somewhat less than public school teachers. How much less varies from place to place, but the difference can be considerable.

Third, public schools are required by law to deliver services generally not required of private schools. These requirements, such as mainstreaming of most special education students, drive up costs.

Providing fewer services and paying teachers less serve to lower costs at Catholic schools.

As you can see, school comparison isn’t always easy.


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