Policy Documents

Why Catholic Schools Spell Success for America's Inner-City Children

Nina H. Shokraii –
June 1, 1997

Catholic schools have had astonishing success in working with inner-city children. Recent research has confirmed that the performance of students in Catholic schools surpasses that of urban public school students, usually at lower cost. A recent survey also indicated that 83% of public school parents and 82% of inner-city poor parents want parochial schools to be included in the choice of schools to which they can send their children. Three legislative proposals now before Congress would give inner-city low-income parents the opportunity to send their children to the public, private, or parochial school of their choice. Descriptions of typical Catholic schools show how they overcome the financial hardships to deliver astounding results because they possess the following ingredients that make the schools work well: (1) strong institutional leadership and school autonomy; (2) shared values among the staff about school goals; (3) a safe and orderly environment; and (4) core curriculum requirements and high expectations for all students regardless of background. Opponents of school choice often state that Catholic schools succeed because they can pick and choose students, they have more freedom to dismiss disruptive students, and their parents are more involved in their children's education. The evidence, however, demonstrates otherwise. The success of Catholic education has been well documented, but prejudice against allowing inner-city parents to choose Catholic schools for their children lingers. Over the past several years, Cardinal O'Connor has asked New York City to let the Catholic schools educate the lowest-performing 5% of the city's students, but the board of education has not accepted the suggestion. Research shows that Catholic schools help students achieve academically and reduce the likelihood that students will drop out. The criticism that studies that find that Catholic students outperform public school students fail to take selection bias into account is being countered by recent studies that are controlling for selection bias. These studies are also supporting the value of Catholic schools for inner-city children. An attachment summarizes information about the efficacy of Catholic schools in support of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Act, one of the proposals before Congress. (SLD)