Minorities Gain Most from Catholic Schools

Published April 1, 2001

Why are comparable homes priced differently in different communities? Part of the answer lies in the relatively higher demand for homes in communities with better public schools.

But a new research study shows that Catholic and other private schools also add value to a community by raising the prices of homes in the area. In addition, Catholic schools offer life-changing educational opportunities for urban minorities as well as providing a religious education for the faithful to preserve Catholic culture.

The new study is by William Sander, an economics professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, published in his new book, Catholic Schools: Private and Social Effects.

Using data for Illinois, Sander found households are willing to pay more for housing in school districts with a higher percentage of children in private schools. A one percentage point increase in the percentage of students who attend private schools increases housing values by about 1 percent.

To try to isolate a “Catholic school effect” Sander also examined follow-up data from the U.S. Department of Education’s “High School and Beyond 1980 Sophomore Cohort Survey.” What he found was a marked difference in the effect of Catholic schooling on African-Americans, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic whites.

Minorities Benefit Most

“African-Americans and Hispanics have gained the most from Catholic schooling,” wrote Sander. “They have substantially higher levels of educational attainment and academic achievement when they attended Catholic schools.”

On the other hand, Catholic schools did not have significant effects on the academic outcomes of non-Hispanic whites.

Sander’s findings are similar to those of University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Derek Neal, who conducted an analysis of census data in 1997 and concluded that “the benefits of Catholic schooling are great for urban minorities” (See “Minorities Do Better at Catholic Schools” School Reform News, May 1997.)

While the positive Catholic school effect has been attributed to various components of a Catholic school education–such as core curriculum, discipline, lack of bureaucracy, and decentralization–Sander notes the effect “cannot be attributed to higher expenditures,” since “Catholic schools spend substantially less per pupil than public schools spend.”

Sander, like Neal, suggests different ethnic groups see different outcomes from Catholic schooling because the public school alternatives available to African-American and Hispanic students are worse than those of white non-Hispanic students.

Dropout or College-bound?

Sander also suggests that low-income African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to support education vouchers because they have much more to gain from a Catholic education than do white non-Hispanic families. Getting a Catholic school education changes a minority child’s prospects from a one in three chance of becoming a dropout, to being a likely candidate for college.

“I find that the expected graduation rate for minorities in Catholic schools is 94 percent; the rate in public schools is 64 percent,” wrote Sander, noting Neal had reported a similar effect: a graduation rate of 88 percent for minorities in inner-city Catholic schools compared to 63 percent in the public schools.

Last August, a team of researchers from Harvard, the University of Wisconsin, and the Brookings Institution analyzed the second-year results of a private voucher experiment in three cities. They found that switching to a private school produced substantial test score increases for African-American students, but not for any other ethnic group. (See “Vouchers Lift Back Student Scores,” School Reform News, November 2000.) While voucher opponents have tried to discredit the results, they are consistent with the independent research findings of Sander and Neal.

For more information . . .

William Sander’s book, Catholic Schools: Private and Social Effects (Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, November 2000), is available for $100 at Amazon.com.