Opinion: New test scores find that if the Catholic school system were a state it would rank number one in the nation

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center believes that expanding choices both within and outside the traditional system would give every family the same learning opportunities.

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center believes that expanding choices both within and outside the traditional system would give every family the same learning opportunities

Liv Finne
Washington Policy Center

Liv Finne
Liv Finne

The newest results of the prestigious National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that Washington state public schools have delivered the largest declines in math and reading since NAEP tests started in 1990.  Public schools failed to teach nearly four in 10 eighth graders basic math.  The decision to close schools for nearly two years seriously harmed the learning of Washington’s 1.1 million public school children.  (At the same time, private schools and charter schools opened much sooner.)  Especially hard hit is child learning in math, where learning is cumulative.

A comparable control group, the Catholic education system, reports much better results.  NAEP scores show that if this system were a state it would rank number one in the nation.  (See Kathleen Porter-Magee in America, The Jesuit Review.)

Naturally, as a policy analyst I want to know why.  Here are the factors that I think account for this impressive result.

  1. Catholic schools operate based on parent choice – families opt in voluntarily and are welcomed as full partners in their children’s education.
  2. Catholic schools are highly decentralized.  They operate at the community (parish) level.
  3. The student population is diverse; 21 percent are racial minorities, 18.6 percent are Hispanic, and 20 percent are students of other faiths.  Historically the Catholic church is an immigrant church, welcoming students of color and foreign-born children.
  4. Catholic schools are efficient.  Tuition averages (in 2022-23) around $12,200 per school year, well below the $18,175 average Washington public schools spend (Seattle spends $22,000 per student).  Most Catholic schools provide scholarships based on need, so many students do not pay full tuition.
  5. Private schools in general are flexible and responsive to families.  Private schools reopened to in-person learning in September 2020, over a year earlier than public schools.
  6. Private schools are free of unions and union politics, and are not subject to strikes, walk-outs, protests or picketing.

This last point is telling.  In the public system child learning is often disrupted by union political action, or by union pressure to keep schools closed.  For example, in September 2020 Larry Delaney, head of the Washington teachers union, insisted that schools stay closed even as children were falling behind.

The national indicators show that caring policymakers can learn from the best practices of the Catholic system, and from the real progress happening across the country.  Currently 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico offer families access to public resources so they can send their children to private schools.

The Washington state constitution makes it the paramount duty of lawmakers to provide for the education of children.  The results of two years of shut-down show that school choice is the best way for them to fulfill that duty.  One bill, HB 1633, would give families that want it access to up to $10,000 to send a child to the school of the parents’ choice, including qualified private schools.

Expanding choices both within and outside the traditional system would give every family the same learning opportunities the Catholic system has shown it can deliver to children of all backgrounds.

Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.

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8 days ago

This is misleading and, frankly, insulting to public school teachers. Catholic schools are private and charge tuition. What is Seton? Like 15k per year. The kids that get into those schools primarily have parents that have money and prioritize education. Those kids are more likely to be successful in public or private schools. You put them all in one place and of course the school is going to look better.
The 10k offered by the HB won’t cover tuition (nevermind uniforms, text books and other fees customarily charged beyond tuition) and many families don’t have the money to make up the difference.
Also the bill does not give all Washington families the ability to secure $10k. It offers only 100,000 scholarships on a first-come, first-served basis. And, the bill is not clear on how the sponsors intend to pay for this.
This bill is a giveaway to well-to-do families that can afford private school tuition–nothing more.

6 days ago

“Crazy” is absolutely correct. Catholic Schools, in particular, attract children whose families have the financial means & who recognize the importance of “educating.” Something most other parents do not have.

Another major problem in US public schools is our universities who have become financialized by the US Financial Markets. There’s more financial analysts in colleges than there are highly rated professors. Most are poorly paid, part-time teachers. End result: immense student debt & poorly educated students. As for these smaller, financialized “colleges” all lowly rated, with “teachers” to teach “students” but don’t have the qualifications to do so. End result: they produce poorly trained new “teachers.”

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: the growing mass of adults with very inadequate jobs to raise families. Even the middle class is beginning to sink into a low-income status: few good paying jobs; paying the highest costs in the Western World to Big Tech, Big Insurance, Big Banks, Big Medicine/Real Estate and now much higher food costs.

It’s a concentric circle that revolves around & around, forcing the US society into abject poverty of the mind & the means to do anything about the problem.

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