Academic Coursetaking and Student Outcomes
As with earlier results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), private school students performed higher than public school students on the NAEP:2000 tests.8 Their average scores were above those of public school students on the 4th-grade reading test and on the 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade science and mathematics proficiency tests (table 11). See indicators 7, 10, 11, and 12 (NCES 2002-025) for detailed data on student performance, including differences by many variables beyond school sector.
Applying high academic standards—both requiring students to complete high-level, challenging courses and pushing students to strive and excel in their work—is a central schooling component that many experts recommend (Newmann 1992; Bryk, Lee, and Holland 1993; Gamoran et al. 1997). Earlier research has found not only that private high school students take more advanced mathematics courses than those in public high schools but also that the type of private school may matter (Lee et al. 1998). Students at Catholic high schools in that study completed more advanced mathematics than students in "independent, selective" private schools, even after adjusting for measures including prior achievement in mathematics, school selectivity, and family SES. (The independent, selective schools cited are a subset of the nonsectarian group discussed here; one difference is that the latter includes special education schools. Students in Catholic schools in the study varied more in academic skill and family SES than did students in the more selective independent schools.)
Compared with public schools, private schools required more coursework (in 4-year high school programs) in 1999–2000 in social studies, mathematics, science, foreign language, and computer science (table 12).9 Private schools required on average 3.1 years of mathematics, while public schools required 2.7 years, for example. The figures for foreign language study also differed: 1.5 years at private schools but 0.5 years at public schools. In addition, about 40 percent of private schools required some form of community service for high school graduation, four times the rate for public schools (10 percent). Nonsectarian schools required an average of 3.3 years of mathematics, compared with 3.0–3.1 years for the other two types of private schools. Catholic schools were quite likely (73 percent) to require some community service for graduation, more so than the other two types.
Findings from the NAEP High School Transcript Study of 1998 (indicator 27) show that 1998 private high school graduates were more likely than public high school graduates to have completed advanced courses in science and mathematics (figure 9). Advanced science courses include chemistry, physics, and advanced biology; advanced mathematics courses include trigonometry, precalculus, and calculus. In a parallel pattern, private school graduates were about twice as likely as their public school counterparts to have completed the third (or higher) year of study in a foreign language (55 versus 28 percent) (indicator 34, U.S. Department of Education 2001a). Completing intermediate-level and even advanced courses is often required for admission to selective colleges and universities.
8For earlier data about several subjects, see previous
editions of two recurring NCES publications: The Condition of Education and The
Nation’s Report Card. (back to text)
9Differences for some of the subjects were small but
nevertheless statistically significant. (back to text)
Figures and TablesFigure 9: Percentage distribution of 1998 high school graduates according to highest level of science and mathematics courses completed in high school, by sector