A child at a private religious school raising his hand in class.

Studies have shown that in general, religious schools tend to perform better than secular schools.

Deciding where to send your children to school can be tough. Most people choose the public school route, as it’s a well-established institution and one that comes with minimal fees. People who send their children to public schools know that the teachers are licensed and have a college degree. There are also many programs for children who are either ahead of behind their peers. On top of that, there is usually a public school within a few miles of most homes, and the school bus system can make it easy for children to get to and from school, even when their parents are working.

However, some choose different forms of schooling. Some choose to educate their children at home, while others send their children to private school. There are those who believe that private schools provide a better education for children than public schools do. Of course, most private schools come with a hefty price tag. Tuition for these schools can be thousands of dollars, and when you have multiple children, this is not something that’s feasible for many families.

Many private schools also happen to be religious. Past studies have shown that in general, religious private schools tend to perform better than secular public schools. There are several factors which may explain this performance gap:

Higher Expectations

One theory for why students in religious schools perform better than those in secular schools concerns the higher expectations placed on the students. Not only do these students often engage in a more challenging and advanced curriculum, they are also held to a higher standard in other ways:

  • Many private schools (particularly religious ones) have a strict dress code, and many times they are required to wear a specific uniform.
  • Behavior is more closely monitored in these schools, and things like foul language, perverted talk, or bullying may be more well controlled.

Small Class Sizes

Class sizes in religious private schools are often smaller than in public schools, and enrollment numbers are often lower. In fact, many religious schools put a cap on how many students can attend the school, and there is usually a waiting list to get in. Public schools are often overcrowded, and thanks to poor government funding, extra teachers cannot always be hired to account for the overcrowded classrooms. With smaller classrooms, students can receive individual attention, which means progress can be more closely monitored. This can be helpful when a child is struggling or when a student’s grades start slipping. Steps can be taken sooner which may help prevent problems in the future.

More Encouraged

Students who go to a religious school may be encouraged more often than those in public schools. Of course, this can widely depend on the school and the teacher, but children tend to thrive when constantly reminded what they are capable of. Sometimes, doubt starts to creep in and a student starts to question his or her abilities. Having someone who can be there to encourage and help the student when things get hard offers a significant advantage.

More Parental Involvement

When parents have to pay thousands of dollars to send their child to school, they are much more likely to be involved with the school. Private schools offer many opportunities for parents to be involved, which may be beneficial to the children at the school. While parents who send their children to public schools can be just as involved, it isn’t always as common as what you see in a private school setting.

The fact that religious schools tend to do better than secular schools is interesting, but seeing the reasons why can help any school adjust and perhaps improve students’ performances. For example, students thrive when given encouragement and proper assistance. This is something that can be implemented in any school. Being involved in your child’s school progress sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how much it can benefit a child. Millions of people have gone through the public school system and most of them are quite successful. Still, these keys can help increase the chances of your child’s success.

 

37 comments

  1. Susan Colmenares says:

    I attended religious schools for my entire education– all the way through a master’s degree. The sense of belonging that is fostered in religious schools is conducive to feeling nurtured and cared for. The study of religion leads to apologetics which in turn leads to critical thinking.

    1. Charles Lee says:

      I think apologetics – which means to make a defense – leads to more narrow thinking than it does critical thinking. I think people with an open mind and nothing to defend are more critical in their thinking. The very thought of one defending the “truth” leads to narrow thinking. One cannot see beyond what they perceive as truth. And I did say perceive. Actual truth needs no defense. I do not have to defend that the sun provides light and warmth. I do not have to defend that water can drown you. Truth needs no defense. Perceived beliefs on the other hand need to be defended, not to convince anyone else, but to keep the believer convinced. If someone says to me, the sun doesn’t provide light, I KNOW it is true and I have no need to say a word.

      1. Susan Colmenares says:

        All beliefs are subject to apologetics. Otherwise they would never become beliefs. What is truth for me may be fiction for you. Debating one’s religious beliefs and defending the weaker points of doctrine leads the way to thinking on a completely different level. Apologetics also refers to asking “what if one is in this situation, does doctrine apply?”

      2. Jameson Graeg says:

        Apologetics and critical thinking are neither mutually inclusive, nor mutually exclusive, any more so than the spiritual and the rational are. They are schools of thought. One learns to be one, or one learns to be the other, OR one learns to accept both, on it’s own terms, and finds personal reconciliation in the understanding that both have value.

        1. Susan Colmenares says:

          Exactly.

  2. Charles Lee says:

    I don’t think it is just Religious schools, I think it is all private schools in general. I had a mixture of both. I found the private school – albeit a Lutheran High School – was ahead of the public. My grandchildren attended a private school that has no religious affiliation. They too were ahead of public school children.

  3. Martha Knight says:

    By and large, children who attend private schools, including parochial or church-sponsored schools come from more privileged situations. Their families, or a combination of family and church support, are able to afford “private education,” usually in schools with small, more selective student bodies.
    Public schools are required to take all comers– those with serious learning anomalies, those in foster care, those whose families are careless or ill prepared for parenting or distracted by other considerations, those with one or more parents incarcerated, those who have a first language other than English, etc. private schools can, and most are, selective. They can exclude students who do not conform to their rules or meet their expectations, Because of school attendance laws, most of those children wind up in public schools.
    Public schools must provide certain services to private schools! those include special education services and transportation. Children who are home schooled are permitted to participate in public school programs such as sports, music and drama, when parents/guardians make such requests. Public schools systems are forced to pay tuition for online “cyber schools” because– school choice. First, the school system takes a hit in state reimbursement, and second it has to pay for the cyber “academy” which does not have to provide space, cafeteria, all the surrounding services such as school buses, buildings and grounds care and physical maintenance.
    If a public school does expel a student for cause, the public school system must still provide “alternative education,” or instructional services in a separate facility in a “structured” environment. Private schools do not have such responsibilities.
    As a journalist I have watched the continual increase in requirements applied to public schools, some from the state level and some from the federal. Many private schools sprang into being in response to the Brown v Board decision, to evade racial integration and in response to “forced busing” that was ordered to achieve racial balance in public schools.Parents and others who wanted public school for private schools sued to force access to the services available in public schools. Thus we saw school districts packaging instructional programs and sending them to the parking lots of parochial and other private schools, in mobile classrooms or RCs, with the kids marching out to these facilities for the classes the parochial schools couldn’t seem to provide– corrective reading and math, speech correction, art, music, and for PT.
    Any time private schools are saddled with the same requirements as public schools are, in the same population, and any time they are required to serve all children/families who apply, and meet the same standards, we will see that the religious or special cultural content does not result in superior results.
    As for uniforms, some public schools have required them, sometimes with good results, because it eliminates the “class distinction” and competition to be best dressed, and the distractions of trying to one-up one another in fashion, designer labels or defying the system. Many private schools do not require uniforms– it is scarcely a universal aspect.

  4. Brother John says:

    I’m all for keeping public schools secular with religion taught at home and in schools with religious affiliations. There should be a fair credit given to parents who choose to opt out of public schools for their children as well. But there’s a flip side. As an atheist, I find the forced teaching of religious dogma to children objectionable. I know several people who attended Catholic schools and was shocked to learn that corporal punishment was common, something that was foreign (and illegal) the public school system. There’s also the myriad of on-going allegations (and some prosecutions) for sexual abuse by the clergy. Here in Canada, there’s awful after effects of the principally Catholic run residential schools.

    The article says, “Sometimes, doubt starts to creep in and a student starts to question his or her abilities”. I suggest that creeping doubts about religious dogma/teachings are a greater concern for religious parents choosing to avoid secular public schools where their children would be exposed to science and other subjects that may contradict their beliefs.

  5. Susan Colmenares says:

    Corporal punishment was outlawed in catholic schools in the 1970s.

    1. Brother John says:

      The friends I referred to were high school age in the 60’s. However, it seems as though it went far beyond the 70’s in some catholic schools….

      http://www.crisismagazine.com/2011/corporal-punishment-in-catholic-schools

  6. Beth says:

    Private and religious schools consistently have their students perform better than public school students because they get to pick the students they want, and expel any who do not behave or perform up to their standards. Public schools have a mandate to educate all children within the borders of their school district. Thus, the private and religious schools have the best students. Moreover, they have students whose parents are both interested enough in their children’s education and affluent enough to pay the tuition. They don’t get the ones who are food-insecure or malnourished, nor the ones who suffer serious child neglect.

    The time used to teach religious classes in religious schools is time which is not used to teach something else. If the kids can learn religion, they can learn something which may be more useful to them. Schools should be kept secular, and religion taught at home or in or by religious organizations.

    1. Susan Colmenares says:

      The original schools in the US were all church run. Religion is an excellent subject because it makes kids think. There is no cherry picking in religious schools. If you belong to the denomination, your child is in. I have known many families where an adult takes an extra job to pay tuition and scholarships are routinely provided.

      1. Brother John says:

        Contrary to what you’ve said, Susan, most religious schools do not do a better job of “making kids think”. Their students are fed a constant diet of programming about “their religion” (the only Truth) and very little about others (with the possible exception of why theirs is superior). This prejudicial influence also spills into subjects such as science and history.

        1. Susan Colmenares says:

          Not true, John or perhaps Catholic schools are different. I attended elementary school between 1956 and 1964, high school from 64-68. I was never taught that Catholicism was the only “true” faith, nor were my children taught that in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. We were always taught that those who believe in God and treat others as they would be treated, will be saved–no matter what they believe. I no longer believe that this is limited to those who believe in God but that is my personal creed. As far as science and history were concerned, yes we were taught that God made all living things but he did so through evolution. Adam and Eve were likely one celled creatures. We also learned that the Church has been guilty of terrible abuses–mostly due to the fact that in past times churchmen thought they were infallible–as does the pope now.
          I think that kids understand and appreciate the incongruous nature of church history but there is no possibility of separating it from the development of Western culture. I don’t know of any religious school that tries to squelch the intellect and in fact, if I can thank the Roman Catholic Church for anything it is my education.

          1. Brother John says:

            I’m confused Susan. It sounds as though you attended Roman Catholic schools as you thank them for your education. But you also say you were never taught that Catholicism is the only true faith. I thought I had a fairly accurate knowledge of the RC church and it’s positions. Can you explain the following excerpts for me?

            The Catholic Church teaches that it is the “one true Church”, “the universal sacrament of salvation for the human race” and the “true religion”.”

            “In responding to some questions regarding the doctrine of the Church concerning itself, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated, “Clarius dicendum esset veram Ecclesiam esse solam Ecclesiam catholicam romanam…” (“It should be said more clearly that the Roman Catholic Church alone is the true Church..”) And it also clarified that the term “subsistit in” used in reference to the Church in the Second Vatican Council’s decree Lumen gentium “indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church”.

            “One of the earlier councils (the Fourth Lateran Council) declared that: “There is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation”, a statement of what is known as the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. The Church is further described in the papal encyclical Mystici corporis Christi as the “Mystical Body of Christ”

            “According to the Catechism, the Catholic Church professes to be the “sole Church of Christ”, which is described in the Nicene Creed as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”

            Excerpts taken from Wikipedia “One True Church”

      2. Lanre says:

        How does religion teach or encourage critical thinking? My understanding is that at least for the 3 – Judaism (to a lesser extent), Christianity and Islam you are supposed not to question; but to take it by faith.

  7. Randy says:

    An excellent article, but you missed a couple of points. Private schools can afford better teachers, and teachers at private schools receive more support from the administration. Persistently disruptive students are simply told to find another school. These factors added to the points in your article lead to a better learning environment. The final point is the reduced state and federal influence. The teachers are free to teach the subject, not the mandated test.

    1. Susan Colmenares says:

      Private schools pay better than religious schools while public schools pay better than both. While it is true that private schools can expel disruptive students, public schools must keep them unless they pose a safety concern for another student. Then they can be forced to transfer to another school where they will likely repeat their actions.

      1. sont143 says:

        Further to my previous reply, teachers in non-public schools are still bound to teach that which will allow their students to pass standardized tests. In fact, in New York, where I taught, students in Catholic schools were responsible for state exams as well as Diocesan exams.

  8. Martha Knight says:

    For years New York State students could choose a local diploma or a Regents one. More recently they have all been required to participate in standardized testing.
    It is not true that private, including parochial, schools pay teachers more than public schools do. Public school teachers are unionized, and their salaries and benefits tend to be excellent. Private schools can hire and fire teachers at will. Public school systems cannot because of tenure laws. Often public school teachers are among the best paid individuals in their communities, and their pensions are so high school districts are scrambling to manage the “unfunded” pension plans.
    Public schools have to educate the least able students at taxpayer expense, and staff accordingly. They also have to pay for “alternative education” of those who have been expelled for cause, and students classified as disruptive. They have had to pay for special education, IEPs (individualized educational programs) and special services at far greater cost than regular education, and they have had to provide those services to private schools as well!
    I have seen nothing to convince me that the study of sectarian religious doctrine in schools improves reasoning skills or scholarship in general. Learning ABOUT religions can be part of social studies.

    1. Susan Colmenares says:

      You’re right, Martha. However in NYC the public school system will happily pay for special needs children to be educated in private schools if you are friends with a politician. I retired from
      NYC public schools where I taught special Ed. In community schools sped kids get cheated out of everything and in the “District 75” schools for the severely handicapped, those who cannot even hold a pencil are still subjected to standardized testing. However, I taught those who were not related to the mayor. By the way, like the majority of public school teachers, I sent my kids to Catholic schools.

  9. Brother John says:

    At the risk of posting twice (my reply simply disappeared and the page locked)….

    I’m confused, Susan. As you’ve thanked the RC Church for your education, I assume the schooling you referred to was RC. My confusion is your statement that “I was never taught that Catholicism was the only “true” faith, nor were my children taught that in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.”

    I only have basic knowledge regarding the RC Church. Can you explain these excerpts from the Wikipedia entry “One True Church” based on what you’ve said?

    “A number of Christian churches assert that they alone represent the one true church – the church to which Jesus gave his authority in the Great Commission. The Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox communion and the Assyrian Church of the East each understands itself as the one and only original church.”

    “The Catholic Church teaches that it is the “one true Church”,[1] “the universal sacrament of salvation for the human race”[2] and the “true religion”.”

    “In responding to some questions regarding the doctrine of the Church concerning itself, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated, “Clarius dicendum esset veram Ecclesiam esse solam Ecclesiam catholicam romanam…” (“It should be said more clearly that the Roman Catholic Church alone is the true Church..”)[3] And it also clarified that the term “subsistit in” used in reference to the Church in the Second Vatican Council’s decree Lumen gentium “indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church”.

    “According to the Catechism, the Catholic Church professes to be the “sole Church of Christ”, which is described in the Nicene Creed as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”

    1. Brother John says:

      Awesome… I see the first post just appeared…. let this indicate I’m am truly interested in your clarification. I’m here to learn.

    2. Susan Colmenares says:

      In fact all of these churches are Catholic in the sense of their supposed universality and availability to alI. I did not state that the RCs, along with every other Christian denomination I have ever met, do not claim to be the “true” church. However, they accept and teach that all good people who follow the great commandments of “love God and love your neighbor” will be saved. Are their teachings often paradoxical? Of course! This in itself leads to the questioning the logic of most religious teaching and to critical examination of faith or lack thereof–a skill that stands most of us Catholic school graduates in good stead when analyzing everything we are taught. I do not defend the Catholic Church (or any other) but I do defend the Catholic school, the Lutheran school, the Solomon Schecter School, and every religious school. Learning theology enhances one’s ability to think.

  10. Martha Knight says:

    This description of the Roman Catholic position to be nothing short of astounding, and jarringly at odds with what Roman Catholics generally (those who have been instructed in their faith and practice it with knowledge of its teachings) and what the clergy preach and teach– and what its publications assert. There seems to be some playing with small-c catholic and large-C Catholic, but I think we know we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church here, because that is the denomination that springs to mind when we are talking about Catholic schools in the U.S.
    The Catholic Church we are talking about is the one that allows persons of other denominations (or of no faith) to become members by profession of faith, after having received instruction in ITS teachings and becoming baptized into it. It does hold to its primary teachings. It does offer confession by its members to a priest, and reconciliation through absolution as administered by the church. It asks members to know certain prayers, and encourages them to use the Rosary as a guide to prayer. It does teach that the Catholic Church is the original one founded by the original apostles, and that its members need to be in a state of grace when they die, and that being excluded from its membership in communion with God (excommunicated) is tantamount to being denied access to eternal life with God. Taking holy communion is a “means of grace” when done in the spiritual condition that results from having been reconciled with God anew.
    No, not all Christian denominations claim to be the only true church– far from it. Most Protestant ones do not. I know some that do, and was reared in one (an abusive cult), but that is more an exception than the rule.

    1. Susan Colmenares says:

      I was baptized, confirmed, and married in the Roman Catholic Church. Attended their schools from first to twelfth grades, through college, and graduate school. I have only answered questions about the Church within the context of education. I have not been a Roman Catholic for over 40 years. However, my children were educated in the church as well. By the way, not one of them is a Catholic anymore. While not all Christian denominations may claim that their’s is the only true church, Christianity in general insists on exactly that and it is that to which I referred. Again, Catholicism deserves a great deal of criticism– for ghetto sexual abuse of children, for its treatment of women, but it still provides a stellar education.

      1. Brother John says:

        Thank you for your clarification, Susan. Congratulations to you and your family for not allowing religious dogma to smother the freedom to educate yourselves and think with skepticism and rationality. I’ve been exploring a number of other forums/sites lately that seem devoid of fundamentalist evangelical Christians and their proselytizing and will be devoting more time to them. Carry on bravely!!

  11. Brother John says:

    I’m still confused, Susan. You did state “I attended elementary school between 1956 and 1964, high school from 64-68. I was never taught that Catholicism was the only “true” faith, nor were my children taught that in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.” I assume that you regularly attended Mass throughout your life as well. Based on what I posted yesterday, how can that be? Through the descriptions I’ve read the RC Church is more exclusionary than universal.

    Here’s a lesson from the Our Lady of the Rosary Library which reiterates the perceived exclusivity of the Catholic Church… with particular attention paid to # 8 – 12, do you disagree with these lessons as a Catholic?

    https://www.olrl.org/Lessons/Lesson16.shtml

    1. Susan Colmenares says:

      First, let me establish that I am no longer a Catholic and have not been for many years. Previous to the Second Vatican Council we were taught that we were fortunate to belong to the Catholic Church and that it was indeed established by Jesus and the Apostled. However, all those who loved God and their neighbors could achieve salvation. After Vatican II, we were assured that all such people would be saved. Since that time, several popes have back pedaled on JohnXXIII’s teachings and the Church has become more conservative and while Francis has given hope to many, nothing has or will change but the lesson continues to be that those who love God and their neighbors will be saved. I do not defend Catholicism. The church is rife with abuses but I choose to criticize those deeds and policies that are reprehensible, not their educational standards.

  12. Martha Knight says:

    I doubt that anyone would retain a teaching position in a Catholic parochial church for long once it was known that person taught that God used evolution to create the first humans, and that Adam and Eve were one-celled animals. Or that anyone who loves God and loves others has salvation. Roman Catholicism still requires that priests be celibate, still consider the Pope to be the vicar of Christ and the spiritual successor to Peter, still hold that tradition ranks equal with scripture as a basis for doctrine, still are taught that the Pope is cloaked with infallibility when speaking ex cathedra.
    As for “all good people” (who love God and others) being saved, if the RC Church does teach that in some form, the catch is in the definition of goodness. Roman Catholics and some Protestants teach and preach “works-based” salvation (including indulgences— check on Martin Luther’s main points), whereas the other side of the TULIP acrostic, the Arminian doctrine side, holds that persons are saved by grace (a gift of God) and any good works are merely a product of that grace and God’s work in their lives.
    This thread or topic was introduced by a statement declaring that private schools are better than public schools. among us are those who believe some are, some are inferior. We know private schools include but are not limited to church-sponsored schools, and of the church-sponsored many are Roman Catholic, and some of those are better than others. We know that not all public schools are like those that are underfunded and operate in ghettos, but in much of the USA many public schools provide good education, and most public school teachers’ kids attend public schools.

  13. Susan Colmenares says:

    The Catholic Church has always accepted evolution and still does. They believe that the Old Testament is an allegory. However, you are correct. I know many public schools that do an excellent job of educating children. I should have qualified that my experience was in New York City where most of us sent our kids to private schools.

  14. Lloyd Hargrove says:

    Will the last sane person leaving California kindly turn out the lights…
    http://thefederalist.com/2016/06/21/california-bill-would-ultimately-erase-religious-schools/

    1. sont143 says:

      The last sane person left long ago. This is the same state that made Arnold governor!

      1. Martha Knight says:

        Wasn’t that the guy who thought the state was named after Lassie and Bambi? (Collie-fawnia)

  15. Susan Colmenares says:

    Yup! Lol!

  16. Prince says:

    Religious schools perform better because of discipline, itinerary and specific rules to be followed. Nothing more and nothing less. Religion has nothing to do with it. Neither does all the other reasons that I have read and the original question somehow getting lost in the shuffle. Todays children are off the chain and the parents are to blame. In todays world parents who are not strong will loose their control over their children and that is where the problem lies. I don’t need to elaborate, you all know exactly what I mean. Spare the rod and spoil the child. I truly wish all of you well and may God be with you. Sincerely.

  17. Stewart says:

    Someone needs to dig deeper the claim of religious schools preforming better is heavily disputed as it is a common tactic to push voucher programs in areas that have private schools that want public funding . DC as an example church based schools students overwhelming under preform on basic education criteria .

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