Catholic schools defy sobering academic trends

Much attention (including by me) has been given to the troubling academic trends in our public schools. But less attention has been given to the schools defying the sobering math and reading results — Catholic schools.

Unlike their public counterparts whose academic scores have returned to that of 30 plus years ago, Catholic schools have not experienced such a decline over the same time period, with student academic performance post-COVID still higher than it was in the 1990s, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend assessments.

On the 2022 NAEP tests, fourth-grade student performance in math did not decline compared to pre-COVID test results from 2019 (public schools dropped five points). Eighth-grade reading increased a point, compared to 2019 scores, whereas public school scores declined. Fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math did drop slightly, but declines were less significant than public schools.

Additionally, achievement among black students enrolled in Catholic schools increased by 10 points (about an extra year’s worth of learning) since 2019, while black students in public schools dropped five points. Similarly, Hispanic eighth-grade students in Catholic schools gained seven points while their peers in public schools lost one point.

“There’s no secret sauce to the Catholic school advantage in mitigating learning loss,” write Michael Hartney and Corey DeAngelis. “The typical parochial school starts its learning day earlier, focuses on the basics, and most of all were much more likely to encourage and provide in-person learning throughout the pandemic.”

Nationwide, more than 92 percent of Catholic schools reopened for in-person learning in the fall of 2020, compared with 43 percent of traditional public schools. In Minnesota, Catholic schools were also among the first to reopen and return students to their classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s more,” continue Hartney and DeAngelis, “most of the urban Catholic schools that mitigated learning loss were just as likely (if not more likely) to be saddled with older facilities, less money, and disadvantaged students than public schools in poor urban locales and tony upscale Democratic districts.”

As families continue voting with their feet to access education alternatives, it’s time for Minnesota to remove the financial barriers preventing all its students from the opportunity to access a learning environment that helps them reach their fullest potential.