Thomas Hoffer


This paper begins with a review of basic descriptive data on achievement differences between public and Catholic school students and the main theories intended to explain Catholic sector effects on student achievement. The main theories are cast in terms of competitive markets, the communities in which the schools are embedded, and the historically institutionalized purposes of the schools. The analytical research is then reviewed and extended with some original analyses from recently collected national survey data on high school students. The main points from the review and extension of empirical research are as follows: (a) Catholic high schools have positive effects on verbal and mathematics achievement, but no discernable effects on science; (b) Catholic school effects are greater for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially with respect to family structure and functioning; and (c) the main schooling mechanism accounting for the Catholic school effects is the greater concentration of academic coursetaking among Catholic school students. The most glaring gap in the research record is the lack of data to assess effects of Catholic elementary school attendance. Finally, further work is needed to sort out the larger theoretical issues and practical implications of markets, charters, and communities.

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