90 Studies Compared Religious Schools vs. Public Schools. There Was One Clear Winner.

For anyone who wants to understand why school choice has become a major issue in this year’s midterm elections, a 2012 survey of research comparing the performance of public and religious schools is essential reading.


Public schools often aren’t the best educational option for kids, statistically speaking.


“Education is the iceberg issue of the midterms,” conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt warned in The Washington Post Monday, arguing that parents are increasingly demanding public funding to send their children to private schools.

What’s wrong with public schools?: In his 2012 meta-analysis of 90 academic studies, education professor William H. Jeynes of California State University, Long Beach, found religious schools on average produce significantly better student outcomes than do public schools, and at lower cost.

  • “In fact, the gap between public- and faith-based schools is so great that even students in inner city public schools receive considerably more education funding than the average student at a religious school,” said Jeynes, who controlled for gender, socioeconomic status and location.
  • There are a number of possible overlapping explanations for religious schools’ advantage, according to Jeynes, including higher expectations for student achievement and parental involvement, and teachers from religious backgrounds viewing all students as equally capable regardless of race and other factors.
  • Jeynes found that charter schools did not outperform their district counterparts overall, despite being allowed to operate with greater flexibility.


While there has been conflicting research on the performance of public, charter and private schools, the U.S. Education Department has consistently seen better educational outcomes for Catholic schools across race, class, and geographic distinctions.

  • “The Catholic schools always score higher,” remarked Peggy Carr, the commissioner of the federal National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress, at a press conference last year.
  • “It’s a matter for fact.”