General Education

Should Your Child Go to Catholic School?

Should Your Child Go to Catholic School?
Catholic schools afford opportunities for discussion on the catechism where it’s relevant — whereas public schools would expressly avoid such integration of religious and secular curricula. Image from Unsplash
Kathryn deBros profile
Kathryn deBros January 27, 2015

Are you considering sending your child to a Catholic school? These questions will guide you as you evaluate the fit for your child.

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Thinking about whether Catholic school is right for your child? There are several factors to consider — even beyond religious beliefs and economic factors.

Read on for information and questions to help guide you as you make this important decision about your child’s education.

What Do Catholic Schools Teach?

Like many schools, Catholic schools vary widely in terms of academic rigor, but their standards are usually comparable to those of public school curricula. Private schools are not federally regulated — provided that they don’t receive government money — so they are free to provide instruction as they choose. Sometimes, this freedom is an advantage, as private schools can use innovative instructional methods with much smaller classes.

Follow this link to learn more about what kind of education religious schools provide.

How Prominent Is Religious Instruction at Catholic Schools?

At most Catholic schools, students will likely have daily prayers (in the mornings and before meals) and a religion class, but the rest of the day is typically consumed by math, English, and other subjects you would expect to find at any school. Keep in mind, though, that kids are taught within a culture of faith. Catholic schools afford opportunities for discussion on the catechism where it’s relevant — whereas public schools would expressly avoid such integration of religious and secular curricula.

Will the School Follow State Standards of Administer Testing?

Private schools — specifically, ones that do not receive federal funding — are not required to implement instruction based on the common core, nor must they mandate standardized testing. Many still do, however, in an effort to stay competitive with public schools and to provide a high quality of education. When they do take standardized tests, Catholic school students tend to score higher than their public school counterparts.

There’s a lot of controversy about whether private schools truly outperform public schools in the instruction they provide. Yes, students at private schools traditionally perform better on state tests; but private schools may also teach children who would have performed as well or better had they received a public education — and private schools may also only opt in to standardized testing when such assessments are likely to yield positive results.

Do Catholic School Students Have a Better Chance of Getting Into College?

Private schools overall have high graduation rates — about 95 percent on average — and the rate at Catholic schools is even higher: about 97 percent. (By contrast, the public school high school graduation rate is about 84 percent.) Similarly, the college enrollment rates among Catholic school students are higher than those among their public school counterparts — about 76 percent, as compared to 69 percent for private schools overall and 41 percent for public schools. Four-year college graduate rates were lower across the board — though still higher among Catholic high school graduates (about 49 percent) than among public high school graduates (32 percent).

While the competitiveness of Catholic schools varies, some are highly competitive, and their outcomes reflect this. Regis High School in New York, for instance, is well-regarded and sends many graduates to Ivy League colleges.

Some studies by firms, such as EducationNext, suggest that attendance at private schools via voucher programs leads to a greater percentage of students enrolling in college, especially for African-American students.

How Do You Get Into a Catholic School?

There is typically an application process. Some schools have entrance examinations, but you should look on the school’s website for more detailed information. Preference is usually given to Catholics, and/or to siblings of current students. Approximately one-third of all Catholic schools in the United States have a waiting list for entry, according to the National Catholic Education Association, so in some cases, you can expect competition.

What Is the Role of Technology in a Catholic School Education?

Many Catholic schools integrate modern technology into their curricula, given that kids will undoubtedly be expected to navigate an increasingly globalized world outside of school. Many Catholic schools have also created “smart" classrooms, with smartboards, projectors, and digital cameras for interactive learning. A number of Catholic schools have integrated tablets as engaging educational tools, too. In fact, there are many organizations that award grants specifically dedicated to incorporating technology in Catholic schools, such as The Catholic Foundation and The Catholic United Fund.

What Athletic and Extracurricular Opportunities Will These Schools Provide?

Offerings vary widely from school to school, but generally, about half of students in Catholic schools participate in school sports, and many others invest their time in extracurriculars. Be sure to explore the activities and clubs offered at the schools you are considering.

What Financial Aid Is Available?

This depends on the school. The national average tuition for one year at a Catholic high school is $8,787, according to GreatSchools, with elementary school ringing up at an average $3,383, give or take a little for location. In New York City, for example, you can expect to pay (sometimes much) more.

In comparison, the overall national average tuition for a private elementary school is $7,320 per year. While the average tuition for a private high school is $13,196 per year.

You can also expect to be asked for financial contributions toward books, sports, and various fundraisers that pay for libraries and arts programs. With all these expenses, Catholic education can be pricey at some schools. However, there are tuition-free Catholic schools, such as the Regis High School mentioned above, so be sure to explore this option as well.

Voucher programs are offered by certain states to students who attend “failing schools" to use toward private schools. Many Catholic schools also offer need-based financial aid, not to mention scholarships and payment plans. If you have your heart set on a religious education for your child, tuition doesn’t have to be the reason she doesn’t get it.

Do Private Schools Provide Transportation?

Again, this is up to the private school. Private schools are not obligated to provide transportation. Your local public school doesn’t have to foot the bill either, unless it send your child there as the least restrictive environment in an individualized education plan for a special-education student.

Keep in mind that you will generally have to make transportation plans if you enroll your child in a private school.

What Special Education Services Do Catholic Schools Provide?

Private schools are not obligated to provide special education services, nor are Catholic school administrators and teachers necessarily trained to identify hidden disabilities. Many schools provide interventions, but they tend to have less experience with special needs kids — especially in severe cases — than their public-school counterparts — unless, of course, the school is specifically designed for kids with disabilities.

What About Non-Catholics at Catholic School?

In the 2013–2014 school year, non-Catholics comprised 16.4 percent of the national enrollment in Catholic schools. This number has been steadily increasing. Just ten years ago, non-Catholic enrollment was only 12.2 percent.

Non-Catholic families may send their children to a Catholic school for a variety of reasons: it may be a more affordable option, it may have a better standard of education than the public schools in the district, it may include teachings about morality that are attractive to families.

The schools may include the non-Catholic students in a variety of ways. Mary Ellen Wagner, a principal of Holy Family School in Rochester, explained in an interview with the Catholic Courier that many Catholic schools include lessons on the historical background and culture of different religions.

How Do I Find the Best Catholic School for My Child?

Check Catholic school forums for recommendations, or look on Noodle’s K–12 search. Talk to other parents who have sent their children to the schools you’re considering — if you are in touch with a school, it may be able to introduce you to some parents who will be willing to answer questions.

The similarities among Catholic schools notwithstanding, there’s a great deal of variability among schools, including philosophy — some are single-sex, and others are co-ed; some are more liberal, and others are very conservative. Talk to like-minded parents within your parish for their recommendations.

So...Should I Send My Child to Catholic School?

The best way to know if a school is right for your family is to visit. This will give you an opportunity to meet the administrators and teachers, to get a “feel" for the place, and to experience the atmosphere and personality. You can sit in on a class or two to experience the instructional style and learn more about what extracurriculars are offered. Chances are, you will get a gut feeling pretty quickly about whether this is a place for your child to thrive...or whether you should keep looking.