Academic Outcomes of Private Schools: 9 Stats to Know

As a parent, you may be considering the benefits and drawbacks of sending your child to a private school. While there are stereotypes of public schools being full of more affluent and academically gifted students, it may be hard to know what is truth and what is fiction in the world or private schools.

You may find yourself wondering, ‘what really sets private schools apart from public ones?’, or ‘what will my child get out of private school that they won’t if they attend a public school?’ and ‘what type of return will I get on my investment?’. All of these are valid and important questions to consider. Now, let’s talk a bit about differences in the academic outcomes of private school students through various statistics- all of which are pulled from trusted research papers.

1. Levels of Academic Achievement at a Young Age

On average, students who attend a private high school tend to achieve a higher level of academic achievement by age 23 than other students. This statistic was discovered in a study titled Academic Outcomes of Public and Private High School Students: What Lies Behind the Differences? by Marc Frenette and Ping Ching Winnie Chan while working for the Social Analysis and Modeling Division of Statistics Canada.

They found this fact to be true regardless of school resources, practices, and student characteristics. In their study, however, they did find that two factors greatly influenced the academic success that these private school students would have later in life. Those factors are the level of education achieved by their peers’ parents and socioeconomic characteristics.

2. High School Graduation Rate

The high school graduation rate is higher than the national average for private school students. This may be for a variety of reasons, but I imagine that one of the most prominent ones is pressure from parents.

If my parents had made an investment in my primary education that private schools generally require, I would not be allowed to waste their hard-earned money by dropping out or failing to graduate.

Another reason private school students may have a higher rate of graduation is that they are more selective in the students that attend their schools. An application and interview process may weed out less devoted students.

Students who attend private schools generally value their education a bit more. This can be seen as 85% of eighth-graders expressed a desire to attend college, which signifies they will have the personal goal of graduating high school as well. Although private school students may face more pressure to graduate high school, we are seeing the number of overall high school graduates increase.

A study completed by the National Center for Education Statistics reported that graduation rates in public schools have increased by 15% and in private schools by 3%. Although it may be alarming to see that graduation rates have increased by so much more in public schools than in private ones, it is important to remember that the rates for private schools started out a bit higher anyway, so the public schools are just catching up.

3. Higher Reading Performance

In a survey done by the U.S. Department of Education titled Public and Private Schools: How do They Differ?, they found that only 1% of private school students struggled with a limited English proficiency while 5% of public school students experienced the same limitation. This number is even higher, at 9% in public schools that are located in central cities.

Public schools tend to attract a more diverse crowd with many students coming from different racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds. These differences may account for lower reading performances in students that attend public school. As English is not every student’s first language, it may be harder to develop proficient reading skills across the board.

As students at private schools have a higher English proficiency, they generally score better in reading performance as well. The majority of private school students perform above the ‘proficient’ or ‘basic’ categories on reading requirements in nationwide tests.

4. Higher Math Performance

Along with reading, those who attend a private school also tend to excel in the subject of mathematics. These trends are seen in private schools notwithstanding the age of the students or the type of private school. In fact, their scores generally increase, along with their age, as they excel in all stages of life.

In a study done by the Council for American Private Education, they found that while 67% of students attending a publicly funded school were proficient in solving word problems, 13% more students attending private school were proficient in the same category of mathematical problems. Although smaller than the difference in reading scores, it is still a significant factor to consider.

5. Higher Science Performance

It seems like students perform better on average in nearly every topic or discipline, including science. One of the reasons for their increased adeptness across the board could be a result of the amount of time they spend on school work. It has been shown that 65% of private school students spend seven or more hours on homework a week, with only 42% of their public school counterparts doing the same.

6. Better ACT Scores

Private school students make up a large percentage of students that not only take but pass the ACT. The mean score of students that attend private schools was 1.5 points higher than that of students who attend public schools. They also scored higher in all categories beating public school students by 12, 10, 12, and 7 percent in English, mathematics, reading, and science.

The ACT or “American College Test” has been testing students’ preparation for college since 1959. It was originally created as a competition for the SAT or “Scholastic Aptitude Test” and is used arguably more commonly than the SAT today.

The American College Test was created by Everett Franklin Lindquist and Ted McCarrel who worked together at the University of Iowa. The test has a 36-point scale compiled of separate ratings on different topics such as English, math, reading, science, and writing.

7. Elevated AP Exam Participation and Scores

In 2015, private school students took a whopping 11% of all Advanced Placement tests while only making up 7.8% of the nation’s students. In the world of College Board’s Advanced Placement tests, a three signifies a passing score.

Through data received by College Board and distributed by the Central for American Private Education, we know that over 70% of private school students who took AP tests passed them with a score of three or higher.

This gives private school students an advantage. With high scores on Advanced Placement tests, they are able to get college credit early. This not only saves them or whoever is funding their education some money but allows them to enroll in more advanced classes when at university.

8. Advanced Mathematic and Science Courses

Math and science courses are necessary classes that high school students are required to take in order to graduate. While every student needs to take them, it has been shown that private school students go above and beyond the requirements by taking more advanced mathematics and science courses.

This may be just one explanation as to why private school students have consistently scored higher in math and science on national exams. Many private schools also have the liberty of being more specialized than public schools. They are oftentimes geared towards a certain subject or religion, with many private schools specializing in science, math, and technology.

Since private schools are generally smaller than their public counterparts, there is a better student-to-teacher ratio. Having one on one help allows students to participate in higher-level classes and to receive help in those very classes which may not be possible with an overworked public school teacher.

9. University Achievement

Likely resulting from the high scores private school students are achieving on the ACT, they are also finding success at the university level. If a student attends a private school over a public one, it is twice as probable that they will go on to receive a bachelor’s degree.

Attaining a bachelor’s degree opens the door to a lot of jobs and opportunities that would otherwise be impossible. Studies completed by the National Center for Education Statistics show that 86% of young adults aged 25 to 30 years old that have received a bachelor’s degree are employed, while 75% of students whose highest level of education is a high school diploma are employed.

Students who attended a private high school in the past go above and beyond at the university as well, with 17% going on to receive a master’s degree, its equivalent, or an even higher degree.

Additional Pros of Attending Private School

Name Recognition

Although some prominent private high schools may not be household names for us, they sure are for college admissions experts. Thousands of students apply to top colleges every year, and it may be hard to stand out from all of the other students who have similar achievements such as a 4.0gpa, volunteer hours, and participation in student government.

Sometimes, all you need to stand out is the recognizable and prestigious name of a private high school.

Focus on Getting into College

One thing that truly does set private high schools apart from their public counterparts is their focus on college and career readiness. From the beginning, there is an emphasis on preparing to go to a good college so you can have a successful career.

Since they have more resources to give to fewer students, private schools are able to offer more personalized counseling and advice during the college application process. This enables students to be as prepared as they can for interviews and other obligations throughout the application season.

Higher Academic Standards

To attend pretty much any private high school, students need to go through a tough application process. This allows for schools to choose students with higher academic achievements and interests they can develop at that particular school. The competitive atmosphere during the application process continues throughout a student’s career, pushing them to be their best.

In September 2010, assistant professor Martin West from Harvard University and Professor Ludger Woessmann from the University of Munich worked together to see the effects of competition from private schools. Through their research in a study titled, Competition from Private Schools Boosts Achievement and Lowers Costs, they concluded that…

“…Competition from private schools improves student achievement, and appears to do so for public school as well as private school students”

– Assistant Professor Martin West and Professor Ludger Woessmann

This is an exciting discovery as it shows some ways we can increase school performance without having to increase the school budget. Promoting competition between students and schools leads to better achievements all without costing administrators a penny.

Small Class Ratio

A small class ratio indicates that your child will be able to receive more help from their teachers in areas they may struggle in. Teachers who have smaller class sizes are not spread as thin and can really get invested not only in their students’ education but well being too. With fewer students, a teacher can more easily modify lectures and curriculum to the needs of their students.

Smaller class size also promotes unity within the class. Students can get to know each other better which will likely result in less conflict and distraction during class time. As stronger class relationships develop, students will be less embarrassed to ask questions and know who to reach out to if they ever need help on an assignment.

In a smaller classroom, engagement and participation are not only encouraged but necessary. We all know how easy it is to avoid answering questions in a crowded class, but if you have ever attended a class with 20 people or less, you know it can get a bit awkward if no one answers. Class participation will give a student higher confidence as well as a better understanding of the principles being taught.