Council for American Private Education

Voice of America's Private Schools

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Read CAPE's private school benefits brochure.

Good for Students

Private schools benefit students by fostering academic excellence and high achievement, educating the whole child within a values-based setting, and preparing youngsters for success in life. If you want a caring, challenging, nurturing, safe and secure environment for your child--a place where he/she can learn and succeed--consider a private school.

Academic Excellence

Private schools are known for the high standards they set. They engage students and spark the desire to learn. Teachers expect excellence from students, and students tend to live up to those expectations. The high expectations and academic rigor help account for above-average levels of student success, including higher college-going rates. If you're looking to help your child reach his/her potential in a school committed to excellence, consider a private school.

In a report titled Private Schools: A Brief Portrait , the U.S. Department of Education had this to say about the academic performance of private schools:

  • Private school students generally perform higher than their public school counterparts on standardized achievement tests.
  • Private high schools typically have more demanding graduation requirements than do public high schools.
  • Private school graduates are more likely than their peers from public schools to have completed advanced-level courses in three academic subject areas (see table).
  • Private school students are more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor's or advanced degree by their mid-20s (see table).

Private school students scored well above the national average in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP scores provide an immediate measure of student achievement, but the report also presents a long-term measure: attainment of a college degree. "[S]tudents who had attended private school in 8th grade were twice as likely as those who had attended public school to have completed a bachelor's or higher degree by their mid-20s (52 versus 26 percent)."


And note this: For students from the lowest quartile of socioeconomic status (SES), the advantage of having attended a private school was even more pronounced. Those students were nearly four times more likely than their public school counterparts to have attained a bachelor's or higher degree (table 6). Private school attendance even seems to overcome a parent's low-expectations for a child. "[F]or students whose mother's expectation (in 8th grade) was for them to attain an associate's degree or less, those who had attended private school completed a bachelor's or higher degree at a rate about four times that of public school students (30 versus 7 percent)."

The report explains that students from a low SES family who had "completed a calculus course in high school were much more likely than those who had not studied calculus to earn a degree by their mid-20s." It also notes that students in private schools "are more likely than those in public schools to take challenging courses like calculus, and private schools are more likely to require them." Specifically, private high schools require more courses for graduation than public high schools in math, science, social studies, foreign language, and computer science, and the coursework is more likely to include advanced courses in science (chemistry, physic, advanced biology), mathematics (trigonometry, precalculus, calculus), and foreign language (a third year or more).


Demanding coursework and high expectations are good for students. As the report states it, "Applying high academic standards--both requiring students to complete high-level, challenging courses and pushing students to strive and excel in their work--is a central schooling component that many experts recommend."

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High Achievement

According to NCES data, 88 percent of private high school students apply to college, compared to 57 percent of public high school students. And reports from the College Board indicate that SAT scores for private school students are well above the national average.

When it comes to challenging students to stretch their capacity, private schools do an exceptional job. Statistics from the College Board and NCES show that for high school seniors, 24.2 percent of private school students took AP exams in 1998, while 9.4 percent of public school students did so. Private schools, which account for only 7.5 percent of all high school students, produced 20 percent of 12th graders who took AP exams in 1998 and 22 percent of those who scored high enough to have the advanced courses count for college credit.

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NAEP Results

The National Center for Education Statistics periodically administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to test the knowledge and skills of the nation's students in grades 4, 8, and 12. Students in private schools consistently score well above the national average. At all three grades a significantly higher percentage of private school students score at or above the Basic, Proficient, and Advanced levels than public school students. Below are the results from the most recent NAEP report cards in reading. NAEP report cards in other subjects.

NAEP 2011 Reading Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools At or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 4
  Private Public
Basic 81 66
Proficient 48 32
Advanced 13 7
Grade 8
  Private Public
Basic 90 75
Proficient 54 32
Advanced 8 3


The following articles provide additional evidence of the high performance of private schools.
Outlook Articles on Academic Performance

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School Safety

Private schools are orderly and safe--the kind of setting necessary for students to learn. The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), published by the National Center for Education Statistics, provides data on school safety and discipline. The following table, based on 1999-2000 SASS data, indicates the extent to which teachers think various behaviors are serious problems in their schools. (Source: Table 73, Digest of Education Statistics: 2002)

Percentage of teachers who perceive certain issues as serious problems in their schools
Public Private
student disrespect for teachers 17 4
use of alcohol 7 3
drug abuse 6 2
student tardiness 10 3
student absenteeism 14 3
students unprepared to learn 30 5
lack of parent involvement 24 3
student apathy 21 4


In February 2012, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics released Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2011, which provides a comprehensive picture of the exposure of students and teachers to crime in schools. While the report's main focus is public schools, a few of its many charts and tables also extend to private schools. The charts below capture the major findings of the report that involve private schools.

Percentage of teachers in 2007-08 who reported that a student...
Public Private
threatened them with injury 8.1 2.6
physically attacked them 4.3 1.9


Percentage of students, age 12-18, who in 2009 reported...
Public Private
having experienced criminal victimization at school 4.1 1.8
fearing being attacked or harmed at school 4.4 1.9
seeing hate-related graffiti at school 30.7 11.8
that they avoided certain places in school for fear of their own safety 4.2 1.8
that gangs were present in school 22.0 2,3


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Focus on Values

Private schools focus on the essentials--that which provides purpose and meaning to life. The sad reality is that our society is marked by a great fear that fundamental values are coming undone. Within that context, a growing number of parents desperately desire the opportunity to choose schools whose primary purpose is to provide youngsters a sound moral and religious education. Private schools are the only schools we have that can assist parents with the religious and spiritual development of their children--a sphere of development so essential for their complete and proper upbringing.

The 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey mentioned above asked school principals to rate various goals as their most important. Below is the rank order of goals rated by principals of public schools and private schools, with the percentage of principals ranking each goal as their first, second, or third most important (Public school principals were not asked about the goal of religious/spiritual development.)

School Goals Rated By Principals
Private Public
Academic excellence (66%) Basic literacy (80%)
Religious/spiritual life (64%) Academic excellence (70%)
Basic literacy (51%) Work habits/self-discipline (60%)
Work habits/self-discipline (47%) Personal growth (32%)
Personal growth (32%) Social skills (25%)
Specific moral values (24%) Occupational skills (13%)
Social skills (12%) Specific moral values (9%)
Occupational skills (4%)  


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