CAPE | Council for American Private Education

Council for American Private Education

Facts and Studies


Private School Statistics at a Glance
PK-12 Enrollment (2011-12) 5,268,000 (10% of all US students)
# of Schools (2011-12) 30,861 (24% of all US schools)
Enrollment Source: National Center for Education Statistics (see table)
School Source: National Center for Education Statistics (see table)


Where do private school students go to school?
  Years 89-90 Years 11-12
Catholic 54.5% 42.9%
Nonsectarian 13.2% 19.8%
Conservative Christian 10.9% 14.0%
Baptist 5.8% 4.5%
Lutheran 4.4% 3.6%
Jewish 3.2% 5.5%
Episcopal 1.7% 2.1%
Seventh-day Adventist 1.6% 1.1%
Calvinist 0.9% 0.5%
Friends 0.3% 0.4%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics (PSS Report)


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FAQs About Private Schools

How many private schools are there in the United States? How many students attend them? What's the average tuition? These are just a few of the frequently asked questions we get at CAPE. Here are some answers. (Unless otherwise noted, all data are from the National Center for Education Statistics.)

Schools and Students

There are 30,861 private schools in the United States, serving 5.3 million PK-12 students. Private schools account for 24 percent of the nation's schools and enroll 10 percent of all PK-12 students.

Most private school students (80 percent) attend religiously-affiliated schools (see table 2 of the PSS Report). And most private schools are small: 86 percent have fewer than 300 students (see table 1 of the PSS Report).


Average Private School Tuition: 2011-12
All Levels Elementary Secondary K-12 Schools
All Schools $10,740 $7,770 $13,030 $13,640
Catholic $6,890 $5,330 $9,790 $10,230
Other Religious $8,690 $7,960 $16,520 $8,160
Non-Sectarian $21,510 $18,170 $25,180 $22,440
Source: Table 205.50 Digest of Education Statistics, 2013 Tables, National Center for Education Statistics.


Family Income

income chart

Where do the children of the wealthy go to school? The U.S. Census Bureau has data on the social and economic characteristics of students enrolled in the nation’s schools during the month of October 2012. It turns out that of the 8.8 million families with children in grades K-12 with annual incomes of $75,000 or more (the highest income bracket measured), 83 percent have children only in public schools and 13 percent have children only in private schools. (Four percent have children in both types of schools.)

Visit the U.S. Census Bureau Web site for detailed tables on school enrollment for October 2012. Table 8 provides data by family income.


Community Service

In March 2000, the National Center for Education Statistics issued a report entitled Service-Learning and Community Service Among 6th- Through 12th-Grade Students in the United States. According to the report, "Involving America's students in community service activities is one of the objectives established under the third National Education Goal for the year 2000,which seeks to prepare students for responsible citizenship."

The report notes a significant difference in levels of community service between public school students and private school students. "For both 1996 and 1999, students attending church-related private schools(42 percent for both years) and non-church-related private schools (31percent in 1996 and 41 percent in 1999) were more likely to say their schools required and arranged community service than students attending public schools...(14 percent in 1996 and 17 percent in 1999)."


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Academic Performance

Outlook Articles on Academic Performance


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NAEP Report Cards

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.

NAEP 2013 Reading Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools at or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 4
  Private Public
Basic 82 67
Proficient 49 34
Advanced 14 8
Grade 8
  Private Public
Basic 91 77
Proficient 57 34
Advanced 10 4

NAEP 2013 Math Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools at or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 4
  Private Public
Basic 87 82
Proficient 48 41
Advanced 9 8
Grade 8
  Private Public
Basic 83 73
Proficient 47 34
Advanced 14 8
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NAEP 2011 Writing Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools At or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 8
Private Public
Basic 92 79
Proficient 41 26
Advanced 6 3
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NAEP 2010 U.S. History Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools At or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 8
  Private Public
Basic 87 68
Proficient 29 16
Advanced 2 1
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NAEP 2010 Geography Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools At or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 8
  Private Public
Basic 90 73
Proficient 45 25
Advanced 6 2
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NAEP 2010 Civics Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools At or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 8
  Private Public
Basic 91 70
Proficient 38 21
Advanced 3 1
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NAEP 2011 Science Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools At or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 8
  Private Public
Basic 77 64
Proficient 43 31
Advanced 3 2
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What do the achievement levels mean?

Basic Level... denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at a given grade.
Proficient Level... represents solid academic performance, and competency over challenging subject matter. The proficient level is identified as the standard that all students should reach.
Advanced Level... signifies superior performance at a given grade.


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Survey Finds Public Likes Private Schools

survey chart

December 1999 - By a margin of nine to one, Americans believe parents should have the right to choose their child's school, according to a report released last month by Public Agenda, a research organization based in New York City. Moreover, if they were given a choice of schools-- along with the financial wherewithal to exercise it-- a full 55 percent of parents who currently send their children to public schools would want to send them to private schools.

The report, titled On Thin Ice, presents findings from a poll taken to assess the public's attitudes on vouchers, charter schools, and related issues. The survey of 1,200 citizens, about one-third of whom were parents of school-age children, was bolstered by insights from five focus groups.

One of the poll's findings is that people who have private schools in their communities believe by wide margins that such schools "generally provide a better education" than public schools and do a better job"teaching academic skills" and "maintaining discipline and order." (For 67 percent of respondents, the term "private schools" refers to "parochial schools or Christian academies,"while for 16 percent it refers to "nonreligious private schools.")


Outlook Articles on the Public's Opinion of Private Schools


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School Safety and Security

Outlook Articles on School Safety


The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), published by the National Center for Education Statistics, provides data on public and private schools.The following table, based on 1999-2000 SASS data (the most recent), indicates the extent to which teachers think various behaviors are serious problemes in their schools. (Source: Table 73, Digest of Education Statistics: 2005)


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 December 2006, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics released Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2006, 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 students, age 12-18, who in 2005 reported...
  Public Private
having experienced violent victimization at, or on the way to/from, school 4.3 2.6
being threatened with harm at, or on the way to/from, school 5.1 0.9
fearing being attacked or harmed at, or on the way to/from, school 6.5 3.8
being targets of hate-related words at, or on the way to/from, school 11.5 6.9
that street gangs were present at, or on the way to/from, school 25.4 4.2
that they avoided certain places in school for fear of their own safety 4.8 1.4


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USDE Report on Private Schools

In May 2002, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released its annual report to Congress on the condition of education. The report included a special analysis on private schools titled Private Schools: A Brief Portrait.

Herewith some highlights quoted directly from the private school piece:

  • Private school teachers are more likely than public school teachers to report being satisfied with teaching at their school.
  • Private school students are more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor's or advanced degree by their mid-20s.
  • 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.
  • Private school teachers are more likely than public school teachers to report having a lot of influence on several teaching practices and school policies.
  • A majority of private school teachers express positive opinions about their principal and their school's management.
  • On average, private schools have smaller enrollments, smaller average class sizes, and lower student/teacher ratios than public schools.

The private school analysis also shows:

  • Private high schools are four times more likely than public high schools to have a community service requirement for graduation.
  • Students in the lowest SES quartile who attended a private school in 8th grade were nearly four times more likely to earn a bachelor's degree than students from the same quartile who attended a public school.
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Fed Study Finds Significant Differences in Achievement and Expectations


October 3, 2011 -- A federal study following ninth graders through high school and into higher education and early work shows significant differences in achievement and expectations between the students in private schools and their counterparts in government schools.

Two reports by the National Center for Education Statistics examine select characteristics from the base year of the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09), a massive project tracking a cohort of roughly 20,000 ninth graders in 944 public and private schools.

The companion reports focus on the results of mathematics assessments, exposure to math and science courses, and students’ long-term educational expectations, while also offering contextual data provided by parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators.

For more on this story and others, read the October 2011 issue of CAPE Outlook. Receive Outlook free of charge each month by subscribing here.

NCES Releases Private School Report

December 12, 2005--The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) today released a comprehensive statistical analysis of the performance of private school students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from 2000 to 2005.  The report shows above-average performance of private school students in every grade, subject, and year tested.  The report also examines student scores for various racial/ethnic groups, showing that Black students, Hispanic students, and White students in private schools outperform their counterparts in public schools.

Download the report (PDF).


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Private School Scores Exceed SAT Benchmark


September 15, 2011 -- SAT scores for college-bound seniors in religious and independent schools this year were significantly higher than the national average in all three subjects tested (critical reading, mathematics, and writing), the College Board reported last month. Average national SAT scores were 497 in reading, 514 in math, and 489 in writing, while comparable scores for students in religious schools were 531, 533, and 528. Students in independent schools scored 541, 579, and 550.

Private school scores also surpassed the SAT “College and Career Readiness Benchmark,” a combined score of 1550 in the three subjects. For all college-bound seniors across the nation, the combined average SAT score was 1500, 50 points shy of the benchmark, while the average for religious school students was 1592 (42 points above the benchmark) and that for independent school students was 1670, exceeding the benchmark by 120 points.

The College Board reported that 43 percent of all students from the class of 2011 who took the SAT met or exceeded the benchmark, which represents “the level of academic preparedness associated with a high likelihood of college success and completion.” The company calls the benchmark “a very reliable tool for measuring the college and career readiness of groups of students.” It was developed after “rigorous research analyzing the SAT scores and college performance of a nationally representative student sample at more than 100 colleges and universities.” The score indicates “a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B- average or higher during the first year of college, which in turn is indicative of a high likelihood of college success and completion.”

"Students who meet the College Board’s college readiness benchmark are more likely to enroll in, succeed and graduate from college," said College Board President Gaston Caperton. "Ensuring that students are ready to attend and complete college provides them with the competitive advantage they need to successfully compete in the global economy, which is critical to the future of our nation."

Read the College Board Report (PDF) on 2011 college-bound seniors.

Private School SAT Scores Above Average

September 2010 -- If you graduated from a private high school in 2010, chances are your SAT scores were higher than the national average. According to the College Board, which publishes and scores the tests, private school students significantly outscored public school students on the writing, verbal, and math sections of the SAT. The average SAT writing score for public school students was 488, compared to 530 for students in religious schools and 560 for those in independent schools. On the critical reading section of the test, public school students had an average score of 498, religious school students 533, and independent school students 557. Math scores were 511 public, 534 religious, 583 independent. Private school students accounted for 16 percent of SAT test takers from the class of 2010.


SAT Test Scores Class of 2010
Schools Writing Reading Math
Public 488 498 511
Religious 530 533 534
Independent 560 557 583
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Achievement Gap Narrower in Religious Schools

April 6, 2007--What can be done to narrow the achievement gap? That question, in one form or another, has been challenging policy makers for decades. Grand national strategies, like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Head Start, and the No Child Left Behind Act, have been promoted by presidents and passed by Congress to help address the problem through expensive programmatic and instructional interventions. But what if the solution to the achievement gap is to be found in other domains, such as school culture, family support, or religious commitment?


Percentage Increase in Standardized Test Scores of 12th Grade Religious School Students Compared to Public School Students, After Controlling for SES and Gender
Subject Black and Latino White
Reading 4.6% 3.4%
Mathematics 4.2% 3.0%
Social Studies 5.2% 3.4%
Science 2.0% 1.2%
Total Composite 4.8% 3.8%


On April 3 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Dr. William H. Jeynes, a professor at California State University at Long Beach and a scholar with the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, released a study showing that the achievement gap between majority students and minority students, as well as between students of high- and low-socioeconomic status, is significantly narrower in religious schools than in public schools. The study also found that “when African American and Latino children who are religious and come from intact families are compared with white students, the achievement gap disappears.”

Jeynes drew much of his data from the massive National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS:88), which tracked a nationally representative sample of eighth graders through high school and beyond. NELS:88 provides data on a host of school and student variables, allowing Jeynes to look at whether schools were religiously affiliated and to examine other factors like school culture, curriculum, race relations, discipline, violence, and homework practices. The student questionnaire enabled Jeynes to isolate students who considered themselves “very religious,” those who were actively involved in religious youth groups, and those that regularly attended religious services. He also examined other variables, such as test results, socioeconomic status, race, gender, and family structure.

The NELS data showed that twelfth-grade religious school students in all SES quartiles achieved at higher levels than their counterparts in public schools, with the religious school advantage being highest for students in the lowest SES quartile. Religious school students in the bottom SES quartile had a 7.6 percent advantage in reading scores over similar public school students, while students in the highest SES quartile had a somewhat lower 5.2 percent advantage.

Looking at achievement by race, Jeynes found similar results: higher overall achievement for both minority and majority students in religious schools when compared to their counterparts in public schools, but with minority students (i.e., African American and Latino students) enjoying an even greater religious school advantage than white students. For example, before controlling for gender and SES, black and Latino students scored 8.2 percent higher than their public school counterparts in reading achievement, while white students scored 6.0 percent higher than their counterparts. But even after controlling for gender and SES (see chart), black and Latino students outscored their public school peers in reading by 4.6 percent, while white students did so by 3.4 percent.

With the achievement advantage among religious school students greater for low-SES students than high-SES students and greater for minority students than majority students, Jeynes concluded that both the SES and racial achievement gaps are narrower in religious schools than public schools.

Turning to the more complicated question of why religious schools have a narrower achievement gap, Jeynes examined factors relating to school culture, family, social capital, and religious commitment. Although the methodology did not allow a determination of the cause or causes of the higher student performance in religious schools, the study offered some interesting candidates and correlations.

Exploring the role played by school culture, Jeynes statistically examined five separate components, namely, school atmosphere, racial harmony, level of school discipline, school violence, and amount of homework done. According to the report, “The results demonstrate that religious schools outperform nonreligious schools in all of the five school trait categories and in nearly all of the individual questions that make up those categories.” The study also found that religious school students enjoyed an advantage over public school students in the three learning habits that were most strongly related to academic achievement: taking harder courses, diligence, and overall work habits.

Jeynes reviewed the research literature for clues about other possible explanations for private school achievement. Parental involvement, religiously committed parents, intact families, and caring teachers were all potential contributing factors. Jeynes also explained that religious schools encourage a religious commitment among students, which could affect achievement because of an associated religious work ethic, a stronger internal “locus of control,” and “the tendency for religious people to avoid behaviors that are typically regarded as undisciplined and harmful to educational achievement.”

In connection with what he described as one of the study’s most notable findings, Jeynes looked at what happens to the achievement gap for religiously committed students from intact families. He found what he called an “amazing” result: “The achievement gap disappears.” Put another way, “[W]hen the data are adjusted for SES and gender, black and Hispanic adolescents who are religious and from intact families do just as well academically as white students.”

Turning to the policy implications of the study, Jeynes suggested that “showing that factors as simple as religious commitment, religious schools, and family structure can reduce or eliminate the gap may inspire educators and social scientists to encourage policies that are supportive of faith and the family so that the gap can be narrowed significantly.” He argued that including private schools in school choice initiatives “conceivably could improve the overall quality of the U.S. education system,” and he suggested that public schools “can benefit by imitating some of the strengths of the religious school model.”

Jeynes concluded that “religious education is a vibrant part of the education system in the United States” and called for further study on “why students from religious schools outperform students in public schools.”

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