This past fall, the Inner-city Scholarship Fund run by the Archdiocese of New York City—which provided tuition assistance to nearly 7,000 Catholic-school students in 2015—announced the largest-ever U.S. gift to Catholic schooling. Christine and Stephen Schwarzman gave a record $40 million to an endowment that will provide an additional 2,900 children per year with scholarships.
The Schwarzmans first started contributing money so needy children could attend Catholic schools back in 2001. Since then, says Christine, who serves as a volunteer trustee of the Inner-city Scholarship Fund, “we’ve met so many impressive young women and men who have benefited greatly from the values provided by a Catholic school education.”
She’s not the only one to notice this. Hard research on the benefits of Catholic schools shows that compared to similar students in conventional public schools, children in Catholic schools average higher levels of academic achievement, are far more likely to graduate, and also more likely to graduate from college.
Catholic schools do a particularly good job of reducing the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and middle-class children. And there is a striking pattern of “the worse, the better”: the poorer and more disadvantaged the student is, the more his or her life outcomes are improved by attending a Catholic school. (This is true of faith-based schools generally, not just Catholic schools.)
Even more striking than the academic results is the evidence on behavior and attitudes. Inner-city children who attend Catholic schools (many of whom are not Catholic but there for the discipline and love and values-based education) have been shown by research to exhibit more constructive and pro-social behavior, to be more generous and more interested in the well-being of others, to be more civically engaged when they grow up, to earn higher wages, to vote more regularly, and to be more tolerant of others.
That last finding of tolerance is interesting, and it was recently reinforced by a 2015 study from Jay Greene and Cari Bogulski, two academics at the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education. They surveyed 1,300 adults across the U.S., collecting information on the type of schools they attended and background on their childhood, and administered a series of measures developed by the Anti-Defamation League to measure anti-Semitic attitudes. The study controlled for background characteristics like race, age, religion, and parents’ education. And it found that people who attended Catholic and other Christian schools when they were young are notably less anti-Semitic.
The Greene and Bogulski finding refutes the portrayal by some organizations of religious schools as potential breeding grounds for intolerance, with public schools as the antidote. In reality, public-school attendees exhibit a good deal more intolerance than students in Catholic and other Christian schools.
Private schools that are secular also yield less tolerance, report Greene and Bogulski: “The benefit of attending private school on reducing anti-Semitism is concentrated among religiously affiliated private schools. Secular private schools are similar to secular public schools in the level of anti-Semitism among their former students. We therefore have some reason to believe that religious, mostly Christian, institutions are playing an important role in restraining anti-Semitism.”
This is something donors like the Schwarzmans figured out a long time ago. For more on the exciting openings for philanthropy in Catholic schools today, see The Philanthropy Roundtable’s new guidebook, Catholic School Renaissance: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Strengthening a National Asset.
This is an excerpt from Briefly Noted in the Winter 2016 issue of Philanthropy magazine.