New study finds private schooling boosts civic outcomes

Students who attend private schools have, on average, better civic outcomes than students who attend public schools, according to a new statistical meta-analysis published in the journal Educational Psychology Review. “While civic values can be inculcated in various settings, schools are a cornerstone of civic education in America.”

University of Buckingham professor Danish Shakeel and University of Arkansas professor Patrick Wolf, along with three University of Arkansas graduate students, identified the average association between private schooling and four central civic outcomes: political tolerance, political participation, civic knowledge and skills, and voluntarism and social capital.

“The evidence is especially strong that private schooling is correlated with higher levels of political tolerance and political knowledge and skills,” write the researchers. “Religious private schooling is strongly associated with positive civic outcomes. Claims that private schooling imperils democracy are inconsistent with this empirical evidence.”

The analysis broke down both pro-public school and pro-private school theories and arguments regarding the performance of their preferred school type in promoting civic outcomes, concluding that the “data do not support the theoretical concerns of harmful civic effects from private schooling.”

Even for the outcome of political tolerance, “which, arguably, is the toughest test for religious schooling effects on civics, our analysis suggests that the average effect of religious schooling is, at worst, null,” note the researchers.

“Educational pluralism seems to be a boon, and not a bane, for civic outcomes.”

With the expansion of private school-choice programs across the country, which include both secular and religious schools, “this study is particularly timely,” writes Kerry McDonald with the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). “Learners are sure to benefit from more alternatives to the standard schooling status quo. This week’s new research suggests that our society will as well.”


The meta-analysis tested the proposition that private schooling is positively associated with civic outcomes against 57 qualified studies representing 40 different databases. The private school sectors represented by the studies varied in religious identity — from Catholic schools, Protestant schools, and Islamic schools to secular schools. Using Robust Variance Estimation, the researchers determined “that, on average, private schooling boosts any civic outcome by 0.055 standard deviations over public schooling.”