When two schools meet in a basketball game, the winner is indisputable. One team outscores the other.
The same is true in certain types of academic competition. When students take standardized national tests, students from some schools outscore students from others.
In the most recent round of National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Education, the winners were indeed indisputable. Catholic schools thrashed public schools.
It wasn't close.
"In 2011," says the Department of Education in a report on the NAEP tests, "the average reading score for eighth-graders attending public schools was 19 points lower than the overall score for students attending private schools,and 20 points lower than for students attending Catholic schools specifically."
If the Catholic school in your community beat the public school in basketball by 20 points, partisans of both teams would deem it a rout. If the Catholic school beat the public school by similar margins year after year, people would wonder what was wrong with the public-school basketball program. Were the coaches incompetent? Did they not care about instilling excellence in their teams?
Well, in the Department of Education's national eighth-grade reading test, the Catholic schools not only routed the public schools by 20 points last year, they have made a habit of such routs.
In every round of NAEP reading tests over the past 20 years, Catholic-school eighth-graders have defeated public-school eighth-graders by double-digit margins. The closest the public schools ever got to the Catholic schools was 17 points -- and that was in 1992, long before today's elementary school students were even born.
The Catholic victory margins are not as great in mathematics, but the history of unbroken domination is the same.
"In 2011," says the Department of Education, "the average mathematics score for eighth-graders attending public schools was 13 points lower than the overall score for students attending private schools and 13 points lower than for students attending Catholic schools specifically."
In math, the closest the public schools ever got to beating the Catholics schools was when they lost by only 9 points -- but that was 22 years ago. Since then, the Catholic schools' victory margin in math has gradually grown.
So, what is the matter with public schools? Why can't they compete with Catholic schools in basic academic disciplines like reading and math?
One thing is certain: It isn't a lack of money.