ERIC Identifier: ED273718
Publication Date: 1986-08-00
Author: Ascher, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.

Black Students and Private Schooling. ERIC/CUE Trends and Issues Series, Number 4.

Like their white counterparts, black parents are increasingly sending their children to private schools in the belief that they offer a sounder education and better career development training than do public schools. Nationally, about 5 percent of all black families have children in private schools (U.S. 1980 Census), slightly less than half the proportion of white families with privately educated children. In the inner cities about 7 percent of all black students attend private schools, while white private school enrollment can be as high as 20 percent.

There is now black representation in nearly all types of private schools, from parochial to alternative to elite college preparatory. There are also "independent neighborhood schools," established and run by minorities. Frequently their curriculum has a religious or cultural focus, such as Fundamentalist Baptist or Pan Africanism, and thus the schools serve a like-minded community.

Among the integrated private schools, Catholic schools have the highest percentage of minority students, with an enrollment of 18 percent nationally, and just under 28 percent in inner city schools. Although more than half the families of black students in Catholic schools are not Catholic (Cibulka, et al., 1982; NCEA 1986), the schools offer the convenience of neighborhood location and a reputation for quality teaching and good discipline. Moreover, the tuition for these schools is significantly below that of other private schools.

In fact, 4 percent of black families living in poverty have children in private schools, only one percentage point less than the overall black family average, and the private schools these children attend are frequently Catholic. However, minority students receive a third less financial aid than they need (NAIS, 1984), though they receive it at a slightly higher rate than whites, and the amount has been decreasing over the last decade.

Black families opt for private schooling in general because they want their children to have a very directed learning experience in an integrated environment. They want their children to be well prepared for higher education and a career, and to be provided with the skills for upward mobility in a predominately white society (Slaughter & Schneider, 1986).

Families who choose a black independent school may also seek racial identity, black teacher role models, and a strengthening of the black community.

Several major studies over the last five years have shown that the standardized achievement test scores are higher than those of black public school students (Coleman, et al., 1980; Greeley, 1982; Cibulka, et al., 1982). These findings, however, do not take into account the fact that black private and public school students are not exactly comparable in socioeconomic status or educational motivation. Another factor affecting comparisons between black public and private school students is the better educational background of the families of the latter; a generally accepted principle is that the higher the education level of their parents, the higher the school achievement of the children.

The benefits of private school are also less clear when private and public school students are compared within tracks. Such a comparison reveals less difference in test scores (Alexander, 1985). On the other hand, poor black students in private schools are less likely to be assigned a vocational track than are their public school counterparts.

A four-school study of black student achievement in private schools demonstrated that the reading comprehension scores of black students increased as their families' income level increased (Slaughter & Schneider, 1986). This correlation did not hold for white students. Thus, while private schools were able to erase the effects of social class for white students, they could not do so for blacks.

The quality of education black students receive, and the facilities available to them, vary with the private school they attend. Well-endowed college preparatory schools tend to have enriched curricula, excellent libraries, good sports programs and equipment. Inner city Catholic schools, conversely, suffer from underfinancing; their classes are larger, sports facilities more limited, and buildings less well-kept. At the same time, these schools do have facilities associated with vocational programs: remedial reading and math labs, wood and office equipment shops, cooking labs, and typing labs.

Nevertheless, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA, 1986) found that the vast majority of students at these inner city schools, race and class notwithstanding, were in a college preparatory track; only 7 percent were vocational students. Nor was there evidence of tracking poor and minority students into vocational programs, as happens in public schools.

According to the NCEA report, a majority of students at inner city Catholic schools met National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) standards for graduation in English (4 years), mathematics (3 years), science (3 years), and foreign language (3 years). They did not meet the 3-year social studies requirement.

While a larger percentage of black students enriches a private school culturally, it is frequently accompanied by larger class sizes and higher pupil-teacher ratios. Further, the level of teacher training and experience, and materials available, appear to decrease as the number of black students increase.

In addition to wanting their children to have an enriched learning experience, black parents also choose private schools for their desegregated environment. Although black students in private schools have a far better chance of learning in a desegregated environment in general, in inner city private schools, the proportion of blacks to whites is rapidly increasing. A study of 99 private elementary schools in Chicago, for example, found that in 1970 17 percent were largely black, while in 1981 the proportion had grown to 35 percent (Slaughter and Schneider, 1985).

In general, the racial identity of black students who attend predominantly white private schools is not reinforced. The study of four Chicago schools, mentioned above, found an attitude of "color-blindness" in all but the Catholic school (Slaughter & Schneider, 1986). Thus, while there were few overt acts of discrimination, neither were there attempts to educate about the heritages or the responsibilities of children as members of middle income black families.

The result of such color-blind curricula is that some black students may believe that blacks are not appropriate persons to hold leadership positions or make cultural contributions through the arts and sciences.

The Catholic school in the Chicago study, on the other hand, stressed cultural identity -- even over religious identity -- thus giving black students racial pride and cultural awareness.

There are, to be sure, benefits to be gained by black students attending private school, although the kind and degree varies with the school.


Alexander, K. L. COMPARING PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOL EFFECTIVE- NESS: EVIDENCE AND ISSUES. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University, Institute for Research on Educational Finance and Governance, l985.

Cibulka, J. G., T. J. O'Brien, and S. J. Zewe. "Public and Private Schools." In INNER-CITY PRIVATE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS: A STUDY. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, l982.

Coleman, J., T. Hoffer, and S. Kilgore. PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS. Report for the National Center for Educational Statistics. Chicago, IL: National Opinion Research Center, l980. ED 197 503

Greeley, A. M. CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOLS AND MINORITY STUDENTS. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, l982.

NAIS Statistics Supplement. MINORITIES IN INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS: ENROLLMENT TRENDS AND FINANCIAL AID 1980-81 TO 1983-84. Boston, MA: National Association of Independent Schools, 1984.

NCEA (National Catholic Education Association). CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOLS: THEIR IMPACT ON LOW-INCOME STUDENTS. Washington, DC: NCEA, l986.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. A NATION AT RISK: THE IMPERATIVE FOR EDUCATIONAL REFORM. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, l983.

Slaughter, D.T., and B. Schneider. "Parental Goals and Black Student Achievement in Urban Private Elementary Schools: A Synopsis of Preliminary Research Findings." THE JOURNAL OF INTERGROUP RELATIONS 13(1) (Spring/August 1985):24-33.

Slaughter, D. T., and B. Schneider. NEWCOMERS: BLACKS IN PRIVATE SCHOOLS. (Final Report to the National Institute of Education, Grant No. NIE-G-82-0040, Project No. 20-0450). Northwestern University School of Education: l986.

U.S. Census 1980. SCHOOL ENROLLMENT FOR RELATED CHILDREN 3 TO 17 YEARS OLD BY TYPE OF SCHOOL, AGE, FAMILY INCOME IN 1979, POVERTY STATUS IN 1979, RACE AND SPANISH ORIGIN, 1980. (Table 261, PC 80-1-DI-A). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, l980.

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