America Needs a New Attitude Toward Public Education


Think tank releases new report on the contribution private schools make to the public good


October 9, 2019

WASHINGTON D.C. – America is ripe for a more inclusive definition of public education, a new report from public policy think tank Cardus finds. Based on a decade’s worth of research, Rethinking Public Education: Including All Schools that Contribute to the Public Good, argues that private schools contribute to public education in tangible and measurable ways.

“All education is public education when it contributes to the public good,” says Ray Pennings, Executive Vice President of Cardus and report co-author. “A modern, inclusive, and pluralistic public education system would take those contributions into account and include all types of school – public and private.”

Rethinking Public Education: Including All Schools that Contribute to the Public Good is based on the Cardus Education Survey (CES) – one of the most significant measures of private school outcomes as compared against public school outcomes. Pennings presented the findings in Washington D.C. during an October 8 panel discussion moderated by Anne Snyder, editor-in-chief of Comment Magazine. The key findings of the latest CES include:

  • Evangelical Protestant schools in the United States tend to produce graduates who are at least as civically engaged as their public school counterparts and are generous in charitable giving.
  • Catholic school graduates are more likely than your average American public schooler to have a greater proportion of friends of a different race and ethnicity.
  • Non-religious private school graduates are more likely than public schoolers to donate to charity and to volunteer in health care, arts and culture, and political and international causes.

“Sixteen percent of American education is delivered through schools that are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, charter, non-religious, and homeschools,” says Pennings. “Some of the most progressive countries in the world, like Finland and the Netherlands, provide some level of public funding for such private schools. America should open up to a new way of thinking about education and school funding.”

Marisa Cassagrande, a Cardus researcher, and Dr. David Sikkink, associate professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, co-authored Rethinking Public Education: Including All Schools that Contribute to the Public Good with Pennings.


Daniel Proussalidis
Cardus – Director of Communications
613-241-4500 x508


Cardus is a non-partisan think tank dedicated to clarifying and strengthening, through research and dialogue, the ways in which society's institutions can work together for the common good.

Topics: Education