The 2018 Cardus Education Survey (CES) marks nearly a decade’s worth of research into the effects of various school sectors on the academic, social, religious, and civic development of graduates in the United States. The Survey is now considered one of the most significant measures of nongovernment school outcomes. Cardus Education Survey reports capture the views from a representative sample of 1,500 randomly selected American high school graduates ages twenty-four to thirty-nine who were asked to complete a thirty-five- to forty-five-minute survey. The assessment comes at an important time—far enough away for these graduates to have had experiences in other educational institutions, in family and relationships, and in the workplace, and yet close enough to allow for some maturity, reflection, and recollection. The CES instrument includes a large number of controls for many factors in graduate development, such as parental education, religion, and income, in order to isolate a school sector’s particular impact (“the schooling effect”).1 Five smaller reports summarize the results of the 2018 survey.
They focus on particular outcomes and themes of interest, including the following: (1) education and career pathways; (2) faith and spirituality; (3) civic, political, and community involvement and engagement; (4) social ties and relationships; and (5) perceptions of high school.
One of the important contributions of the 2018 CES is to report on how graduates think about their experiences in high school, including an assessment of their high school’s quality and climate, the relationships they formed there, and how well they felt prepared for key dimensions of adulthood, including university, career, and personal relationships. Parents and graduates seem especially interested in understanding how graduates perceive their high school years, reflecting perhaps the concern with deeper aspects of happiness and well-being as an equally important dimension to academics of the high school years. These are often difficult and complicated years in the life of the student, sparking deep interest by parents and education researchers alike to better understand the connections between school culture and the wellbeing of students. For these reasons, the following measures of graduate perceptions form an important public barometer for the influence of the different school sectors.
Perceptions of High School
We begin with an overall assessment of the graduates’ experiences in high school. We have seen in every CES report that graduates of private school sectors consistently rank their high school experience more highly than do graduates of the public sector, based on a question that asks respondents to place how they felt about their “high school experience in general” on an elevenpoint scale, from very favourable to very unfavourable. The non-religious private school sector is about a full point higher on this measure—representing a large effect. Catholic and Protestant school graduates report a similarly high evaluation of their high school experiences. When we analyze the data to understand the percentage of students in each sector who rate their school as greater than the median score of eight on this measure, about forty-four percent of public school graduates are above this median, while sixty-four percent of non-religious private school graduates and roughly fifty-four percent of religious school graduates rate their high school experience very highly. While lower on this scale than Catholic and Protestant school graduates, the religious homeschool graduates provide a more positive general assessment of their high school experience than do public school graduates. Unlike most other measures included in the 2018 CES, each of the religious school sectors as well as the non-religious private school sector expressed higher views on this measure than do public school graduates. The 2018 CES survey also asks graduates whether they enjoyed their high school. Here again, while the sector differences are somewhat muted, still the private school sectors are significantly higher on this outcome relative to public school graduates. Religious homeschool graduates express equal levels of enjoyment to public school graduates.
When asked whether graduates were proud to have graduated from their high school, perhaps surprisingly, non-religious private school graduates expressed the same level of pride in their high school as did public school graduates. Catholic school graduates were on average prouder of their school than were public school graduates. Protestant school graduates’ level of pride varies considerably, but they remain on average higher on this measure than do public school graduates.
Graduates were asked to offer perceptions of their high school’s general quality of education. On this measure, private school graduates generally believe they received a higher quality of education relative to public school graduates. The sectoral differences on these measures are very strong, with non-religious private and Catholic school graduate estimates being over half a standard deviation on this measure. The average public school graduate (after controls for family background) is at about a 7.9 on this eleven point scale, while the average private school graduate is at nine or higher. If we consider the percentage in each sector that reports the highest score or second highest score (ten or eleven) on the quality of education in their school, we find that about twenty-nine percent of public school graduates (after accounting for family background) give their school the highest marks on this measure. In contrast, sixty-two percent of nonreligious private school graduates and fifty-seven percent of Catholic school graduates give their school the highest score. The Protestant school graduates are somewhat lower, at forty-five percent, but are still well above the public school graduates on this assessment of school quality. Interestingly, while previous Cardus Education Surveys of homeschool graduates found that they were mixed in their assessment of academic quality, 2018 findings reveal positive assessments by homeschool graduates of the academic quality of their education relative to public school graduates.