Giving Compass' Take:

• Middle school attendance for Catholic and private schools has decreased in recent years. A phenomenon that stands out are disparities in the wealth of families sending their children to private schools. 

• What are some underlying reasons for sending middle schoolers to religious vs non-religious schools? 

• Read about how urban Catholic schools are on the decline.

The complexion of America’s private school sector has undergone massive changes over the past half-century, driven mostly by a decline in Catholic school enrollment, according to a major new report published in the journal Education Next. The authors find that middle-class families, in particular, have been leaning away from private schools for several decades.

Written by renowned researchers Sean Reardon of Stanford and Richard Murnane of Harvard, the report uses census data, longitudinal studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, and family surveys to create a picture of trends in private elementary school enrollment since the 1960s.

Overall, attendance in both religious and nonreligious private elementary schools has fallen from a peak of 15 percent of the total K-8 population in 1958 to just under 9 percent in 2015.

That shrinkage has occurred at different rates among different student populations and regions of the country, but one phenomenon has stood out: A form of income segregation is influencing the demographics of the private sector. More affluent families, especially in the South, are increasingly sending their children to non-religious private schools, while their low- and middle-income peers are more likely to choose some form of parochial education.

During a long period of stagnation for middle- and working-class wages, that was a recipe for polarization by income. The authors make frequent reference to the “90-50 gap” — the disparity in private school attendance between families at the 90th percentile of income and those at the 50th percentile.

Read the full article about Catholic schools by Kevin Mahnken at The 74