He calls it the Catholic effect; that when you screen out the family differences that can give some schools an edge — which parents have more education, how long they have lived in Canada — Ontario’s Catholic schools still come out on top.

Economics professor David Johnson, whose fancy demographic formula compares the test scores of Ontario schools in a more socially sensitive way than just ranking raw results, says his latest report spotlights this mysterious Catholic advantage.

“Of 11 schools in Ontario that performed better than all others in both Grade 3 and Grade 6 in their socio-economic range, 10 of them are Catholic — yet it’s a much smaller school system,” marvelled Johnson, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and author of the latest C.D. Howe report called Ontario’s Best Public Schools.

“It may be these schools are more motivated because of their spiritual focus, or it could be that Catholic families have a choice as to whether to send their kids to a separate or public school, so that puts pressure on Catholic schools to do better.”

Of three GTA regions Johnson studied after he finished his survey — York, Toronto and Peel — the Catholic school board in each case had a higher portion of schools outscoring their demographic peers across the province. Johnson made headlines last year with a deliberate comparison of Catholic and public schools that concluded Catholic schools do better. This latest report, released yesterday, has a broader focus.

Beate Planche, York Region school board’s superintendent of curriculum, warns against ranking schools.

“Good schools, to parents, are those where their kids are doing well, feel safe and belong, and if the school is accessible to them,” she said. “Rankings are one slice, and schools are far more complex than one slice.”

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