Catholic Schools' Week is an annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States. Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association, schools observe the week with Masses, open houses, and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members. Nationally, we begin this celebration on January 30, 2022.
In his recent bestseller, The Road to Character, author David Brooks talked about the value of character being a commitment to family, faith and community. “About once a month, I run across a person who radiates an inner light,” he writes. “These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people, and as they do so, their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all… These people have achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.”
Teaching What’s Taught At Home
These are the things parents believe they receive from a Catholic school—the same reasons the unchurched, as well as parents from many other religions, choose Catholic schools. When it comes to raising their child, many parents look at the teachers at Catholic schools as partners, trusting they are teaching the same values in school as they teach at home.
Catholic schools focus on instilling character so students make the right choices, no matter what their friends or others might say. They provide the freedom to explore aspects of the world not found in state-mandated lesson plans; they incorporate spirituality into every aspect of the curriculum; and their teachers and leaders are held to a higher standard of professionalism, morals and ethics, both in and out of the classroom.
That may sound lofty, but the results are impressive. Research at Harvard University indicates that Catholic school students have higher levels of civic engagement and knowledge, and are more politically tolerant and supportive of civil liberties. Now, scores of empirical studies have confirmed that forms of private schools—specifically Catholic schools—are more successful than their public counterparts in inculcating students with democratic values.” It’s hard to imagine a greater public good than that!
The widespread institution of “service hour” requirements in Catholic schools over the last two decades has helped to create an entire generation of generous, socially-minded adults ready to help their community.
An Academic Edge
But what about academic performance in Catholic schools? Here is where the story shocks nearly everyone.
Nearly all St. Louis-area Catholic elementary schools have some variation of preschool for three- and four-year-olds. This is not daycare—this is preschool, where children first learn “how to learn” and form positive attitudes toward school. It is also likely to be the school where they will spend the next eight or nine years, and where a cohort of young mothers will form a lasting, supportive social network. This “family” support is one of the real strengths of Catholic education.
By the time Catholic school students reach the fourth grade, they are often a grade or two ahead of their public school counterparts, with such a significant lead that other schools find it difficult to catch up. Data from the 2014 Iowa Assessments indicate that by the time these students reach eighth grade, they are achieving three to four years above grade level—a remarkable testament to the power of a Catholic school education.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Catholic school students consistently score higher on advanced achievement tests, and by eighth grade, they outscore their public school counterparts in mathematics by a full 13 points. And every year for the past two decades, Catholic school eighth-graders have outscored public schools in reading by 20 points.
Where Minority Students Thrive
The impact of Catholic education on minority students is equally remarkable. What D.E. York found in her groundbreaking study was that the more “at risk” a student was, the greater the relative improvement that occurred. She also found that minority students were far more likely to take rigorous classes, graduate on time and attend college.
The academic advantage students accrue in Catholic elementary schools is well documented, but it is high school that really starts to change their lives. In today’s world, a high school diploma is almost mandatory if an individual is going to survive, much less thrive. All over the country, nearly 100 percent of Catholic high school students graduate; for public schools, that number is 78 percent. The disparity widens even more when considering college attendance, with 84.9 percent of Catholic high school graduates attending four-year colleges, more than double the rate of public schools. This number rises to 97 percent when the criterion is “some post secondary education.”
Catholic school students do better, and the research literature is replete with reasons. William Jaynes, education professor at California State University, found that Catholic schools “have fewer behavioral problems than their counterparts, even when adjusted for socioeconomic status, race and gender.” That translates into fewer gangs, less drugs and greater racial harmony. Jaynes believes Catholic schools “have higher expectations of students and encourage them to take hard courses,” adding that they subscribe to the notion that “students are often capable of achieving more than they realize.”
God bless each of you in our Assumption parish that have consistently supported our faith through Catholic education!