(Or to keep your kids there!)
As we prepare for National Catholic Schools Week at the end of January, I have compiled a "Top Ten List" for choosing Catholic schools for our children based on my experience as a long time teacher, principal, president and headmaster of Catholic high schools--but perhaps even more importantly, from my perspective as father to 4 children raised in Catholic schools. (Where I have made smilar or related points before in my writings, I am including links, where it is likely I've discussed the issue in more depth).
10. Academics—Extensive research from 1965 to 1991 indicates that students from Catholic schools scored higher on virtually all outcome measurements than students from public schools, even when relevant demographic characteristics of the students were controlled, such as educational level of parents and family income (cf. “Catholic Schools Make a Difference: Twenty-five Years of Research”, NCEA, 1992)
9. Positive Effects on Minorities—The difference in outcomes are even more pronounced for minority students attending Catholic schools compared to private schools, according to Dr. William Sander, an economics professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois in his book, Catholic Schools: Private and Social Effects (Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, November 2000). “African-Americans and Hispanics have gained the most from Catholic schooling," wrote Sander. "They have substantially higher levels of educational attainment and academic achievement when they attended Catholic schools."
8. The Principle of Subsidiarity—A basic tenet of Catholic social teaching is that matters ought to be handled at the lowest level possible. Thus dioceses delegate tremendous authority and responsibility to local principals and school boards, allowing them to establish policies and procedures which work on the local level. This, in turn, gives the school community a real sense of ownership for the school, with the ability to affect change where change is needed. This organizational principle also allows Catholic schools to keep costs down, as more monies go directly into instruction when compared to systems with a large central office bureaucracies (in a 1987 study, New York City Schools employed 6,000 central office workers, compared to a the Catholic diocesan school staff of 36, despite the fact Catholic schools served only ¼ less students).
7. Combating Religious Amnesia—We live in a world that has grown immune to a sense of wonder and God’s active presence in our lives. Catholic schools help children (and their parents!) develop a sacramental world view in which God’s love and guidance is both interpreted and invoked for the routine events of our lives. “Let us remember that we are in the presence of God” is not just an opening from a monk or an nun, but serves as the context for all Catholic schooling.
6. Catholic Religious Identity—Through common songs, prayers and liturgical practices learned in Catholic schools, students become united in a common vocabulary, memory and tradition that binds them to a community life.
5. Understanding our Intellectual Tradition—Beyond the common prayers, songs and vocabulary, students in Catholic high schools are given a glimpse into an impressive intellectual tradition as shaped by some of the greatest minds of our Western heritage. They begin to see Catholic theology as a whole cloth, rather than as a series of fragmented teachings or series of isolated propositions.
4. Service to Others— The more affluent we become, the less inclined we are to empathize with the needs of the less fortunate. Catholic schools give students myriad opportunities for service, helping students live out the gospel enjoinder that “Whatsoever you do to the least of them, you do unto me”.
2. Credible Christian Role Models—There are no doubt many teachers in public and private schools who are serious, authentic Christians. The problem is, they are not often able to make their faith explicit to their kids, nor show the direct connection between their faith, what they do and why. When teenage boys watch their coaches worship with them at school Masses, they sense that being Christian isn’t just a feminine thing (always their suspicion) in a way that trumps all preaching.
2. Development of a Catholic World View—No matter how well structured or how well taught a parish’s CCD program is, no matter how committed the teacher, for their students, the practice of the Catholic faith is still a “Sunday thing”, not integrated into their daily lives each day. By contrast, prayer and opportunities for worship should become so commonplace in Catholic schools (morning announcements, before games, before class, before tests, during weekly masses, etc.) that it becomes almost an “ordinary” thing—almost un-noticed by students, like breathing, with long lasting effect.
1. An Integrated Family Life--Catholic schools offer their families the chance for an integrated life—where school, the practice of faith, the extra-curricular life of our children, who their friends are, who OUR friends are, and the experiences we share together, can all become part of a whole, and not remain distinct, disconnected fragments that we must juggle. Given the centrifugal forces confronting our families, this integration is perhaps the greatest blessing of Catholic schools.