Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Honor Roll?
The Honor Roll is a biennial list of America’s Top 50 Catholic high schools, judged on the criteria of academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. The list is published and publicized nationally, and is a resource for parents, schools, and donors. A school’s placement on the Honor Roll, or on one of the honorable mention lists, distinguishes it as one of the finest schools in the nation.
What is the Honor Roll’s Purpose?
As a constructive competition, the Honor Roll is designed to recognize and encourage excellence in Catholic education (no school receives negative mention). Catholic high schools are encouraged to educate students as effectively as possible in a way that integrates the Catholic Faith and prepares students for active engagement in the world as political, religious, and business leaders.
Having long set the benchmark for moral and academic formation, many Catholic schools now see a loss of traditional Catholic identity, a weakening of academic standards, and the support of views contrary to Church teaching. It is no surprise that schools are closing, attendance is falling, financial struggles are common, and Catholic schools are beginning to resemble public schools.
How does it work? How can a school be considered for the Honor Roll?
Schools can apply for the Honor Roll by completing three surveys during the application period every other spring (Spring 2012, 2014, etc.). All Catholic high schools in the U.S.A can apply. Catholic secondary schools (approximately 1,300) across the United States are notified of the program in early 2012 and encouraged to enroll online for the program. After enrolling, the school completes three surveys to gauge the schools’ levels of quality in the areas of academics, Catholic identity, and civic education. Honor Roll staff compile the survey data and use a complex scoring algorithm to calculate a school’s score. The criteria of academics, Catholic identity, and civic education are ranked equally, so placement on the Honor Roll requires excellence in all three areas.
The Top 50 list, along with the honorable mention lists for each category are released each Fall. No school will receive negative mention; the Honor Roll is meant to recognize and encourage excellence in Catholic education.
The Honor Roll maintains a database of all Catholic high schools in the United States. To ensure that schools are included in the annual mailing, contact us at HonorRoll@CardinalNewmanSociety.org or fill out the online update form on the CHS Updates page. Principals and headmasters receive notification of upcoming Honor Roll application periods in the spring by mail and email.
Who can apply?
All Catholic High Schools in the United States are invited to apply for the Honor Roll.
What has been the impact of the Honor Roll?
Since the Honor Roll’s inception in 2004, schools have found that the Honor Roll is a great incentive for improvement. To aid this, all applicant schools receive a detailed, comprehensive assessment offering feedback and detailing its strengths and weaknesses.
By using the power of incentives and competition, the best schools are highlighted to inspire imitation and encouragement among all schools. By examining academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education, the Catholic High School Honor Roll calls on all Catholic schools to scrutinize themselves in relation to the Church’s educational calling – and to other schools.
Schools have also found that placing on the Top 50 list is powerful publicity. Schools earning this recognition use the Honor Roll to tell the country that they excel at defying the trend. Since the program began in 2004, over 200 media stories – in major newspapers, magazines and on TV and the radio – have highlighted the fact that these schools have earned this distinction and are remaining faithful to their calling. Even more, schools use the Honor Roll to promote and strengthen themselves, all because the bar has been held high and they are proud to have risen to the occasion.
Can the public see school’s evaluations?
No. Due to the nature of the competition, we make a promise to the schools that we will keep their evaluations private.
Why do some schools appear on the Honor Roll one year and then not the next? Does this mean they declined in excellence?
No. Due to the competitive nature of the Honor Roll, there are some schools that may appear on the Top 50 list one year but not the next. Each year we develop and improve our evaluation methods to better evaluate schools in the Church’s educational calling. Also, each award cycle there are many new schools that participate, making competition even stiffer. It is not unusual to have a 20% or more turnover in schools in each competition.
However, whenever schools do not reappear on the Top 50 list, we usually hear from them with a note saying something similar to "we're working hard to improve and hope to be back on in the future." As an incentive for improvement, we have seen considerable impact and growth. A school that does not reappear on the Top 50 list has not usually done something wrong or substantially decreased in quality. Remember, the purpose of the Honor Roll is to both recognize and encourage excellence in Catholic education. It is our hope that all Catholic schools will look at the best schools and imitate them.
Why does the Honor Roll evaluate more than just Academics?
A common misconception about the Honor Roll is that it is an academic competition for Catholic schools. Academic excellence is important, but it is simply one of the three categories we measure. There are many schools with strong academic reputations that, because they are not as strong in each category, do not place on the overall top 50 list. We believe that strength in the areas of academics, Catholic identity, and civic education is a better measure of the overall quality of a Catholic school.
The best schools have strong academic preparation, vibrant Catholic identities and offer sound civic training that help prepare students to live their faith in the world.
Which school ranked #1?
We do not release the overall rankings of any applicant schools in order to keep the competition constructive. We believe that this approach helps to preserve our purpose of giving recognition to excellent schools without degenerating into an unproductive competition.
Why is my high school missing from the Honor Roll?
One of the most common questions we are asked, this is no doubt a valid question, and no matter who asks (alumni, parents, etc.), the same answer is almost always the same: the school did not apply for consideration. We know there are many fine schools throughout the country, and realize that the Honor Roll, like any similar instrument, is just one measure of a school's achievement. Each year we invite all Catholic High schools to apply, but to properly measure the three areas we examine, we depend on a school's cooperation and cannot force any school to participate.
Why do you use the method of 3 criteria?
Examining academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education provides a balanced approach that assesses a school’s adherence to the Church’s educational calling. Three criteria were chosen because these were the things parents most commonly inquire about when evaluating the quality of a Catholic secondary school. These criteria also represent the most substantial areas that Catholic schools, as Catholic, need to excel in.
The Honor Roll, like any similar instrument, is just one measure of a school's achievement. We strive to be as objective and comprehensive as possible with respect to the criteria that we examine, but we still recognize the inherent limitations of any such measurement method. The Honor Roll should only aid, but never substitute a school’s efforts to evaluate itself and constantly improve in the Church’s educational calling.
Who operates the Honor Roll?
The Acton Institute founded the Honor Roll program in 2004. As of February 1, 2012, the Catholic High School Honor Roll is a program of The Cardinal Newman Society.
How much does it cost to participate in the Honor Roll?
There is no cost or obligation attached to applying for or being named to the Honor Roll. It is a free resource for parents and schools.