What Traits Do Past Honor Roll Schools Share?
The Honor Roll's research over the past six years has resulted in many interesting pieces of information concerning the nature and condition of Catholic secondary education. It is apparent that the best Catholic schools share several key traits in common:
- Maintaining strong Catholic identity: The best schools are unapologetically Catholic, which aligns them with the mission of Catholic education overall. Without a sound religious education program grounded in a strong and accurate grasp of the Catholic Faith as articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the reason for being a Catholic High School disappears.
- Clearly articulated mission and vision statements: Part of having a strong Catholic identity, the best schools know their purpose and have a very clear articulation of goals, focus, and direction.
- Localized responsibility: Schools that are responsible for themselves tend to be more productive and can make necessary changes more quickly. Bureaucracy and a lack of clearly defined responsibilities are road blocks to productivity.
- Wise personnel practices: Schools that are able to retain good teachers and dismiss detrimental staff members can operate more easily and efficiently.
- Using teaching philosophy proven to be most successful: Catholic education in the past century and a half provides a successful framework for educating and forming students in the Catholic faith. Note that this point concerns philosophy and not pedagogical technique.
- Active sacramental life and culture: It goes without saying that Catholic schools working to incorporate the Catholic faith into its daily way of life will include Catholic practice, prayer, and tradition. This is more than a mere edifice of Catholic cultural practices, but includes the richness of the full truth about God and humanity as revealed by Jesus Christ in His Catholic Church.
- Sound college preparation: Preparing students for vocations in the world necessitates sound academic preparation and the skills to graduate up the academic hierarchy. It is of its great importance for Catholics to be involved in every facet of our culture, both to provide examples of holiness and to bring the truth taught by the Catholic Church to bear on one's area of civic, professional, scientific or social expertise.
- Cross departmental integration of Church teaching: In a Catholic school, the faith should permeate all that a school does, not just its religion classes. The best schools demonstrate this integration.
- Balanced Excellence: The best schools offer more than the strong academic preparation Catholic education is known for. Rather, the best schools also have vibrant Catholic identities and offer sound civic training that help prepare students to live their faith in the world. Examining academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education provides a balanced approach that assesses a school's adherence to the Church's educational calling. These three criteria were chosen because they are 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.
Of all the schools that applied for the 2012 Honor Roll, the average percentage of Catholic students was 85.1%. This indicates that there are still a large number of non-Catholic families that are willing to spend tuition on a Catholic education for their children. There are two main reasons for this.
The first is that Catholic schools on the whole still provide the strong academic formation they have long been famous for. Discipline problems are not usually tolerated, creating an environment more conducive to learning.
Second, Catholic schools provide a moral environment that fosters moral formation, virtue, leadership, self-respect, friendship, and recognition of the dignity of the human person. This context is one that any parent desires, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.
These points are no doubt true of Honor Roll schools. These schools enroll and accept non-Catholic students, treating them with the same respect and dignity as the Catholic students. Parents of non-Catholic students know what to expect when sending their children to these schools.
It is no secret that many Catholic schools are experiencing 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 in some places schools are closing, attendance is falling, financial struggles are common, and Catholic schools are beginning to resemble public schools.
The question that naturally arises is “what can concerned people do to enact serious improvement?” The Honor Roll hopes to contribute to a reversal of these trends, and despite the many challenges in Catholic secondary education, those schools that face these struggles with excellence and integrity deserve to be recognized.
Parents today still want their children to receive outstanding moral and religious formation so as to provide them with the foundation needed to excel in all aspects of life. Recently, a renewed focus and emphasis on quality Catholic education has been manifested in the opening of many new schools and in the founding of numerous organizations that address and support Catholic education.
As one of those initiatives, the Honor Roll provides parents a useful tool for making informed choices about their children’s education. Until now, parents had few tools with which to compare the performance of Catholic high schools to other schools. How Catholic high schools rate on academic performance and whether they have been able to resist the general decline in educational standards that has occurred in the public school system are questions that were difficult to answer before.
Comparing Catholic schools to public schools generates a lopsided result. While many studies claim to see no large differences between the two, it is clear that Catholic schools excel in numerous areas.
For one, Catholic schools cost less. While most Catholic high schools keep tuition between $5,000 and $10,000 before tuition assistance, public schools often average spending over $15,000 per student each year. Catholic schools provide a great service to society by educating its students. Many outside of Catholic education even ask how Catholic schools can do so much with so little.
Catholic schools also provide well what is most important: faith. This is the prime factor that separates the two school systems, and is the driving force behind the very existence of Catholic schools to begin with. Faith is the reason parents choose to spend thousands of dollars each year on education when they could send their children to public schools without cost. The religious and moral formation is priceless.