History of Catholic High School Honor Roll Program
The Acton Institute founded the Catholic High School Honor Roll Program in 2004. The basis for its founding is embedded within its work to build a free and virtuous society. To support that goal, the Acton Institute has been committed to expanding and deepening the educational mandate of Catholic high schools, while making sure that Catholic high school teachers have the best resources possible to teach theology and economics.
For more than a century, Catholic high schools in the United States have provided hundreds of thousands of young Americans with the best preparation available for life in the modern world. Over the past two decades however, questions have been raised concerning the quality of the learning in many Catholic schools. The most critical concerns continue to be the:
- Poor state of religious education: Prior to 2004, two-thirds of textbooks used in Catholic high school theology classes were found by U.S. bishops not to be in conformity with Catholic teaching. Without a sound religious curriculum grounded in a strong sense of Catholic identity, these schools lose their reason to exist and either become irrelevant or a secular charade of their former identity.
- Lack of quality economic education: The majority of Catholic secondary students learn about market dynamics through a theology curriculum that is often suspicious of business. Theories on social justice are often tangled with an anti-capitalism or anti-globalization perspective. This process mutes and sometimes replaces the insights of Church thinkers who for centuries have studied and written about market economics.
The capacity of Catholic high schools to educate and inspire young men and women appears to be at risk. At the very moment when they are beginning to make life-long decisions about faith, careers, and lifestyles, they are receiving mixed signals about business (“worthy vocation or necessary evil?”) and the economy (“expression of free will or arena for greed and exploitation?”). The garbled ethical messages adolescents receive in school can have a tremendous impact on their ability to maximize their talents and abilities as Catholic men and women in society.
Concerned parents currently have few tools to help them evaluate the performance and integrity of Catholic high schools in relation to similar parochial, private, and public institutions. There was an obvious need for an ongoing, independent, and rigorous assessment of Catholic high schools in the U.S.
Identifying the Best Schools
In 2004, Acton’s Dr. Kevin Schmiesing, Research Fellow, carried out an exhaustive study of Catholic high schools in the U.S. A full-time scholar for Acton’s Research Department, who had led a similar American seminary survey, Dr. Schmiesing developed a working list of the Top 50 Catholic secondary schools in the country. The primary measurement criterion was academic excellence as determined by student test scores, National Merit Scholarships, and the percentage of students going on to college. Acton’s model for the ideal school also considered such factors as the school’s commitments to Catholic identity, individual liberty, and free enterprise.
When Dr. Schmiesing’s research was presented to the Advisory Committee, it was agreed that while his devised standards were quite rigorous, there were literally dozens of schools that could potentially meet the qualifications and hundreds that could be successful if they made the effort. The Committee agreed that there should be a tool to highlight the achieving schools while encouraging the other institutions to improve their outcomes. Therefore, in 2004, the Acton Institute launched the Catholic High School Honor Roll to provide this incentive. The first Honor Roll schools were announced in 2004, then annually through 2008. Since then, the Honor Roll has been awarded biennially with the last Honor Roll named in 2010.
Catholic High School Honor Roll
The Honor Roll recognizes the top fifty schools nationwide based on the criteria of academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. The Honor Roll involves three separate surveys to be filled out by a school’s principal/headmaster, chairman of the theology department, and social studies chairman or teachers of economics.
When the surveys are compiled, the resulting list of the top 50 schools are published in print and online, and are publicized nationally. As such, they serve as an educational resource for parents, students, and donors. A school’s placement on the Honor Roll distinguishes it as one of the finest schools in the nation. Even though not placing in the top fifty, the Honor Roll recognizes schools with an Honorable Mention for their excellence in one or more of the areas examined by the survey. No school ever receives negative mention; the purpose of the Honor Roll is to recognize and encourage excellence in Catholic education.
The Honor Roll has a national impact on Catholic secondary education by inspiring school administrators and teachers, empowering parents, and informing the network of generous philanthropists that help to support these institutions. The Honor Roll is of crucial value to:
- High Schools: Principals, teachers, and board members use the Honor Roll as a benchmark that they want to hit every year. The Honor Roll allows them to differentiate themselves from other schools while focusing on the quality of their education. Schools that fail to make the Honor Roll have an incentive to improve their academics and they have a model to follow to attain their goal.
- Parents: The Honor Roll eases the decision-making process for parents of seventh- and eighth-graders. Parents Honor Roll. Parentsl Prely on it as a seal of approval that ensures the quality of the education that their child would receive. If no schools are listed in their community, parents can put pressure on the school hierarchy to improve the teaching of theology and economics in the classroom.
- Donors: Community leaders and philanthropists that support Honor Roll schools are confident that they are supporting the very best Catholic schools. If their favored school is not on the Honor Roll, they will be able to focus the administration on making the necessary changes to achieve listing on the Honor Roll.
After the 2010 – 2011 award cycle, the Acton Institute decided, based on the Institute’s Core Principles and the focus of the Institute’s current work, to transfer the CHS program to The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS). CNS’s mission is to help renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education and its work includes helping parents and students find faithful Catholic colleges through its Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, makes it a natural home for this program. CNS thus provides the Acton Institute with the confidence that the program integrity will be maintained. CNS will continue the excellent tradition that Acton Institute established with the Honor Roll program and will maintain the high standards set by the founders.
To this end, CNS welcomes Fr. Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute, as a member of the Catholic High School Honor Roll Advisory Board. This will assure a smooth continuity of the program and maintain its integrity. Father Sirico’s presence also recognizes Acton’s key role in the creation and history of the Honor Roll program, and also allowing the Acton Institute an avenue to offer conference fellowships and curriculum development opportunities to Honor Roll schools.