Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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Catholic Schools

    "We believe that ... the academic curriculum
    should be based on high standards"

    -- United States Catholic Conference,
    "Principles for Educational Reform
    in the United States"

    Looking for a more "traditional" school program? Considering transferring your children from a public school to a Catholic school?

    The reality of Catholic schools today is neither that simple nor that assured.

Catholic Schools in Illinois


    Catholic schools do tend to have several advantages:

  • Religious, moral and character goals:
    Such ideals are built into the educational program rather than layered on top of it, of paramount importance to many parents.

  • Site-based management:
    Catholic schools have a substantial degree of autonomy when it comes to day-to-day operations (especially as compared to public schools which labor under a bewildering maze of district and state bureaucracies and regulations). That freedom does come with a cost: As Peter Laurier of the Catholic School Blogger writes,
    I think one of the most stressful jobs in education is that of principal in a Catholic school, because in addition to overseeing the educational environment at the school, he/she must be buildings and grounds manager, head of fundraising, chief financial officer, head of recruiting and development, the whole enchilada. The better (and larger) schools have committees, boards, and parent organizations to take on a lot of the above, but everything still comes to the principal's desk for approval, and if anything goes wrong, the principal's the one who answers for it. The position is akin to that of a rural school superintendent who also acts as principal of the tiny elementary/middle/high school in his district...but with a larger population to deal with. I'd never take it on in a million years, and am amazed at the dedication and energy of those who do it successfully.
  • Lack of bureaucracy:
    Since most decisions are made locally, with minimal staffing, Catholic schools are generably able to make quick decisions, for example, when a promising teacher candidate becomes available.

  • Staff commitment: It's not unusual for the administration and teachers of a Catholic school to show unusual commitment to the goals and practices of the school, staying for years or for whole careers despite a salaries often lower than offered in government schools.


    But the schools of the Chicago Archdiocese have some limitations and disadvantages as well:

  • Secrecy:
    • Getting information about public school districts can be challenging and contentious. But that may be a piece of cake compared to uncovering any level of detail about academics in Catholic schools. Just try to obtain the official Science Curriculum Framework of the Archdiocese of Chicago, or the detailed version of their new "Genesis" plan, and you'll see what we mean.
    • Unlike the public schools, there is no Freedom of Information Act to help, either.

  • Progressivist teaching methods:
    The Catholic Archdiocese in Chicago actively promotes (via conferences, newsletters, in-service programs and its own "standards") most of the same educational fads infecting public schools. Yes, this is utterly contrary to the expectation that many people have about Catholic schools.

    "... that's a difference over time, where classrooms were more teacher-centered, now they're really learner-centered and so we've tried to provide the kind of professional development, both to the principals as well as to the teachers with system-wide professional development days for teachers in different sites throughout the Archdiocese so that they would have opportunities to have that ability to see what are some of the ways that we want to change instructional practice to really make sure it's really student-centered ..."

    Source: Marty Frauenheim, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Archdiocese of Chicago, interviewed on radio program Catholic Schools Today, May 14, 2007

    "The learning process is [now] much more student-centered than teacher-centered.'"

    Source: Marty Frauenheim, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Archdiocese of Chicago, interviewed in the Catholic New World, September 3, 2006

    As yet another example, here is an excerpt from a "vision statement" from the Chicago Archdiocese's Office of Catholic Schools, which proclaims a belief in progressivist "student-centered" methods:

    "Teachers will design programs that challenge students to think reflectively and critically while recognizing their own unique talents and gifts. The schools will be student-centered learning communities where all feel welcome and where the excitement of learning is dominant and pervasive."

    Source: "Catholic Schools: Renewing Faith in Education," CD prepared by Office of Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Chicago, 1999

    This frightening development is typical around the country as well! Dr. Louis Chandler (click here) studied 336 public and Catholic schools in Ohio. He concluded that, on average, today's Catholic schools were more progressivist and less traditional than the public schools.

    Peter Laurier of the Catholic School Blogger wrote to us to agree,

    Sadly, you're right on target in pointing out the susceptibility of diocesan school systems to progressivist fads. Superintendents and principals look to modernize the "old-fashioned" curricula in Catholic schools to attract upper middle class parents who want to see computers in every classroom, brand new textbooks, and the like -- and forget that it was the traditional model of education (teacher, chalkboard, desks in rows, and hard work) that brought us the academic success we've enjoyed in the first instance. One diocese here in New England, in rewriting its math curriculum, called the local state college's education department to consult with the curriculum committee, and produced a document rife with constructivist assumptions and emphases on "critical thinking" and "number sense" that the NCTM (shudder) would have been proud of. Not having read up at all on the math wars or national education issues, the superintendent just went along with what the "experts" told him, and the schools' standards are suffering.
    The Archdiocese "School Improvement Process" (SIP) also prefers that a school conform to progressivist standards (such as its new math standard) rather than to respond to what its parents demand and its marketplace indicates.

  • Shadowy centralized curriculum standards:
    The central schools office of the Chicago Archdiocese clearly has the intention of forcing progressivist changes and making the academic programs in Catholic schools much more like those in dismal public school neighbors. In November 2004, curriculum head Barbara O'Block talked about "implementation of the new math, science, health and religion curricula" and in February 2005, superintendent Nicholas Wolsonovich said, "our new science, health and catechesis curriculums will be introduced in March of this year. Within three years, all curricula will be completely revised and introduced in our schools." An article in the New World in September 2006 reported, "[OCS] will implement newly developed curricula in language arts, fine arts and social studies in 2006 and 2007. New mathematics, science and health curricula were introduced in 2005."

    But just try to find out about any of this! At least with the public schools you can file FOIA requests to try to sleuth out what the progressivists are scheming to do to your school. In the Chicago area Catholic schools, just drop your kid at the door and pray!

  • Progressivist assessment:
    The Chicago Archdiocese mandates that its schools administer the Terra Nova test.

  • Policies encourage conformity rather than marketplace solutions:
    The freedom that individual schools have in "site-based" decisions such as teacher hiring, schedules, and so on, does not extend to major changes in direction. For example, the Chicago Archdiocese mandates that "Principal applicants must be approved by the Office of Catholic Schools to seek an administrative position in the schools of the Archdiocese of Chicago" and further that "All new and transfer principals, lay and religious, must have prior approval of the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools before applying for the position of principal in a local school." Since the central office is dominated by progressivists, this limits the ability of individual schools in crafting a unique educational program. The "School Improvement Process" (SIP) evaluates schools by their conformance to a standardizes checklist, and gives no credit for a school carving out a distinct mission responsive to its market. If the central office embraced high academics and research-based methods, or at least if it welcomed a flourishing variety of education options, that would not be so bad. But instead the result is that it's not unusual to find an area with 12 public schools and 4 Catholic schools, all embracing the same progressivist theories.

  • Chicago Public Schools Embrace School Choices, Archdiocese Does Not:
    The Chicago Public Schools is plowing ahead on opening new charter schools, offering all kinds of educational options to parents and their children, all part of their ambitious Renaissance 2010 campaign. There are Core Knowledge schools, arts-oriented schools, science and technology schools, highly progressivist schools, and many others.

    But the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools has done nothing to respond to this looming competitive threat. Instead of encouraging its schools to seek innovative directions responding to parents, OCS instead seeks greater similarity among schools through issuance of its own set of curriculum standards, by demanding Terra Nova testing and by encouraging a cookie-cutter approach to teaching in its workshops and materials on teacher training and development.

  • Lack of accountability on academic policy:
    Autonomy and site-based management are great if you have competent school leaders. But priests seldom get any serious training for the role they often wind up in as a de facto chairman of the parish school, and few parish school boards have any real authority or oversight. As a result, it is far too common for curriculum decisions and oversight of principals to be based on weak criteria and "suggestions" from the diocese.

    A look at the Leadership Manual For Board Members of the Chicago Archdiocese raises more warning signs:

    • There is only one mention of "curriculum" in the entire 28-page document, and that is example of how the board may have as a goal that it should have itself trained in a progressivist fad:
         "Awareness of the importance of new trends in Catholic education -- Members will read and discuss an article about curriculum integration."

    • There are no references at all to "academics" or any related word

    • The manual repeatedly stresses how a school board in the Chicago system is strictly advisory in nature.

    • A section on "Areas Of Responsibility: Board Members" conspicuously omits any authority, participation, advisory role -- or even a right to be informed! -- on anything having to do with academic content or teaching methods.

    • In fact, the Manual explicitly says,
          "Boards are not responsible for: ... Administering the school or telling the principal how to administer the school; Implementing policies and procedures." (Italics in the original!)

    • Even more ominously, even the parish pastor is excluded from any authority regarding curriculum or teaching policy or decisions, with the exception of hiring the school principal "after consultation with the board and according to Archdiocesan procedures."

    • The school principal is given stunning sole authority over curriculum. According to the Manual, the principal's "responsibilities include ... Implementing policies and procedures [and] Providing educational direction to the board."

  • Political Indoctrination:
    Your Catholic school teachers and administrators are forced to attend politically-charged groupthink sessions as a condition of employment. According to a publication of the Office of Catholic Schools, "New employees of archdiocesan agencies and schools required to take the training as part of requirements for employment in the Archdiocese of Chicago." Run by the notably left-wing "Office for Racial Justice", the Archdiocese says the "training [sic] is designed to understand the pervasive nature of institutional racism" and that this "training [sic] will help participants arrive at understandings of racism, as it exists in societal groups and institutions including the church and the school."

  • Salary Ceilings:
    The Chicago Catholic Archdiocese fixes the same low salary scale for all teachers, meaning that parishes that could afford higher salaries in order to attract better teachers are prevented from doing so. There are serious consequences:

    • The low pay scale makes it extremely difficult to attract and retain good teachers
    • There is no incentive for a teacher to stay in the Catholic system in hopes of climbing the ladder to better-paying positions (as there is in the public system).
    • It is not unusual for an inexperienced novice teacher to use a Catholic school as a first job, then (after gaining experience) leaving for a better-paying government school position.
    • Weaker teachers who fail to find higher paying jobs in public schools may wind up staying in their Catholic schools.

  • Government certification:
    Although private schools are under no legal requirement to hire only teachers with government certification, the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese requires this anyway.

    • This means that Catholic school teachers have been subjected to the same ed school mills as public school teachers, and consequently have been subjected to promotion of the same damaging educational fads.
    • The Archdiocesan mandate also means that a school cannot hire a career-switching professional with excellent content knowledge and degrees and terrific teaching ability if that dubious sheet of paper is missing.

  • A not atypical example:
    A local Catholic school's webpage on academics
    Reduced focus on curriculum:
    Brochures for Catholic schools overwhelmingly emphasize the moral, character and religious nature of their programs. That's just fine, of course, but care needs to be taken so that academics doesn't become a forgotten stepchild.

    It is rare to find a Catholic school that claims any specific academic advantages or alternative academic approaches compared to its neighboring public schools. In fact, it's routine to encounter Catholic school websites that have almost no information at all about their academic programs.

    Of course, such lack of attention does not mean that the actual classroom product is inferior. However, the lack of a marketing mindset (contrasted with the stress on academics that parents want) can yield an inability to respond to marketplace opportunities (surrounding public schools that lack an option for strong academics) or marketplace crises (enrollment declines).

  • Difficulty in making comparisons:
    Unlike public schools, whose state test results are readily available online, getting results to find superior Catholic schools is much more difficult. A September 2, 2003 story in the Chicago Sun-Times, "Catholic school test scores are hard to get," reports: "...if you're hoping to compare test scores among Catholic schools, good luck. It won't be easy. ... the Archdiocese of Chicago stands firm on its decision not to publish a list of individual school scores. And while it encourages principals to make scores available to parents, getting them is another matter. ... [One parents said,] 'If they want to keep their enrollment up, they have to be competitive. ... Having the test scores is one way to grade the institution. And when it's difficult to get that information, it's difficult to make a decision.' ... Some Chicago principals acknowledge they may be missing out on a promising marketing tool in a time of dwindling enrollment..."

  • Toothless enforcement: The Archdiocese "School Improvement Process" (SIP) makes many demands upon the schools that it visits. There is no question that it helps to ensure a basic level of quality thoroughout the system. However, it remains essentially toothless when it comes to administrative questions. It is not at all clear that a poor SIP evaluation does anything to help remove a poor principal or pastor. Conversely, a good SIP evaluation does not protect a school from subsequent closure, and this has in fact happened in recent years.

School Closings

    In twenty years the Archdiocese has closed an astonishing 148 schools
    If Walgreens or Jewel were closing stores the way the Archdiocese of Chicago is closing schools, business analysts might conclude they were intending to pull out of the market altogether.

    In just twenty years, from 1984 to 2004, the Archdiocese has closed an astonishing 148 schools, with 10 more closed through consolidation. For a detailed listing, see this revealing report written by the Archdiocese: Closed School History: 1984 - 2004.

    By any conceivable measure, this is appalling. Even more appalling is that so many of these school properties have been picked up by new charter schools or even by other private schools, yet the Archdiocese has no formal program to work for school choice. This is despite the facts that the Archdiocese continues to give grants to a wide variety of organizations, many of which have nothing to do with religion and many of which are non-Catholic. This cash giveaway continues even though some of these groups are actively opposed to child-centered funding, vouchers or tax credits!

    There is also good reason to be concerned about the Archdiocese's system for evaluating potential school closures: . The current process for determining which schools will close each year is hamstrung by blind faith in pastors and administrators reporting on their own adequacy, and a surprising lack of data on the causes of changes in enrollments levels. Too often, rapid declines in enrollment (as opposed to long downward trends) seem to suggest parental dissatisfaction rather than supposed "demographic" changes blamed by the Archdiocese.

Catholic Schools and Educational Philosophy

    Many people tend to think of Catholic schools as offering a more "traditional" or academic or teacher-centered program than most public schools. Unfortunately, this can no longer be relied upon.

    As an example, let's look at the actual "statement of philosophy" from the Northside Catholic Academy in Chicago. Unfortunately, this kind of statement is far more typical of schools than it is unusual:


    Northside Catholic Academy is a regional Catholic school in a multicultural city environment where people learn and care for each other. The Northside Catholic Academy community facilitates spiritual and academic development in preparing the whole child to reach his/her potential as a life-long learner, contributing to a diverse community as a responsible citizen. ...

    The curriculum provides a framework for developmental and integrated learning while recognizing progress and measuring achievement. It offers a variety of learning opportunities related to life experiences. Diverse teaching strategies and variety of resources address the learning styles of each student.

    The teacher is a facilitator and role model who fosters growth and self-esteem by acting as listener, motivator, encourager, and professional educator. ...

    This jargon-laden rambling is indistinguishable from that of the fuzzy progressivist rhetoric commonplace at many public schools. This babble above manages to incorporate

    • salutes to "whole child" and "life-long learner" meaninglessness,
    • an ambiguous but wordy reference to a curriculum without making any promises that a child may actually learn any specific content,
    • the threat of Multiple Intelligences circuses, and
    • the diminished progressivist role of a teacher as merely a "guide on the side."

    One wonders if parents simply glaze over when reading this kind of stuff, lost in a fog of hope that this Catholic school experience would have any resemblance to the substance of their own school days. If parents are hoping for structure, substance and clear benchmarks of achievement, when they read something like the above do they ever notice that this statement of "philosophy" never promises any of that? And yet this statement is fairly typical of many Catholic schools.

    Let's take a look at another example. This one is from Our Lady of Ransom in Niles, a school that was closed by the Archdiocese in 2004. In reading this we begin to understand a part of why it failed. The "School Philosophy" starts off with four long paragraphs emphasizing its religious and Catholic core. After that, it gets around to talking about what it actually intends to do in academics:

    School Philosophy


    We believe learning is a growth process; therefore, the faculty strives to provide and maintain a healthy environment which stimulates the pursuit of academic excellence. Because children are encouraged to measure standards with an upright conscience, the curriculum is build around Christian values, which encourage an inquiring mind and stimulating self-discipline.

    We believe learning is a life-long experience; therefore, our educational programs will be designed and tailored to meet the needs and interests of individuals and to value each child as a whole person, so that each may continue to discover, develop and reach maximum growth. The technique and methods of teaching strive to make learning meaningful, challenging and progressive.

    We believe that a variety of multi-media should be available to enhance the educational program; therefore, these materials and equipment are accessible to each classroom. The school library, computer lab, learning resource room and tutoring program are available to enrich and supplement the school's curriculum.

    Puzzling, isn't it? It's amazing that parents can glance at something like this and somehow conclude that it is an adequate statement for how their children's school should be run!

    The first paragraph says essentially nothing. Looked at literally, we might conclude that a child is pretty much on his/her own, so good luck. This theme is continued in the second paragraph where we get a more explicit pledge to progressivist education theory: we're pretty much told outright that no one will be expected to learn anything specific, instead, the whole shebang is supposedly "tailored to meet the needs and interests of individuals". Finally, there is a paragraph about all the fashionable whiz-bang stuff. In moderation, that's fine and even good. But isn't it funny how this topic deserves a whole paragraph, yet nothing in the "philosophy" ever mentions teachers?

    Here's one more, from St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette:

    School Philosophy


    We believe that learning is an ongoing process in which both the student and the teacher participate. The teacher facilitates learning by identifying the students' learning styles, interests, and personal experiences.

    Hmmmm. Most parents expect the teacher to facilitate learning by teaching.

    Go ahead, look at the websites for other Catholic schools. It's very rare to encounter one that doesn't sound like these. The vast majority simply mouth progressivist platitudes and fuzzy goals. Seldom are parents promised that their children will be held to specific high standards, or that they will be taught using effective content-centered methods.

    In many Catholic schools (actually, for many schools in general) we observe a curriculum statement that is impossibly terse and unhelpful. St. Francis Xavier School in LaGrange, typical of this approach, sums up their entire academic program on their website with this:

    "Our curriculum, at grade appropriate levels, includes the teaching of: religion/family life reading, mathematics, language arts, social studies, science, physical education, drug/alcohol education, art, music, computer, library science, and an enrichment program."
    Or take this, from Faith Hope and Charity school in Winnetka, that apparently wants to be all things to all people. So what is it, traditional and structured, or is it progressive and aligned with our fuzzy state standards? It's anyone's guess!

    (Oops, scratch that: that school's newest brochure describes itself as "Progressive education aligned with Illinois State standards". That is, they dropped the offensive words "traditional", "structured" and "Catholic". Parents, caveat emptor.)

    Is there another way? YES! For an example of an excellent statement of philosophy and mission, read about the public school district in Flossmoor, Illinois.

What Are Catholic Schools Actually Doing?

    Dr. Louis Chandler
    An extremely valuable and unique research study on the educational direction of public and Catholic schools was conducted by Louis Chandler, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh. We enthusiastically encourage readers to examine what this study found:

    • Traditional Schools, Progressive Schools : Do Parents Have A Choice? by Dr. Louis Chandler. This is a carefully designed, richly detailed, and extremely compelling study on the actual educational practices of 336 public, Catholic, and independent schools in Ohio. The conclusions are real eye-openers: "While individual schools are very different from one another, the differences among types of schools (independent, Catholic, and public) are far smaller. There is more variation in educational practices within each school category than across categories [but] on average, ... the most progressive are Catholic schools." (emphasis added)

  • Parents who harbor a belief that Catholic schools must surely be more structured and more focused on academics than public schools should read this excellent article on Lutheran schools: Anatomy of a Takeover: The Progressive Assault on The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod Education System by Karen Holgate, President, Parents National Network, Lutheran Educators Conference, November 23-25, 1997. Holgate's article is a fine analysis of how fuzzy methods can invade even supposedly structured school environments.

  • The Corruption of Children's Literature (Even In Catholic Schools) by Inez Fitzgerald Storck, New Oxford Review, June 1998. "It is tragic that authentic literature is slowly disappearing from public and school libraries, and being replaced by a tidal wave of children's books written by people who appear to have been convinced by cultic psychology..."

  • Here's an article serving as a reminder that progressive fads are infecting many Catholic schools systems, and that a weak math program served up in Catholic schools fails just as easily as when it's served up in public schools: Heavens! Parochial Kids Flop In Testing, New York Post, March 15, 2002: "The city's eighth-grade parochial school students flunked last year's state math exam nearly as badly as public-school students .. 62% of the 5,000 [8th grade] students in Archdiocese of New York schools failed the exam."

Blaine Amendments

    "The Blaine amendment was a clear manifestation of religious bigotry, part of a crusade manufactured by the contemporary Protestant establishment, to counter what was perceived as a growing 'Catholic menace' ... contemporary sources labeled the amendment part of a plan to 'institute a general war against the Catholic church.'...we would be hard pressed to divorce the amendment's language from the insidious discriminatory intent that prompted it."
    -- Arizona Supreme Court,
    Kotterman v. Killian,
    January 1999
    (Text of full decision here)

    A full understanding of the legal status of parent choice needs to include the history of the "Blaine Amendments." In the first century of this country's existence, schools were operated by a variety of organizations, including religious ones. But by the 1870s, a wave of immigration from predominanently Catholic countries sparked a hateful backlash.

    Full-page Anti-Catholic cartoon in Harper's Weekly, September 30, 1871

     Thomas Nast cartoon of James Blaine,
    Harper's Weekly, June 5, 1880
    Against this backdrop, James G. Blaine, an anti-Catholic bigot and Speaker of the House, proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban funding of schools that were operated by "sectarian" religious entities. In other words, it was perfectly fine to give public funding to a school that taught generalized (i.e., non-sectarian) Protestant Christian beliefs, but funding for a school run by any Catholic organization was to be outlawed. Blaine eventually ran for president after being nominated at a convention that railed against "rum, Romanism and rebellion." (Interestingly, he lost the election by losing a single state, New York, by a margin of only 1,047 votes.)

    Blaine and his ilk never did succeed in getting his hate-filled amendment added to the federal constitution. However, the language of the Blaine Amendment was added to many state constitutions, including that of the state of Illinois. It is for that reason that state funding of private schools is rare in this country, although it is commonplace around the world.

    To really understand the history and political situation of religious schools, and in many cases of private schools in general, and obstacles to child-centered funding, you have to start by learning about the "Blaine amendments."

    In Chicago, there is a James G. Blaine School, at 1420 W. Grace Street, and in Peoria, there is a Blaine Sumner Middle School. It's hard to imagine that in this day and age there still exist schools named in honor of a vicious bigot!

Catholics and Parent Choice

    The following quotes from Catholic sources are interesting because of their rhetoric in favor of parents' rights to choose the kind of education that is right for their children.

    But note this! If taken at face value, these quotes argue in favor of choice within school systems as well, including Catholic school systems, and against attempts to dictate academic policy at a bureaucratic level (governmental and diocesan alike). Read these quotes, and then reflect that the support they give to parents' rights to choose what's best for their own children makes as much sense in the context of large private schools systems as much as it does in governmental school systems.

    (Bolding has been added for emphasis in some of these quotes. This list is also available in a printer-friendly form.)

      Official Catholic Statements
      on Diversity of Education Options
      and Parental Rights and Choice

      "The primacy of parental rights in education must be recognized by the state and every other educational entity and advocacy group."
      -- Catholic Conference of Illinois, " Catholic Schools: In Service and In Need," February 2003

      "Parents have the inalienable right and the solemn obligation to choose and ensure the proper form and nature of their children's education, whether public, private, or religious."
      -- Catholic Conference of Illinois, " Catholic Schools: In Service and In Need," February 2003

      "Neither the state, nor any agency nor person acting on its behalf, can possibly comprehend the myriad and unique factors parents consider in making educational decisions for their children: location, safety, curriculum , discipline, religious formation, teacher quality, and pedagogical philosophy all matter. Educational decisions made by parents on behalf of their children fulfill a proper and fitting role which ensures the integrity and vitality of the American family, the diversity of our society, and is even, ultimately, the foundation of our nation's achievement. Their right to make those decisions must be emboldened; after all, the sublime power of parents' love and dreams for their children dwarves any interest the state might have in any child's education."
      -- Catholic Conference of Illinois, " Catholic Schools: In Service and In Need," February 2003.

      "By fully supporting parental rights in education, the government would introduce free market principles and competition into what has become a stagnant, monopolized, and all-too-often failing educational system. The success embodied in the totality of our nation's economic history underscores the tremendous advantages of free market competition. Through it work focuses on positive results rather than merely institution-building and sound economic development ensues. There is no reason to believe these same effects cannot be realized in the realm of education -- public and nonpublic ."
      -- Catholic Conference of Illinois, " Catholic Schools: In Service and In Need," February 2003.

      "Please work to reform Illinois' educational bureaucracy, place parents' rights first , and seek to create a vibrant, attentive educational system able to meet the needs and desires of Illinois' diverse population."
      -- Illinois Catholic bishop's statement, February 2003.

      " Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools. Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children ... But it must always keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity so that there is no kind of school monopoly, for this is opposed to the native rights of the human person, to the development and spread of culture, to the peaceful association of citizens and to the pluralism that exists today in ever so many societies. "
      -- Declaration of Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis), Pope Paul VI, October 1965.

      "Educational choice can promote academic excellence by fostering basic reforms and creating a competitive climate, responsive to parental concerns and leading to improved student performance."
      -- "Parental Choice In Education", statement of the National Catholic Education Association

      "We believe that educational choice can promote academic excellence by creating an educational climate that is respectful of parental concerns while fostering a competitive climate that results in greater school accountability to parents. NCEA members believe that the needs of students and their parents supersede those of entrenched educational bureaucracies. "
      -- "Quality Education For All Children", statement of the National Catholic Education Association

      "The education of children is a fundamental parental responsibility. All parents -- the first, most important educators -- should have the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to choose the education best suited to the needs of their children, including private and religious schools."
      -- U.S. Catholic Conference, "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium"

      "Join forces with others to advocate and promote public policies that offer all parents the opportunity to choose the school they believe is best for their children."
      -- National Catholic Educational Association, "Goals for Catholic Schools of the 21st Century" (Goal 5)

      "Our goal is to make sure we are meeting the current demand for Catholic education while building a stronger future for those families who choose Catholic schools. As we have seen in recent years, sometimes it involves opening a new school or creating a new model of education that best suits the needs of the families and communities we serve ."
      -- Dr. Nicholas Wolsonovich, Superintendent Of Schools For The Archdiocese Of Chicago, October 7, 2004

      "The current movement to provide full and fair parental choice in education seeks to give all parents the means to send their children to the schools they know are best for them, whether they be state-controlled or independent. Catholics should become familiar with this justice issue and get involved."
      -- "Catholic Schools Today," Robert J. Kealey, executive director of the department of elementary schools of the National Catholic Educational Association

      United States Catholic Conference, "Principles for Educational Reform in the United States," excerpts:

      • I. All Persons Have the Right to a Quality Education
        We believe that...
        • No single model or means of education is appropriate to the needs and desires of all persons . Therefore, our nation should make available the broadest variety of quality educational opportunities for each individual to choose from...
      • II. Parental Rights and Responsibilities are Primary in Education
        We believe that...
        • Parents have the right to choose the kind of education best suited to the needs of their children ...
        • Often parents will need assitance in providing a quality education for their children. The state and private agencies, including the Church, should provide this assistance which should include information on the full range of educational options available ...
      • III. Students Are the Central Focus of All Education
        We believe that...
        • Children can learn and master a challenging curriculum
        • The academic curriculum should be based on high standards and take into account the unique needs of each student.
      • IV. Quality Teaching Is Essential to the Learning Process
        We believe that...
        • Teachers should be academically prepared to teach...
        • Teacher certification programs should allow for sufficient flexibility to open the teaching profession to individuals with academic potential displayed in other professions.
        • Teachers and administrators, including boards of education, are responsible to be available to parents and collaborate with them in all decisions relating to the education of their students.
        • Regular and ongoing programs aimed at assessing and assisting teachers in the performance of their professional activities should be an integral part of the school life in order to ensure the presence of a quality teaching and learning situation for all students.
      • VI. Government Has a Responsibility to Provide Adequate Resources for the Attainment of a Quality Education for All Children...
        We believe that...
        • Since no single educational approach serves all educational needs , policy decisions should allow for the existence of alternative educational systems ...

    Also see:
        Illinois Loop: Parent Choice

Why Do Parents Choose Catholic Schools?

    Very surprisingly, there seems to be very little information to answer the question, "Just why do some parents choose Catholic schools for their children?" There is a great number of speculative and anecdotal essays on this, but little hard data. It is entirely possible that Catholic parents are far more drawn to Catholic schools as an alternative for mainstream coursework than Catholic leaders realize. If that is the case, then Catholic leaders who implement progressive changes in their schools run the risk of alienating parents by eliminating one of the key features that attracted them in the first place.

    Author Myron Lieberman says, "Surveys of parents of Catholic students in Catholic schools show that a high proportion expect secular educational benefits from Catholic education." However, this reference does not have a citation.

    One study (in Sydney, Australia) found that the overwhelming reason given by parents who transferred children to Catholic schools was "disciplinary standards/strict rules and regulations." This was followed by "higher standard of education/academic achievement."

      Reason for transferring child   Percent
      Disciplinary standards/strict rules and regulations59%
      Higher standard of education/academic achievement36%
      Religious component25%
      Better student behavior/no swearing, drugs, violence, etc.20%
      Instills values in students/character forming system19%
      More caring attitude/
      sincere involvement in child's development

      Source: "Why Do Parents Choose a Catholic School?", Catholic Education Office, Sydney, August 1994.
      The base is 327 parents who had transferred a child from a state (public) school to a Catholic school. Percentages add up to more than 100, since multiple reasons were allowed.

    What were left with is that there really isn't a great deal of information quantifying why parents send their kids to Catholic schools, and even less on why other Catholic parents do not send their kids to Catholic schools.

    What is needed is more survey information with tabs like these:

      What factors were most important in choosing a school...

      ...among Catholic parents with children in Catholic schools:
      (Choose all that apply)
        XX% -- religious education
        XX% -- moral education and character development
        XX% -- Catholic school has better academic program
        XX% -- school is closer to home than other schools
      ...among Catholic parents with children in public schools:
      (Choose all that apply)
        XX% -- Catholic school tuition too expensive
        XX% -- public school offers more extras
        XX% -- public school has better academic program
        XX% -- public school offers special services child needs
        XX% -- public school is closer to home than Catholic school

    We eagerly welcome additional information from national, diocesan or parish surveys along these lines! Please write to us.

Catholic Schools Need to Compete in a Choice Marketplace

    As of this writing (August 2004), the Archdiocese of Chicago has closed forty -- 40! -- of its schools in the last five years alone! From 1984 to 2004, the Archdiocese closed an astonishing 148 schools. (For more, see the earlier section on School Closings.)

    Despite the cataclysmic decline, few Catholic education leaders seem to be much concerned on how expanding options in the public system affect their Catholic schools. Many parents choose Catholic schools in a large part because of anticipated academic strength. If local public schools improve and offer magnet schools, charter schools and other new options, then the marketing position of the Catholic schools is in serious jeopardy.

    In a recent article, Catholic Supt. Nicholas Wolsonovich was quoted, "There are places where the demand is not there anymore, and we will probably have some more closings." Wolsonovich seems to think that parents are looking for a single product, labelled "Catholic school." This is not, and never has been, the case. By coercing their schools to be more and more alike (and more and more progressivist), Wolsonovich is making his product offerings fewer and fewer.

  • Special Studies Help Old Schools, Denver Post, September 15, 2003. Excerpt: "This time last year, Renette Rice was sure her son Ethan would go from his Catholic elementary school to Catholic middle and high schools. Then she heard about what was going on at Smiley Middle School, a public school in her Park Hill neighborhood, and decided to check it out. Ultimately, Ethan enrolled as a seventh-grader in a Smiley "academy" focusing on math and science. And with that step he became the latest student helping prove that inner-city schools can reverse declining enrollments by offering special programs parents find attractive.

  • Death Nail: Will Charter Schools Destroy Inner-City Catholic Schools? By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D., November 14, 2007. "Preliminary evidence suggests that charter schools are actually threatening to help close inner city Catholic schools. ... Ronald Nuzzi, director of the Alliance for Catholic Education Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame asserted that charter schools 'are one of the biggest threats to Catholic schools in the inner city, hands down. How do you compete with an alternative that doesn't cost anything?' ...
         "Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Catholic Education, I detailed a more hopeful example ...: Arizona. Arizona has both a growing student population and private school choice programs (two tax credit programs and two voucher programs). Catholic education is anything but wilting in Arizona. Between 2004 and 2006, schools in the Diocese of Phoenix saw a two percent increase in enrollment against a national decline. Two new Catholic schools opened in the 2006-2007 school year, with four more scheduled to open. Marybeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Phoenix stated that the tax credit program has been 'critical to keeping financially struggling families in the Catholic school system.'"

  • John Norquist and the Lessons of School Choice by Bill Steigerwald, January 14, 2008. This interview with former Democrat Milwaukee mayor John O. Norquist quotes him: "The Milwaukee public schools have improved because of choice and I also think the Catholic schools and Lutheran schools ... have had to get better. At first, the Catholics had the idea that, 'Oh, our education is so great. Now kids have vouchers and they'll come flocking to our schools.' Well, they did at first -- but not uncritically. If parents aren't getting what they want out of Catholic school, they'll go public, they'll go Lutheran, they'll go private nonreligious. They'll go where they want to go. It's interesting the way privates have had to get better at their game under this system."

  • Stiff Competition: Private Religious Schools Battle Demographics, Charters To Survive by Cami Reister, The Grand Rapids Press, February 18, 2001. Excerpt: "The city's private religious schools are facing trying times. Grand Rapids Christian Schools lost 22 percent of its city elementary students in the past five years. Area Catholic elementary schools dipped 10 percent. Meanwhile, charter school enrollments have nearly quadrupled."

    The solution to this threat would seem obvious:

    Leaders of Catholic and other private school systems must respond to the marketplace demand for substantive academics. At least they need to offer a rich academic program as an option when parents make their choices. In the cases we've seen where a Catholic school has adopted Core Knowledge, for example, marketplace response has been immediate and dramatic. So why is there only a single parochial Catholic school in the entire state of Illinois that offers this kind of program?

Private Catholic Schools:
"Private" ≠ "Parochial"

    Most of us think of parish schools when we think of Catholic schools. By far, most Catholic schools are indeed parish, "parochial" schools. They are closely tied to a parish, and are operated, supervised, and run in accordance with rules set by the local diocese.

    There are also private Catholic schools. These are schools that are run independently of a diocese, often by a local board of organizers or parents. The only formal connection with the Church hierarchy may be approval for using the word "Catholic" in the school name (as required by Canon law 803.3). Some of the best Catholic schools in the country are private rather than parochial schools. Some local and midwest examples include

  • National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools (NAPCIS): provides accreditation and support for development and operation of private Catholic schools.

  • NAPCIS Guide to Starting Small Schools: basic essentials on what is needed to start planning for a small, private, Catholic school.

Funding and Vouchers

  • Are Vouchers Good for Catholic Education? On May 19, 2000, the Faith & Reason Institute sponsored a debate and discussion in the U.S. Capitol Building on the potential benefits and dangers of government vouchers for Catholic schools.

  • Daley Sees Problem, But Not Solution, Children First America, July 18, 2002. "Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, while speaking out against the 'No Child Left Behind' legislation, proved that he recognized the problem with government schools that we all are aware of, but couldn't make the logical leap to the obvious solution. Commenting on the fact that while 125,000 students in Chicago were eligible for a transfer, only 3,000 slots were available in other schools, Daley said, 'Many of the schools are not performing; we all know that. But where are you going to go?' Perhaps the students could have gone to one of the 14 Catholic schools in the diocese of Chicago that were forced to close in January. How many of those schools would still be there to provide these students with an option for a quality education were there a voucher program in place in Chicago?"

  • Vatican Education Czar Calls Lack Of Public Funds For Church Schools In U.S. a 'Disaster' by John L. Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 2007. "The Vatican's point man on education today described the lack of government support for Catholic schools in the United States as a 'disaster,' and suggested that it reflects a lack of 'full democracy' that would enable parents to choose the educational option they desire for their children. Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, a Pole who serves as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, spoke today at a Vatican news conference ... In response to a question about state support for Catholic schools in various parts of the world, Grocholewski asserted that 'the United States is a disaster. ... The state does not recognize full democracy for Catholic schools' ... Monsignor Angelo Zani, the under-secretary of the Congregation for Education, likewise called upon governments to respect the 'sacrosanct liberty of parents to choose the educational option for their children.' In essence, both men argued, an absence of state support prices some families out of private education, thereby compromising their freedom of choice."

  • Won't Someone Stop This Tragedy? Bloomberg's Education Campaign Is Driving Gotham's Catholic Schools Out of Business by Sol Stern, City Journal, April 18, 2006. "The New York Catholic Archdiocese recently announced that it would close 14 schools, following on last year's announcement by the Archdiocese of Brooklyn that it would shutter 22 of its schools in Brooklyn and Queens. Located in some of Gotham's neediest neighborhoods, these schools have served for over a century as a haven for low-income but striving families. Many of the predominantly minority children in those closed schools will now have to attend failing public schools.
        "The school closings result in part from the inexorable laws of competition. No, I don't mean that the Catholic schools have fallen behind in the areas of academic achievement or classroom productivity. Quite the contrary. ... Catholic schools deliver ... stellar results with per-pupil expenditures remaining about a fourth of the costs of the public schools.
        "But with no vouchers or tuition tax credits in place, the Catholic schools are finding it harder and harder to compete financially with an insatiable public school monopoly, ever more expansive under mayoral control."

    Also see:
        Illinois Loop: Parent Choice

Thinking About Catholic Schools

    "Whether we develop the truly liberal mind in our schools, as Newman envisioned it, or the truly utilitarian mind, as Marx delineated it, will determine whether our world will be free or slave. ...
    "We need Newman's strength and clarity in our struggle to keep the primacy of 'content courses' of 'dedication to knowledge as best sought for its own sake' alive and growing in the minds of our Catholic students."
    -- Fr. George Garrelts, Director of the Newman Center, University of Minnesota, from his book "The Newman Apostolate" (1950s)

    "One of the false dichotomies that has developed over time is between developing skills vs. acquiring knowledge. ... One debate among educators is whether [skills] are best taught directly or are they best acquired in the context of subject matter study. Looking things up turns out to have an element of Catch 22: you already have to know something about the subject to look it up effectively. (Maybe that's why the "help" menu in computer programs is rarely actually helpful to me.)
    -- Dr. Leonard DeFiore, President, National Catholic Education Association

    "In just over a generation, a great many influential American Catholics, inscrutably, have traded a heritage of nuanced and soaring thought for a pottage of murky bromides and gummy jargon."
    -- John R. Dunlap, Department of Classics, Santa Clara University

    "While there is a constellation of reasons why parents send their children to Catholic schools, their perceived academic excellence is always one of the main ingredients in making this decision."
    -- Robert J. Kealey, Ed.D., Executive Director, NCEA Department of Elementary Schools, NCEA Convention, 2002

A Remarkable Speech

    Dr. Leonard DeFiore
    The Challenge of Catholic Schools to be Excellent by Dr. Leonard DeFiore, president (at the time) of the National Catholic Educational Association. What is truly riveting about this speech is its enthusiastic endorsement of many of the views of such education reform luminaries as Prof. E. D. Hirsch and Diane Ravitch. Excerpts:
    "The research appears to support the validity of a content-rich curriculum, which builds knowledge, vocabulary, and a variety of learning skills simultaneously. Fortunately, in this debate Catholic educators have been on the side of the angels. While Catholic schools were not immune to these developments, in the main they held onto the more traditional concepts of education: academics and moral formation for all. Catholic educators have tended to side with Prof. Hirsch who had urged schools to teach not just generic skills but knowledge. He argued that knowledge is power and that access to knowledge is crucial in a democracy. Such an academic curriculum, he argued, would promote social justice by distributing knowledge to all children. In Catholic schools, we have subscribed to that approach and more."
    See the full speech here. Our thanks go to Dr. DeFiore for his kind permission to reproduce it here on our website!

    One can only wish that Dr. DeFiore's vision was actually the case in all Catholic classrooms; for the unfortunate reality, see the section earlier on this page titled "Catholic Schools and Educational Philosophy."

Stories from Great Catholic Schools

  • It's All About the Kids
    by Martin A. Davis, Jr., July 21, 2005. (Also available as an attractively-formatted PDF document.) "In just more than five years, Mary Anne Stanton has led 13 Catholic schools from high-poverty Washington, D.C. neighborhoods into a consortium that has not only strengthened each school's financial health, but has also greatly improved the academic performance of the children the schools are charged with educating. To get there, she's installed a new standards-based curriculum, shaken up old bureaucratic approaches, and streamlined operations. ... The 13 consortium schools have achieved remarkable growth in grades 2 through 8 proficiency rates on the standardized Terra Nova test from 2000 to 2005: reading growth of 60.6 percent, 78.1 percent growth in math, and 34.1 percent growth in language arts over those five years. More remarkable, those growth rates include test scores from 2004-05, when 300 high-poverty children from failing District of Columbia public schools entered consortium schools through the new D.C. voucher program. ...
          "As an assistant dean at Washington's Trinity College from 1989-1993, she became acutely aware of how schools of education are failing. ... Having just come from a college of education, she knew that waiting on those institutions to produce better teachers was no answer. So she began visiting schools that were working, talking with principals of successful urban schools, and reading a lot of educational research. ...
          "Stanton inserted an intermediate step and introduced two new learning tools with proven track records: Saxon Math, known for distributing instruction, practice, and assessment evenly throughout the year, and the Open Court reading system, a phonics- based approach to reading instruction. The teachers, Stanton believed, needed to see success. She knew that Saxon and Open Court, followed conscientiously, would provide it. For the most part, the teachers were less than thrilled. Time and success, however, changed their minds. According to Stanton, the schools began seeing a bump in test scores the very first year. Most important, the teachers themselves saw the results. 'I was no fan,' said Lily Phillips, who teaches kindergarten at Assumption. Today, she could be the principal marketing tool for data-driven curriculum programs. There is no surer sign of her confidence than my reception in her classroom one recent spring day. Unannounced, Stanton and I entered Phillips' classroom and Stanton immediately asked if there was a volunteer to read to me. 'Who would you like?' Phillips asked. 'Choose your best reader,' said Stanton. 'They're all readers, it doesn't matter who you choose.'"

  • Opting for Rigor
    by Patrick McIlheran, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, November 1, 2007. "The school is in Milwaukee's inner city. Ninety-nine percent of its students are poor. Almost none speaks English at home. Practically all are there because of school choice. ...
         "St. Anthony's, now grown to two sites along Mitchell St., was a traditional parochial school that decided four years ago it needed to do better, says its president, Terry Brown. So it extended its day to eight hours for more math and reading. It rebuilt its curriculum around direct instruction, a rigorous teaching method. It hired Ramon Cruz, a former Milwaukee Public Schools principal with direct instruction experience. The method, also used in some MPS schools, prescribes specific lessons teachers will use, even phrases and techniques. Critics say this script stifles teachers. Backers say it locks in best practices while leaving teachers free to teach. When you see it unfolding at St. Anthony's, it ends up looking like a game, with constant interaction between teacher and students. There's no room for students to drift. They all stay engaged. "Kids love it because they're learning," says Cruz. The method ... dramatically cuts down on the time spent managing a classroom. Kids stay on task. ...
         "The results are good: Among eighth-graders, scores on state standardized tests approach those of Milwaukee students who aren't poor. Schmidt says that each year, children typically make well over a year's progress. The elementary school's gone from having one child in high school-level algebra to having 18 of them."
    Editor's note: St. Anthony uses Saxon Math, Open Court reading, and a full implementation of Core Knowledge.

Math in Chicago-Area Catholic Schools

    You can find information about the math programs at a number of local Catholic schools in our page on Math, Town by Town!

    Fuzzy math is endemic in Illinois public schools. Sadly it has also infected numerous Catholic schools as well.

    Check to see if your local Catholic school is listed. If not, you can help other parents by using the links there to tell us what math programs are in use in your parish school!

Notable Catholic Schools in the Chicago Area

    Here are some Chicago area Catholic schools that promise strong academic programs:

    We don't know much about these, but you may wish to check them out:

    • East Lake Academy, a private (non-parochial) Catholic school in Lake Forest. Their website says almost nothing about the methods or curriculum programs in use.

    • Noonan Academy, a private (non-parochial) coed Catholic school in far south suburban Mokena. The website of Catholic Citizens of Illinois carried this article about Noonan, which says that Noonan "is strong on the basics and emphasizes early and intensive phonics."

    • Kingswood Academy, a private (non-parochial) coed Catholic school (affiliated with Opus Dei) in Darien, that uses Open Court reading and Saxon Math. At one point, they mentioned using Core Knowledge, but that does not seem to be on their website currently.  

    In Freeport, Illinois, parents may wish to take a look at Freeport Catholic School, which strongly endorses the Open Court phonics-based reading program.

    Across the Border

    Across the Wisconsin border, these schools are worth a look:

    • Mercy Academy in Wauwatosa describes its program as "a classical elementary program in the Catholic tradition." Their website proclaims this alluring set of goals:
        Mercy Provides
      • A Catholic culture in which our Faith is lived and learned
      • Reading instruction in phonics rather than "whole language"
      • Rigorous mathematical exercise -- without the use of calculators
      • Explicit teaching of English grammar, sentence diagramming, and composition
      • Literary study in complete works written by first-rate, age-appropriate authors
      • Training in public speaking and a strong forensics program

    • Trinity Academy in Pewaukee provides this description: "Trinity Academy is a K-12 co-educational independent school ... The school offers a highly traditional, value-centered curriculum, which stresses phonics reading, the fundamentals of math computation, and the development of strong spelling, grammar, and writing. Critical thinking skills are nurtured from the earliest grades through the reading of fine literature, poetry, biography, and historical documents. ... The curriculum of Trinity Academy stresses the fundamentals of learning. We provide students with an excellent base of knowledge and study skills on which they can build a lifetime of learning. Our methods of education are traditional. Catechism, phonics, grammar, writing, and mathematics are emphasized in the earliest grades. Later, the foundations of Western Civilization and American heritage are stressed. A deepening appreciation for the spiritual and moral teachings of the Church also evolves throughout the higher grades. Students are exposed to a wealth of reading in classic literature. Parents are respected as the primary educators of their children, and their involvement in the school is welcome."

    • St. Ambrose Academy in Madison. We learned of this school when reading a news story about one of its students, a 17-year-old boy who received a perfect score in his SAT college entrance exam, one of the few students nationally to do so. This private Catholic school promises "A Classical Education Rooted in the Catholic Faith" for grades 6-12. An overview of the curriculum says, in part, "The St. Ambrose curriculum is designed to provide an outstanding foundation in the critical academic disciplines of math, science, history, literature, logic, rhetoric, composition, and language (Latin and modern languages), crowned by regular study of and growth in the Faith. Our approach to learning includes in-depth study of the classical works of the western world ... Our classes revolve around discussion, debate, presentations, and regular papers. Our dedicated faculty use a variety of methods to give our students the tools they need to master our curriculum with an enthusiasm that comes from true understanding of the profound ideas of the ages."

    Other Religious Schools

    If you want your children to have a solid education with a strong Christian base, but you are unable to find a Catholic school in your area that meets those criteria, consider Lutheran schools. Several of them have exemplary academic programs. Notable among them:

  • St. Paul's Lutheran School in Brookfield, IL:
    Rev. Joel A. Brondos, headmaster at St. Paul's, wrote to tell us about the excellent curriculum program they're offering:
    We use Saxon Math, the Spalding Writing Road to Reading, the Shurley Grammar method, and teach our history timeline and daily oral Latin to students as young as Kindergarten. We have a literature-based reading program (no basal readers) so the children read unabridged versions of classical works like those written by Homer, Chesterton, Plutarch, and more.

Catholic Schools and Core Knowledge

    Here are some great Catholic schools across the U.S. that offer the highly respected Core Knowledge curriculum. If you want to learn about how to build a great Catholic school, learn about these schools!

    • Providence Academy, Plymouth, MN (Map): This is a K-12 private (i.e., non-parochial) school in a western suburb of Minneapolis. Wow!! Providence is a full Core Knowledge school, plus it features Saxon Math, Open Court reading, and Faith and Life religion. The school is newly constructed, with large classrooms, bright corridors and inviting public spaces, set on a gorgeous campus. This school has it all!
    • Saint Anthony School, Milwaukee. Set in a economically challenged urban area, this parish school is making great strides since it has adopted Core Knowledge as its curriculum standard, some great choices in its specific curriculum areas, and a successful commitment to Direct Instruction. St. Anthony School shows Catholic administrators how an urban Catholic school can serve its students while maintaining very high academic standards. Bravo!
    • Church of the Ascension Catholic School, Minneapolis: A newspaper article tells the story: Public Schools Could Take a Page From This Playbook by Katherine Kersten, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 5, 2005. "Last week, I walked the halls of an extraordinary local K-8 school. Fourth-graders there memorize the preamble to the Constitution, sixth-graders read Homer's 'Iliad,' and eighth-graders pore over Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' and 'Hamlet.' A tony private academy with $16,000 tuition? No, it was Ascension Catholic School, located in a rough north Minneapolis neighborhood. ... Ninety percent of Ascension's 293 students are minority, and 66 percent are low-income. About two-thirds come from single-parent homes. Some live in shelters, and some have been abused. They're precisely the 'at risk' kids our society too often expects to fail. [The principal] credits Ascension's success, in part, to the school's rigorous, content-rich curricula. 'We use the Saxon Math program and E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum in literature, history and science. In 1999, before we adopted them, our basic skills pass rates were far lower.'"
    • Sacred Heart Academy, San Diego: This parish school in San Diego calls itself "California's Premier Core Knowledge School." They build on that with a program of Saxon Math. A great school, even before taking into account the outdoor "lunchroom" or the gym classes that occasionally go down to the beach, a couple of blocks away!
    • Saint Michael's, North Andover, MA. A parish school, St. Michael's has produced a wonderfully clear and appealing summary of their program in this Curriculum Guide, a PDF doc. St. Michael's is said to be so popular with parents that it occasionally has to resort to a lottery drawing to accept children from applying families, even from its own parishioners!
    • The only Core Knowledge Catholic school in Illinois is St. Mary's School, East Moline, IL. In the 2002-2003 school year, while the diocese of Peoria as a whole saw enrollment drops for the 7th straight year, the parish school of St. Mary's grew substantially, adding 25 students as a result of its adoption of Core Knowledge.
    • All Saints School, Norman, OK, All Saints is supported by four Catholic parishes in Norman, Oklahoma. Their website says, "ASCS implements the curriculum of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Core Knowledge Sequence. ... ASCS is committed to providing appropriate and challenging educational programs to every student."
    • St. Peter's, Beaufort, SC. This parish school says, "St. Peter's Catholic School offers a program to all students that is academically rigorous and spiritually enriching. Our curriculum is guided by the nationally validated Core Knowledge program which leads to the development of culturally literate students who have mastered the blend of content, concepts, and skills which defines the educated person."
    • A group in San Jose, California is trying to organize a Core Knowledge Catholic school to be known as Veritas Academy. Their vision is to offer Core Knowledge, Open Court reading, Saxon Math and the highly respected Faith & Life religion curriculum.
    • St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Las Vegas, NV
    • Saint Pius X, San Antonio, TX. They say, "St. Pius School is now offering the Core Knowledge Sequence, a detailed knowledge-based curriculum being used by schools around the country. ... We are very excited by all this program has to offer our students, and are currently the only Catholic School in Texas to offer this curriculum."
    • St. Aloysius School, Baton Rouge, LA

  • Except for St. Mary's in East Moline (mentioned above), there are no Catholic schools in Illinois using Core Knowledge.

  • Presentation: Core Knowledge in Catholic Schools:
    Kevin Killion has written a presentation promoting the use of Core Knowledge in Catholic schools. This presentation covers:
    • How Are Schools Different
    • Must Catholic Schools Be Alike?
    • Are Catholic Schools Alike?
    • Do We Have To Choose?
    • Marketing Space
    • Rich Academics in a Catholic School, and
    • What Core Knowledge Brings to a Catholic School
    Please write to us if you would like a copy or further information.

Jesuits and Education

    The order that once gave us the Ratio Studiorem, a highly formalized system of teaching that emphasized early memorization and repetition, is today permeated with praise for such progressivist mainstays as constructivist methods, Multiple Intelligences, and collaborative workgroups. But a variety of opinions persist.

    Views of traditional Jesuit education

  • A Brief History of Jesuit Education by John J. Callahan, S.J. Excerpt: "Ignatius mandated that Jesuit education should follow the modus Parisiensis, the method of the University of Paris, rather than the rather loose Spanish or Italian models. This meant, first, a stress on the humanities; second, an orderly system to be observed in pursuing successive branches of knowledge; third, repetition of material; and, fourth, the active involvement of the students in their own education through argumentation, discussion and competition."

  • Jesuit Educational Tradition

  • Introduction: "Ratio Studiorum: Jesuit Education, 1548-1773 - a good introduction to the Ratio by John W. O'Malley, S.J., with additional links and references.
  • Ratio Studiorum - links

  • Old Wine in New Skins: The Ratio Studiorum and Modern Jesuit Liberal Arts Education by Michael Willliams, S.J. -- an excellent dissection of the key elements of the Ratio. Excerpts:
    "Repetitions--daily, weekly, monthly--were at the heart of Jesuit institutions. The Ratio states 'what is most often repeated will more deeply be impressed on the mind' ... The early Jesuits understood that the mind is a muscle, and muscles are developed through regular exercise." ...
    "The Ratio Studiorum shows an insightful understanding of the dynamism of motivation in education. Perhaps the most powerful motivators for students are the desire for praise and the fear of failure. Academic competition, wisely used, can provide a dynamic element to the learning process. The Ratio states that 'Class contests are to be highly valued and are to be held whenever time permits, so that honorable rivalry which is a powerful incentive to studies may be fostered. It is customary in these contests to have the teacher ask the questions and the rivals correct the errors or to have the rivals question to one another. Individuals or groups may be pitted against each other, or one pupil may engage several opponents."
    "The idea of academic competition brings up the subject of grades. ... Nothing could more pernicious, or against the whole Jesuit tradition of excellence in education, than the modern antipathy against elitism in favor of egalitarianism. There should be no reward for the mediocre, the second-rate. Having tried is not enough, and the Dodo's race in Alice in Wonderland should serve as a stark reminder of the importance of true achievement. That race ended with the wildly popular decision that: 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes!' ... The Jesuit tradition is that only real excellence is to be recognized and rewarded. And this recognition of excellence should spur and motivate other students to do their best and excel."
    "The Ratio Studiorum indicates that drill and practice were at the core of Jesuit education, all designed to move students towards developing that characteristic quality of eloquentia perfecta."

  • Excerpts from the 1901 text on the Ratio, "Jesuit Education: Its History and Principles Viewed in the Light of Modern Educational Problems" by Robert Schwickerath, S.J.":

  • The Dewey Legend In American Education by Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J. Excerpts: "[A]lthough it is true that Dewey's influence on American education has been immense, it is only in a very qualified sense that we can call him an outstanding philosopher. ... Dewey's tide to fame must be balanced by the extent of the evil which his principles of social naturalism and pragmatic experimentalism have produced in the United States. ...
         "Under modern progressivism, school discipline and work, which have been of the essence of education since the dawn of history, are to be substituted with freedom and play."

  • Dilution in American Education, by Charles F. Donovan, S.J., writing in the Jesuit magazine America, November 3, 1951:
         "One of the principles that are doing as much as anything else to undermine American schools is the fixed notion that education has to be fun. We won't have our children subjected to anything hard or bothersome. We have practically adopted as a national education motto: 'If it isn't easy, it isn't educational.' ... The consequences ... are many and obvious. ... Homework is considered an old-fashioned institution, a carry-over from the days when schooling was unpleasant, an interference with the child's and the family's recreation. ... Drill, repetition, recitation, and memory-work are dismissed as drudgery."

  • Educating in the Jesuit Tradition by Rev. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J. Excerpt from the abstract: "Frequently our students come into the university domain thinking that all opinions are equally valid. This view has threatened the intellectual development of students since the time of Socrates because it allows students to think that incomplete, illogical, and nonsystematic thought is 'good enough.' Unfortunately, it never is. Educators in the Jesuit tradition try to instill the habit of 'good opinions' by addressing completeness, logic, and systematics."

    What has happened to Jesuit Education?

    One Jesuit website says, "450+ years of tradition: St. Ignatius founded the first Jesuit school in Messina, Italy in 1548. Jesuit education is the oldest tradition of secondary education in the world." But the eagerness of some to radically revise what "Jesuit education" means threatens that 450 year legacy.

  • What Makes a Jesuit High School Jesuit? by David Godleski, S.J. In a list of 10 proposed characteristics, "Educational Excellence" is listed way down as number 7. But it's never made clear how even this is to be achieved. Instead, the document says such things as this:
    Stress is placed on education in communication in order to foster "critical knowledge of the rhetoric of this new culture, ... an appreciation of its aesthetic dimension, ... [and] the skills required for teamwork and for the effective use of media and information technology."
    We later get the ominous promise that
    The school's curriculum and methodology reflect fundamental agreement with the objectives and pedagogical methods advocated in the recent educational documents of the Society of Jesus.
    Considering what's in some of these revisionist documents, this is a major reason to worry.

  • The Characteristics of Jesuit Education: This PDF doc is headlined "Father General, R.P. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J. presents the document composed by the International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education (ICAJE), Rome, December 8, 1986." Although primarily devoted to discussion of the contemporary Jesuit focus on what they call "social justice", this document also contains several sad and disturbing bullet points on the specifics of education. In this example, the Jesuits defer to fuzzy educrats:
    Developmental psychology and the social sciences, along with advances in pedagogical theory and education itself, have shed new light on the way young people learn and mature as individuals within a community; this has influenced course content, teaching techniques, and school policies.
    Here the Jesuit document acknowledges that the Ratio Studiorem is largely discarded:
    ...though many principles of the original Ratio remain valid today, a uniform curriculum and a structure imposed on all schools throughout the world has been replaced by the distinct needs of different cultures and religious faiths and the refinement of pedagogical methods that vary from culture to culture.
    We even read this concern about the state of education in some Jesuit schools:
    ...the addition of scientific courses has resulted in less emphasis on, in some cases a certain neglect of, the humanistic studies traditionally emphasised in Jesuit education.
    The current state of Jesuit colleges, in which a "social justice" progressive political agenda is pervasive, stands in contrast to this claim from the 1986 document:
    In a Jesuit school, a framework of inquiry in which a value system is acquired through a process of wrestling with competing points of view
  • SJWeb - Education Documents: links to several very dense documents on current Jesuit pedagogy.

  • Jesuit Secondary Education Association (JSEA)

  • "A Privileged Moment: Teachers and Learners Walking the Way of Ignatius" -- experiences of the "Director of Research in Ignatian Pedagogy" (who is not herself a Jesuit). This is worth exploring, if only to be alarmed by the incursion of fuzzy headed ed theory into Jesuit schools. In particular, see the section starting at page 15 on "Ignatian Pedagogy Project (IPP) and Ignatian Pedagogy Paradigm (IPParadigm)."

  • A vivid and depressing work is "The Jesuit High School of the Future" by something called the "Commission on Research and Development" and the Jesuit Secondary Education Association. This article, which has been quoted widely in other works, is essentially a manifesto for progressivist theory-based upheaval of Jesuit schools. Among its jaw-droppers:
    • "In the late 1950s and early 1960s traditional Jesuit curriculum, derived in large part from the prescriptions of the Ratio Studiorum, was still generally regarded as the underlying rationale for the Jesuit high school. Though many argue that the pedagogical principles of the Ratio continue to be effective as ever, there can be no doubt that it is no longer universally accepted as that shared vision upon which our curriculum is built ..."
    • "An overall balanced shift in the school environment ... to emphasis on pluralism, diversity, and the acceptance of ambiguity"
    • "Reduction of the level of structure"
    • "Conscious effort to de-emphasize peer competition"
    • "Promote physical arrangements which encourage informality, freedom of movement, a variety of possible learning groupings"
    • "Shift away from an emphasis on the school as a communicator of a static, clearly defined body of information to a vision of the school as a center where students 'learn how to learn'"
    • "Shift from inculcation of a single value system to the capacity to analyze and evaluate divergent and competing life styles, ideologies and values"
    • "shift in the teacher's role from director-lecturer to organizer-facilitator of student learning experiences; from shepherd, sergeant, performer to Socratic gadfly, guide, critic"

  • Read this powerful paper about the evaporating Catholic identity at one Jesuit college: Identity Crisis by John R. Dunlap, Department of Classics, Santa Clara University, June 19, 2003. "Now ponder this garland of committee prose in the current working paper on Catholic and Jesuit identity: 'Jesuit education is distinguished by praxis, or the integration of the intellect and faith with practice and an intelligent foundation for active engagement in the promotion of social justice. It seeks a more just and humane world through personal commitment; whereas Catholic education tends to be more parochial, more doctrine-based, and less actively concerned with change.' Which reminds me: Cheap ideas, Augustine likes to say, often come dressed in gaudy patter. But he also allows that the motives behind the ideas are inscrutable. ... Think of it. In just over a generation, a great many influential American Catholics, inscrutably, have traded a heritage of nuanced and soaring thought for a pottage of murky bromides and gummy jargon."

  • Here's a chilling, Fahrenheit 451-like observation from that same paper, Identity Crisis by John R. Dunlap, Department of Classics, Santa Clara University, June 19, 2003.
    Down in the stacks at the main library on campus, I pulled a copy of ... a book I hadn't read in years. ... Paging through the book, I noticed that the due slip in the back recorded a steady stream of check-out dates until 1971. Apparently, no one in the university had looked at this famous book for 32 years.

    On a hunch, I ... spent the next hour combing the stacks and pawing through the [university] library's huge collection of, to me, familiar Catholic writers: Knox, Guardini, Newman, Chesterton, Belloc, Gilson, Pieper, Benson, Dawson, Lunn, Dimnet. With few exceptions (often as not, a date when I myself had checked out the book), the due slips told the same story, again and again: a long series of check-out dates stopping, suddenly, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

    Dazed by this discovery, I sat at a reading table to gather my thoughts. How many thousands of students, I wondered, have passed through this school since 1970? Is it even mathematically probable that these worthy, well-thumbed books would suddenly, at about the same time, stop being read?

    Here, I thought, was a kind of archaeological evidence for the collapse of Catholic identity at an historically Catholic university. Santa Clara's collection of Catholic authors from the 19th and 20th centuries is fabulous -- 157 volumes of Chesterton alone. Yet for all the use to which these volumes are now put, they may as well be sealed in plastic wrap and stored away in packing crates.

  • One JSEA publication, Ignatius Knew, is described as "a book exploring the connections between Ignatian methodology in The Spiritual Exercises and current educational psychology and learning theory." The high-pitched squeal you hear is St. Ignatius spinning like a lathe.

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