Mary Grassa OíNeill
Why a Catholic education?
All across America this past week, thousands of families have been visiting Catholic schools. Parents are registering their children for the next school year and reaffirming their commitment to Catholic education. Their children will be among the more than 2 million students attending Catholic schools in the United States.
Catholic schools improve our entire nation by producing students committed to highly productive, service-oriented lives. Our schools welcome and educate students of various races, nationalities and religions. Research shows that Catholic school graduates earn higher household incomes and perform more community service.
At a time when the automobile industry and banks are seeking billions in federal bailouts, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) estimates that Catholic schools provide $19.8 billion in annual savings for the nationís taxpayers.
Ultimately, excellent academic results are one of the true returns on an investment in Catholic education. Catholic school students score well above the national average on tests of reading, math, science and social studies, as well as on the SATís. Among Catholic high school students, NCEA reports that 99 percent graduate in four years and 97 percent go on to college.
Catholic education is in a new and transformational period.
Dedicated priests and religious sisters and brothers established and staffed Catholic schools beginning in the 19th century and continuing through much of the 20th century. For much of their history Catholic schools were free for families. Today Catholic schools depend on a work force made up of 96 percent lay and 4 percent religious faculty and staff.
Demographic shifts and huge changes in staffing and cost structures have had an impact on student enrollment nationwide which has dropped from roughly 4 million to 2 million students since the early 1960s. Closer to home, the enrollment has declined from 150,000 in the 1960ís to 45,000 in 2009. A related change is that the concentration of Catholics moved from Greater Bostonís urban centers to the suburbs, leaving our cities with two-thirds of our Catholic schools, but only one third of our Catholic population.
Catholic educationís traditional parish model is also changing. Parish schools increasingly reach beyond the boundaries of a particular parish or town and draw students from much wider geographic regions. The pastor continues in a central leadership role in most schools while other Catholic schools are reorganizing from parish-based models to multi-parish or regional models.
The Archdiocese of Boston is one of the largest Catholic school systems in the nation. Cardinal SeŠn OíMalley is committed to strengthening Catholic education. Business and civic leaders have stepped up with expertise, energy and resources. Partnerships with Catholic colleges provide professional development and other academic support.
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