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Jesuit Schools' Curricula Undergoing Revision

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Jesuit high schools, long noted for the rigor and breadth of their approach to education, have begun experimenting with a lengthy and complex curriculum-improvement process designed to enhance--along with academic excellence--the type of Christian values that Jesuit educators believe are an indispensable part of their mission.

Though the curriculum program has been in use in some schools for several years, said The Rev. Vincent J. Duminuco, president of the Jesuit Secondary Education Association (jsea), this year marks the first time that it is being used on a national scale.

Nineteen of the 47 Jesuit secondary schools in the United States are now at some stage in the process, he said.

Because of the academic prominence of the Jesuit schools, their focus on values as a central component of revisions to their curricula is seen as a significant indication of the continuing emphasis placed by Catholic educators on the concept of "values education."

But Father Duminuco noted that the process is applicable to any "religious community that has a major focus in secondary education."

The Curriculum Improvement Process (cip), developed by the Commission on Research and Development (cord) of the jsea, is a three-phase plan involving students, faculty, administrators and parents in the Jesuit high schools. It is designed to show schools how to take themselves through a complete curriculum evaluation over a period of about four years.

The Rev. Robert J. Starratt, director of cord, called the process "an effort to reassess all the various curriculum innovations in the last 10 years with a view towards attaining a proper integration of their traditional concern for academic excellence and the more emerging concerns for the religious and social development of students."

There are 36,000 students in the Jesuit high schools, and according to Father Duminuco, 98 percent of them go on to college.

Father Duminuco said there have historically been two "hallmarks" of Jesuit schools: the tradition of academic excellence, and a belief in "instilling within students a sense of service to others."

About this dual mission of the Jesuit high schools, Robert A. Perrotta, academic associate principal at Fairfield College Preparatory School in Fairfield, Conn., said: "If the only thing we're doing is providing a good college-prep education, we shouldn't be in the business. Jesuit schools have to do more."

The Fairfield School, which has been using the process for three years, has more practical experience in working with it than most of the other schools that are now using it, he said.

Principals Wanted Help

cord was established in 1976. It found, through a survey of member schools, that principals wanted help in evaluating and streamlining their curricula. The process was developed over the next two years, with evaluation workshops held in subsequent years in which teachers helped cord refine the process.

The outline for the schools' curriculum-improvement efforts is contained in a manual of several hundred pages that helps the schools organize the process into a framework that is suited to their particular circumstances.

The process divides into three distinct phases:

In the first phase, the school administration decides whether the school needs and is ready to go through the process, and selects a steering committee to guide participants through it.

In phase two, a thorough assessment of the school's current curriculum is performed, producing an overview report that contains the assessment and a "profile" of what the school wishes the student to have attained before graduating.

In the final phase, the faculty begins working on the kinds of specific curricular improvements the school has decided it needs.

The "Profile of a Graduate at Graduation" is central to the cip process, according to the cord manual. cord decided that, before any plans for curricular change could be made, it was necessary to know what the final product should be--"the ideal graduate of a Jesuit high school."

Some 20 versions of this profile have been written, with over 200 people contributing ideas to the version contained in the latest manual.

The result is a type of checklist of intellectual, moral, and religious attributes. Among them are: a desire for "integrity, commitment, and excellence" in one's life; an "openness to broader, adult issues''; intellectual competence in language, mathematics, and other college-preparatory courses; an understanding of how the American system of government works; a basic knowledge of the major doctrines of the Catholic church and its teachings on issues such as social justice; a familiarity with the Gospels; and an exposure to non-Catholic and non-Christian religions.

The "ideal graduate" is also "on the threshold of being able to move beyond" self-interest in his relations with others, the profile states, and is "beginning to see that Christian faith implies a commitment to a just society."

Originally, the profile was of an ideal student who was "too mature to be realistically projected for a high-school graduate," according to the manual, and had to be modified.

The jsea and a research team at Boston College are conducting a research study to try to assess the "adolescent growth" that occurs during the high school years among students in schools taking part in the process, Father Duminuco said.

The current profile, Mr. Perrotta said, presents new problems. "We had to assure teachers that we were not planning to grade students on a pass/fail basis on how loving and just they become," he said. "We had to make it clear that it's up to the school to provide the opportunities for this kind of development, and if it doesn't work, the school has failed, not the student."

Another problem was "getting the faculty to buy into that commitment of time," he said.

There was also a paperwork problem. The manual, as it originally existed, was vast, and "contained too many specific elements a graduate should have, and generated a huge mass of paper," Mr. Perrotta said.

Process Streamlined

The cip process has been streamlined some since then, he added, but it still defines curriculum as "all of those learning experiences over which the school can exercise some influence or control," and paperwork is still a problem.

Mr. Perrotta's school is developing a computer program to help other schools more easily handle the material that the curriculum-review process generates.

"Otherwise I think it's the correct approach to curriculum development," Mr. Perrotta said. "There's an incredibly broad base of involvement--faculty, students, parents, and administrators."

"It provides a living philosophy for the faculty, forcing them to constantly reflect," he said. "I'm convinced that the process is more important than the final product."

"The comment we hear most frequently from principals," Father Starratt said, "is that even if the end result of the process is not that significant, the conversations among teachers have been so interesting and provocative that the thing has been worthwhile."

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