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Low-Income Catholic-School Students Studied

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Copyright 1983, Editorial The National Catholic Educational Association (ncea) has received a $363,905 grant from the Ford Foundation to conduct a three-year study of low-income families in the approximately 1,500 Catholic secondary schools in the United States.

The study, which is now in progress, will be the most comprehensive study of Catholic secondary schools to date, according to Peter L. Benson of the Minneapolis-based Search Institute, an independent, nonprofit agency specializing in research on the values and religious beliefs of adolescents. The institute will work with the ncea on the study.

The study will result in a "national portrait" of Catholic secondary schools and will look at the academic achievement, "life skills," values, and religion of low-income students in these schools, Mr. Benson said. The researchers will also attempt to identify school characteristics that attract low-income students, and to examine the success these schools have in providing an academically sound education that emphasizes values and religion.

Catholic schools and their students have been examined in several studies either recently completed or in progress. Several of these focus on the growing number of minority and low-income students entering the schools.

Catholic-school students also constituted a large part of the private-school sample in James S. Coleman's Public and Private Schools. In addition, a book by the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley (Minority Students and Catholic Schools) and a study by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights ("A Study of Inner-City Private Schools"), both released last spring, discussed the academic success of minority students in Catholic high schools.

Both the Council for American Private Education (cape) and researchers at Northwestern University are currently studying the experiences of minority students in private schools.

The new study is different, Mr. Benson said, because it will measure "outcomes" in values, religion, and life skills, as well as assess students' academic achievement.

In addition, it will focus not only on "minority" students, Mr. Benson said, but on "low-income" students of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Very little information exists that Catholic-school educators can use to plan programs that take into account the special needs of low-income students, Mr. Benson said.

Defining 'Low Income'

A group that included four technical advisers met last week to begin to decide, among other questions, what "low income" will mean in terms of the study and how to identify accurately students from low-income families. "Kids are notoriously bad at knowing how much their families make," Mr. Benson said.

The advisers are Sally B. Kilgore, a colleague of Mr. Coleman's; Anthony S. Bryk of the Harvard school of education; Michael O'Keefe, vice president for program and policy studies at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; and Terry A. Clark, assistant director for research and evaluation for the New York City public schools.

The project, called "Catholic Secondary Schools: Their Impact on Students from Low-Income Families," is designed, Mr. Benson said, to serve two principal purposes:

To create a national portrait of Catholic secondary schools derived from a national survey of those schools.

The survey will focus on 15 features of the schools, including facilities, academics, extra-curricular programs, religious programs, teachers, administrators, and post-graduation placement of students.

Part of the survey's purpose is to identify schools that have developed innovative programs to deal with such educational issues as the development of values, discipline, drug education, and computer education.

To assess how effectively Catholic secondary schools serve students from low-income families. The researchers--based on a survey of 9th graders in a random sample of 50 schools--will examine student "outcomes'' in the areas of academic achievement, life skills, values, and religion, and how students' results in these areas vary according to race, sex, family background, religious affiliation, and other characteristics.

Mr. Benson said life skills are the personal and practical skills that help any adolescent become an adult.

The project will end in February, 1986, resulting mainly in articles and a book.

The Rev. Robert J. Yeager, executive director of the ncea's secondary-school department, will direct the study, using staff members from both the ncea and the Search Institute.

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