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Study Examines Catholic Students' Values, Behaviors

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Roman Catholic seniors attending church-run high schools are more likely than their Catholic peers in public schools to plan to attend college, but less likely to express positive attitudes toward their current schooling, according to a report released last week.

Regardless of whether their parents had attended college, the Catholic-school seniors surveyed were more likely to report college aspirations, the study commissioned by the National Catholic Educational Association found.

But on questions measuring a liking for school and the perceived relevance of schoolwork, Catholic-school seniors were less positive than Catholic seniors in public schools.

Those findings can probably be attributed, the report suggests, to the greater academic rigor, larger homework loads, and tougher discipline generally found in Catholic schools.

"It is not hard to believe that this level of discipline is not universally well-received by adolescents," it says.

The report, entitled "The Heart of the Matter: Effects of Catholic High Schools on Student Values, Beliefs, and Behaviors," draws on data from Monitoring the Future, an annual federally sponsored survey of 16,000 high-school seniors. The ncea commissioned the Search Institute of Minneapolis to analyze the responses of Catholic seniors in public and church-affiliated schools.

The findings were released in Toronto at the association's annual convention.

'Common Moral Language'

Officials of the ncea said the study showed that attending Catholic school has a strong effect on developing positive values and behaviors.

They cited, for example, higher levels of church attendance, a greater willingness to make charitable contributions, and stronger support for the institution of marriage among young Catholics who attended church-run schools.

"Unlike its public-school counterpart, the Catholic high school is a part of a larger setting in which strength is drawn from a common moral language, a common history, and a shared vision of the human journey," Michael Guerra, executive director of the ncea's secondary-schools department, writes in the report.

The study also found that seniors in Catholic high schools were less supportive of "militarism" than were their peers in public schools. It attributes the difference to the church schools' response to "the growing concern within the Catholic community for education that promotes peace and justice."

Another finding suggests a mixed picture on student behavior.

The researchers found that seniors at Catholic schools reported more frequent use of alcohol, and greater likelihood of "binge drinking," than did Catholics in public school. But the Catholic-school students were less likely than their public-sector counterparts to use marijuana or cocaine.

Information on ordering the report is available from the ncea, 1077 30th St., N.W., Suite 100, Washington, D.C. 20007-3852; telephone: (202) 337-6232.

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