Private Schools

May 07, 2003 2 min read

Defining Traits

The National Catholic Educational Association is wrapping up a five-year project in which it conducted five surveys to help define the characteristics of Roman Catholic high schools.

The data from the final survey—about how students, faculty members, and heads of Catholic high schools view their schools as communities—are being crunched and will be published next spring in a book called School as Community.

The first survey, sent to the 1,200 high schools that are members of the Washington-based NCEA, or about 90 percent of all Catholic high schools in the country, examined school demographics. A second survey, of 300 randomly selected high schools, looked at governance and financing. A third survey sought information about academics and activities, while a fourth examined religious education and faith formation.

Now, the NCEA is encouraging Catholic-school educators to think about how they might use the results to improve their schools.

“The question is: ‘Why do we do what we do?’” Sister Dale McDonald, the director of public policy and education research for the NCEA, said during a session at the organization’s annual convention last month. (“St. Louis Catholic Educators’ Group Marks Centennial With Look Ahead,” April 30, 2003.)

Sister McDonald noted, for example, that survey data shows Catholic schools tend to rely primarily on traditional modes of instruction and stick with traditional scheduling. She urged schools to think about whether their current teaching methods prepare students for how they will be required to learn in college.

The results of the group’s first survey, conducted in 1997, revealed that more than 39 percent of Catholic high schools were moderately or highly selective, while the rest accepted at least 81 percent of students who applied. It found that 39 percent of students in Catholic high schools came from middle-income families, while 32 percent came from homes with more modest incomes.

In the 2002 survey on community, school heads ranked “shared values” and “high academic expectations” as playing the two most important roles in building a community at their respective schools. “Winning sports teams” and “retreats” tied for third place.

Last year’s survey was sent to a random sample of 300 member high schools. Five randomly selected teachers and students, plus the head of each school, completed a survey. Seventy-five percent of schools that received the survey responded.

—Mary Ann Zehr