Enrollment in Catholic Schools Up for Third Straight Year

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Enrollment in Roman Catholic schools is up for the third consecutive year, officials of the National Catholic Educational Association announced at their annual meeting here last week.

An additional 41,000 students entered Catholic schools during the 1994-95 academic year, bringing total enrollment to 2.6 million.

"The first year, we thought this might be a blip on the screen," said Sister Catherine T. McNamee, the president of the N.C.E.A. "Now we're onto a trend."

She attributed the growth to schools' marketing efforts. Four years ago, the association challenged its members to carry out a public-relations campaign with the message, "Catholic Schools: Schools You Can Believe In."

The 200,000-member N.C.E.A. is the world's largest private, professional education association. About 10,000 delegates attended the four-day meeting here.

"I also believe the country's concern about a decline in morals has given a boost to the values-added education we provide," Sister McNamee said.

In previous years, enrollment rose in large part because many schools started kindergarten and pre-K programs, added Robert Kealey, the executive director of the association's elementary schools department.

This year, all grade levels experienced an increase. "This is a very good sign," Mr. Kealey said, noting that there were almost 17,000 additional students in grades 6, 7, and 8 this year.

In addition, he said, the growth occurred in 42 of the nation's 50 states.

Michael Guerra, the executive director of the association's secondary schools department, said that while the news was good, "we didn't get into this business to expand our market share." The figures validate the high-quality education that Catholic schools offer, he said.

The numbers also will not diminish the N.C.E.A.'s commitment toward serving the larger community, he added, and insuring that all parents, especially those with low incomes, have a right to choose a Catholic education.

The Book of Virtues--a best-selling anthology of moral stories written by former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett--now has a classroom counterpart.

Mr. Bennett announced the publication of The Book of Virtues for Children at the opening session here, and said he hopes it will be used in schools by teachers and young people.

Mr. Bennett said he was surprised by the success of the original version, which has sold 2.1 million copies since it was published in November, 1993.

He compared the success of his book to the renewed interest in Catholic education. "People are looking for something new in their lives."

In publishing the children's version of the book, there was some controversy over whether to include the last chapter, which is about faith, said Mr. Bennett, who is the co-director of Empower America, a Washington-based conservative think tank.

But the author said the chapter was critical, and should not deter public schools from using the text. "It is still my hope that public schools will see it as their duty to engage in nonsectarian, moral education," he said.

Mr. Bennett praised the Catholic educators for their commitment to the nation's renewal, and urged them to continue their work.

He also pledged to fight for school choice. "We'll give vouchers to the bottom 10 percent, and they will do better," he said. "The reason Catholic education is successful is because it is based on the right set of principles."

A panel of distinguished black Catholic scholars spoke to the members of the association during a session on the contributions and challenges black Catholics have made to the church in America.

"I think it's often overlooked that there are as many black Catholics as there are [total] Episcopalians," said Father Cyprian Davis, a professor of church history in the school of theology at St. Meinrad (Ill.) Seminary College.

There are about 2.5 million black Catholics in America.

"We meet the same kinds of marginalizations and glass ceilings" in the church and in schools as in the outside world, added Jamie T. Phelps, an associate professor of doctrinal and mission theology and the director of the Augustus Tolton lay ministry program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

--Laura Miller

Vol. 14, Issue 31

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