kitchen table math, the sequel: palisadesk on school improvement and the Catholic school

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

palisadesk on school improvement and the Catholic school

A year ago I went to a large conference on school improvement (the focus was on using test results and assessment to determine instructional priorities, action plans, etc.). There were a number of presentations from schools that had made significant progress. My principal and I went and chose to attend presentations on low-income, high-diversity urban schools, since we figured that would be most relevant to our situation. We both noticed that nearly all of the presentations (teacher and principal teams presented what they had done and details of their implementations, etc.) were from Catholic schools.

What stood out was not so much the specifics of what they did, but the commitment of the faculty. They were clearly dedicated and willing to go more than the extra mile in a way that would be unusual in a public school, even one with very competent and caring staff. Whether it was their faith per se, or more of an ethos of service, it was quite strikingly different from what one would encounter in a public school, even a good one (and I have worked in a few).

Now of course these were "success stories," and it does not follow from this that every Catholic school is similarly graced with highly committed staff, but the factor of shared vision is probably an important one that should not be underestimated, and is difficult to replicate in a diverse public system, where many values are simply not shared.

15 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

I spoke to a dad here in the district who told me that the more religious the school, the better it is -- !

He had a rank order for schools according to religion; I think he put Protestant schools on the bottom, Catholic schools next, and Hindu schools (!) on top.

I'd never even heard of Hindu schools...

Before he told me this I had never thought of quality-of-school as connected to degree-of-religious commitment.

But I do see what he's talking about.

Myrtle Hocklemeier said...

Is it possible that there are "tiers" of Catholic Schools?

I was always under the impression that there were very elite exclusive Catholic schools which required the student to pass entrance exams and had not only more content experts teaching the classes (I'm thinking of high school here) but also more clergy involved. The kids who want to go to a parochial school but couldn't get in to the elite school would go to more run of the mill Catholic schools. I say this because of the many Catholic families that I knew a long time ago that would talk about this sort of thing. Also, I did know of some Catholic schools that graduated very ignorant students...they had to take remedial math and reading in college.

It seems that the reputable Catholic schools stay true to a rigorous Liberal Arts curriculum with lots of Western Civ. and Latin, and the other ones seem to dish out a variation of what is found in public schools.

One way to see if this is true might be to look at tuition charged by Catholic schools. I'm betting the elite ones are a few nickels more in tution per year (example St. Thomas in Houston@$10,000 per year) than the run of the mill parochial school operated around the corner at $4,000 per year.

palisadesk said...

The ones we heard from were low-income-area Catholic elementary schools. One was rural but the rest were in largely black areas. The teachers were overwhelmingly young (didn't look old enough to be in colelge!) and had been teaching only a couple of years.

One school had some additional funding from a foundation or something, but all served mainly low-income kids.

GoogleMaster said...

$10K for a private high school is cheap these days, even for Houston.

I just ran the numbers for some of the "elite" private high schools in Houston, and came up with:

* Catholic: $10-12K tuition plus $500 fees
* Episcopal: $18K tuition plus $2-3K fees
* Non-sectarian: $17K tuition plus $1-2K fees

GoogleMaster said...

Re the Hindu schools: I'm sure Houston has some of those, since we have a sizeable Indian population. I know for a fact that we have several Islamic schools, which apparently aren't on the radar in Irvington.

SusanJ said...

Just a few problem kids in a class can have a HUGE negative influence on teacher morale and student learning.

Private religious schools can kick kids out a lot easier than public schools can. The very fact that this is a possibility gives these schools a lot more leverage over student behavior.

Catherine Johnson said...

There are tiers, yes.

The elite Catholic high schools are probably mostly run by the Jesuits who have a 400-year history of excellence in the liberal arts (humanities, primarily).

Here in New York the famous school is Regis, in Manhattan, where tuition is free. It's a "feeder school" for the Ivies; they had 2500 8th graders at their open house last fall.

Kids who don't get into Regis tend to go to Fordham Prep, I believe. Regis & Fordham are both Jesuit schools.

My best friend in CA sent her son to Loyola High School and XXXX (I've forgotten the name of her daughter's school). Her daughter's school is associated with the Jesuits.

The son went to Occidental; the daughter is now at Yale.

No tutoring, no help with homework. Nothing.

There's also an excellent Catholic boys high school in Brooklyn which I think is not Jesuit, but I can't remember the order.

The Jesuits are fascinating. Naturally I had no idea who they were (or are) -- will get some things posted about them.

Apparently the Catholic Church as a whole debated whether to abandon the liberal arts and move to a "life adjustment" skills-type curriculum. I believe this debate took place in the 1960s (not sure). They decided to reaffirm their commitment to teaching the liberal arts disciplines. (I'll get that passage posted at some point.)

Catherine Johnson said...

which apparently aren't on the radar in Irvington

heh heh

Catherine Johnson said...

The very fact that this is a possibility gives these schools a lot more leverage over student behavior.

You know, it's not just that.

The Jesuits believe "greater love than fear" (which is a Machiavelli line, I believe). Apparently the philosophy has to do with love being .... in the world (??) The Jesuits decided that the world is a good place, that they should be part of it, that they should go abroad, open schools, etc.

If the Jesuit schools are operated on the principles that Loyola St. Ignatius set forth, they may be the first "positive reinforcement" schools I've ever seen.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think my friend might use the word "joy" to describe her son's high school experience.

Catherine Johnson said...

I should add that the Jesuits see themselves as very different from the rest of the Catholic world.

More on that later.

concernedCTparent said...

I should add that the Jesuits see themselves as very different from the rest of the Catholic world.

As well they should.

If I had to choose one word to describe the Jesuits it would be enlightenment. I can see why joy would be fitting for the experience as well.

Liz Ditz said...

As some of you know, I have a 30-year history of service in independent schools as a member of the board (3 different schools).

One thing I can say is that each private school is unique, formed by the community around it.

In some parts of the US, Myrtle's supposition may be correct (s it possible that there are "tiers" of Catholic Schools?

I was always under the impression that there were very elite exclusive Catholic schools which required the student to pass entrance exams and had not only more content experts teaching the classes (I'm thinking of high school here) but also more clergy involved.
. In other parts of the US, there may not be a broad-enough population base to have "tiers".

The more I learn about the private/independent schools in my neck of the woods (San Francisco Bay Area) the more I think that the best indicator of quality is the clarity of the school's mission and how well the school transmits the mission.

Religious schools (such as the Jesuit high schools -- I don't believe that the Jesuits are involved in k-6 education) have a leg up here, in that the religious base frames the mission. But there are other excellent secular schools that have strong visions for their students.

I have a snarky title for the missionless private schools: St. Anybody's Country Day.

BTW, my daughter went to a Benedictine high school, which has a monastery associated with it. the Rule of St. Benedict was the core of the student code of conduct.

Yes, there were 4 years of theology in the curriculum, including Christian scriptures, a world religions survey, and morality and social justice.

And I'd describe a lot of my daughter's highschool learning experience as joyous.

palisadesk said...

Jesuits do concentrate on secondary and post-secondary education -- but not exclusively. There are some Jesuit elementary schools. I remember reading about one in downtown Philadelphia and found the website here:
Gesu School

They also have some middle schools, 5-8 or 6-8, in several U.S. cities (I think Chicago, Detroit, and NYC -- probably other places, too) and elementary schools in aboriginal communities.

They may have more elementary schools (or 1-12 schools) in developing countries, where they have a real presence. After all it was the Jesuits' founder Ignatius of Loyola who said, "Give me a boy at the age of 7 and he is mine for life," (or something similar), referring to the lasting impact of early inculcation of values.

The scandals that have rocked a number of Catholic schools operated by other religious orders re abuse of pupils have not, to the best of my knowledge, affected the Jesuits.

Amy P said...

For some very good background on the history of Jesuit education, see the Jesuit chapter in Gilbert Highet's "The Art of Teaching." I don't have a copy now, but as I recall, the one of the revolutionary things about early Jesuit education was the fact that the Jesuits weren't beating (literally) the classics into their students. As anyone knows who's ever read a memoir of early 20th century English public schools (i.e. private boarding schools), severe caning used to be the defining feature of school. The early Jesuits tried to find other motivation than the fear of corporal punishment, using competition and encouraging feats of memory in learning poems.

Amy P