S.O.E. Launches Effort to Foster Success of Catholic Education

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

Boston College, in collaboration with the National Catholic Education Association, has launched Catholic Schools for the 21st Century, a project designed to identify and evaluate successful Catholic elementary and secondary school programs, and share their ideas with other Catholic schools.

"This initiative will be a significant contribution in advancing the cause of Catholic education," said School of Education Dean Gerald Pine. "Catholic Schools for the 21st Century not only will tell the success story of the Catholic schools, but will also provide an effective mechanism for the dissemination of new ideas and models to help Catholic schools confront instructional and curriculum challenges of the new millennium and implement educational models responsive to the challenging and changing needs of family, church and society."

The project will identify approximately 30 Catholic school programs exemplary in areas such as technology use, parent involvement, inclusion of children with learning disabilities and integration of Catholic values. Five members of the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy will help assess the programs, and other Boston College faculty members are expected to assist in the project. The findings will eventually be made available through Catholic publications and distributed through the Internet by June 1996, and will serve as a reference library for Catholic schools, as well as secular schools.

"We want to see what has worked in practice," said Asst. Prof. Joseph O'Keefe, SJ (SOE), co-coordinator of the initiative, "and then share successful strategies to deal with issues confronting Catholic schools."

The project was launched in August, after 25 scholars and education practitioners from across the country met at Boston College to discuss ways Catholic educators could best share ideas. Participants singled out four areas which they deemed critical to a successful Catholic school program: integrating religious beliefs into the curriculum; introducing programs that engage parents in significant ways in the life of the school; using technology both to enhance structure and mission in creative ways; and opening Catholic schools to children with learning disabilities and diverse needs.

The project will seek out those programs which best exemplify these characteristics. The scholars and practitioners at the August meeting said model programs also can provide examples of strategies to raise overall academic standards and achievement, while providing support for under-prepared students. In addition, conference participants said the project should yield innovative ideas for structuring school curriculums and financing Catholic schools.

Fr. O'Keefe said the project underscores the importance of Catholic schools in American education and the unique benefits they offer.
"In public schools, you have so many constituencies to please," he noted, "while Catholic schools have more flexibility to shape and innovate because they share a common mission." O'Keefe hopes that public schools also will be able to use the information gleaned from the project to improve their own programs.

The project's findings will be presented to a larger Catholic community next April at the National Catholic Education Association convention.

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