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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Standards for Effective Elementary and Secondary Catholic Schools: A New Responsibility for Higher Education

Event Recap

Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Executive Director of the Roche Center for Catholic Education at Boston College, visited the Boisi Center on September 25 to discuss Catholic school reform. Weitzel-O’Neill has been instrumental in drafting and disseminating the new National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools, a project co-sponsored by the Roche Center, the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at Loyola University Chicago, and the National Catholic Educational Association.

The document addresses a variety of issues facing U.S. Catholic schools today, emphasizing questions of Catholic mission and identity, governance and leadership, academic excellence, and operational vitality. Weitzel-O’Neill noted that many schools operated by religious orders, such as the Jesuits or the Cristo Rey network, already have standards in these areas. Yet for a variety of reasons, Catholic schools on the parish level have struggled to implement similar principles in their institutions. Weitzel-O’Neill argued that these standards will help to clarify the Catholic school “brand,” provide a framework for improvement and guidance, offer a basis for accreditation and increase donor confidence in the sustainability of Catholic schools.

This attempt to reform Catholic education is essential given the important role Catholic schools play in our society. The opportunities and values these schools provide to Catholics and non-Catholics alike are crucial, especially for underprivileged inner-city communities. Catholic schools teach their students about interior life, prayer, conflict resolution, and mindfulness among other values that can contribute to societal flourishing and constructive citizenship. In this manner, the goal of Catholic schools is to not only educate but also to “nurture the soul of the nation.”