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

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Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill
Executive Director of the Roche Center, Boston College

Date: September 25, 2012

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The recent release of the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools has brought a new focus on accountability to the discussion of Catholic school reform. Though the document proposes a set of standards for K-12 schools, the Catholic universities and schools of education that train and empower future Catholic educators are crucial components in its success. In this presentation, the executive director of BC's Roche Center for Catholic Education discusses the origins and aims of this seminal document and its importance for educators today.  

Speaker Bio

Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill

Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill is executive director of the Roche Center for Catholic Education at Boston College, and former superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. At the Roche Center she leads a number of programs in professional development (for Catholic school principals and pastors, as well as administrators at Catholic colleges and universities), advocacy, and applied research in conjunction with the Lynch School of Education and the local and national Catholic school community. Weitzel-O’Neill is co-director of the new Innovation Institute, a project of the National Catholic Education Association that sponsors research, development and adoption of innovative programs to enhance academic excellence in Catholic schools. As superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., she was responsible for 29,000 students in 96 early learning, elementary and secondary schools. During her eight-year tenure, she was credited with strengthening the schools' academic programs, introducing a standards-based curriculum and enhancing professional development standards. Prior to serving as superintendent, Weitzel-O'Neill served Trinity Washington University as vice president of academic affairs, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and associate professor of sociology. She is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University, and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from St. Louis University.

Event Photos

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Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill, Executive Director of the Roche Center at the Boisi Center on September 25, 2012.

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Photos by Boston College MTS Photography

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.”

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Further Reading

National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Education. Center for Catholic School Effectiveness, School of Education, Loyola University Chicago in partnership with Roche Center for Catholic Education, School of Education, Boston College (2012).

Benedict XVI Address to Catholic Educators (Washington, D.C., 2008)

Bornman, A., Spencer, C., O'Block, B., Weitzel-O'Neill, P & Melley, K., Duffy, S., Serio, J., & Verges, M. "Adopting National Standards and Benchmarks on the Local Level". Momentum, Vol. 43 (No. 1). 2012.

Catholic News Service. "National Standards and Benchmarks Established for US Catholic Schools". CNS News Briefs. March 8, 2012.

Congregation for Catholic Education. "The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium". (Rome, 1997).

Feinberg, Walter. For Goodness Sake: Religious Schools and Education for Democratic Citizenry. (Routledge, 2006).
A discussion of the role religious schools play in the formation of a democratic citizenry.

Goodwin, H. "Back to School 2012: A School Year of Faith"The Colorado Catholic Herald. September 7, 2012.

Hayward, Ed. "National Standards Crucial for U.S. Catholic K-12/BC Roche Center Head Helped to Draft New Guidelines"The Boston College Chronicle. March 14, 2012.

Johnson, Carolyn Y. "New Guidelines Written for Nationwide Catholic Schools Network"The Boston Globe. March 12, 2012.

Morrell, M. "Raising Standards a Key Goal as New School Year Gets Underway"The Monitor. August 20, 2012.

Schmitt, W. "Bishop McFadden's Address to ACE School Pastors Institute". University of Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education. July 31, 2012.

Sexton, R. "Fresno Adopts National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools"The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. May 26, 2012.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "National Directory for Catechesis". (Washington, D.C., 2005).

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium". (Washington, D.C., 2005).

Zimmerman, C. "National Standards and Benchmarks Established for U.S. Catholic Schools"St. Lewis Review/Catholic News Services. August 10, 2012.


The Center for Catholic School Effectiveness, School of Education, Loyola University of Chicago. The Catholic School Standards Project.

The Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice

EduTalk Radio interviews Dr. Lorraine Ozar on National Standards in Catholic Education. March 13, 2012.