What should be the purpose of a Catholic school? Should it be to maintain high academic and behavioral standards so as to be able to achieve a high college graduation rate among alumni? Should it be to provide a place where students of normal and above normal intelligence and income can be prepared for college un-influenced by those of the lower income groups, by those who don't value education, special needs kids or by those who are not able to handle a college-preparatory curriculum? Unfortunately, especially on the high school level, I do think, that for all the fancy mission statements about Christ-centered values, those are the purposes.
To get into a Catholic high school in this area, students submit an application and undergo an interview. At the time of application, students are required to pick one school--they are not allowed to apply to multiple schools. The schools then decide whether to accept or reject each applicant. The more popular schools are able to be more selective, and tend to, all things being equal, accept students with higher grades/test scores. They are considered the "good" schools and because they are "good" they tend to garner more applicants than schools that aren't considered to be as "good." Students who are rejected by their first place schools may choose to have their packets sent to schools that still have slots to fill after the initial round of applications.
We were looking for a Catholic school for my son two years ago. We applied to a school in the city that, while it offered honors and college preparatory tracks, also offered special education services. We thought it would be a better fit for him than a school for special needs kids because while he has social issues, his academic performance had been on level, while what we generally heard from parents was that the academics at the school for special needs kids were not on grade level. He was accepted there and is nearing the end of his sophomore year. He will not be back next year. While we were considering moving him for academic reasons, the school gave us the "we aren't meeting his needs" speech last week and were told that this would give us time to find a more appropriate place for him next year. They suggested we try the school for special needs kids and said that "as we have been phasing out, they have been phasing in". Based on the "phasing out" comment, information provided by my son's psychologist and the request to remove him from public view, it is my opinion that the school is trying to move away from being the school for kids with special needs and towards being able to be more selective. I guess I shouldn't be surprised as I was told at open house three years ago by the special ed representative "you notice they have me off to the side and back here" and "we take these kids because we have to".
There are several problems with moving him to the special needs school. First, the precipitating event last week was behavioral. Without getting into details, he engaged in an unacceptable behavior; and while it was something he knew was against the rules he didn't realize HOW against the rules it was or why. He was absolutely flabbergasted with the school's and our reaction (we were told to come pick him up). While I think this was the precipitating event, they haven't been happy with him for some time. We were told a couple of months ago that he couldn't wait for us in the school lobby after study hall (after school care) was over, like the other kids who haven't been picked up do "because guest of the school are coming through there". That demand came shortly after the start of interview season. Since the special ed school's website indicates that they are not for kids with primarily behavioral or emotional issues, and since I've not heard good things from parents of other autistic kids, I'm leery.
I sort of kick myself for applying to his current school after comments like I heard at that open house, but it was a school the archdiocese recommend. I'll take the special school at its word.
As I noted earlier, we were considering leaving even before we were invited to do so. They initially placed my son on the college prep track based on his test scores and elementary school grades. We've never worked so hard for D's. The curriculum is heavy on writing, which is a weakness. The math classes have become more abstract. He is putting more work into school than ever before and getting poorer grades. Homework was consuming our family life and it seemed obvious that college was not in his future; however the curriculum offered by the school is straight college prep. While they offer "basic" classes to kids with educational evaluations who are not able to handle the college prep track, they are just simpler versions of the same subjects taught in smaller classes. In other words, my son, who struggled to pass algebra I still had algebra II, pre-calculus, chemistry and physics on the horizon. Also, despite the fact that school runs a block schedule that should allow for more elective classes, I saw nothing offered that could remotely be called vocational in nature. In short, I saw two more years of struggle for poor grades only to end up with a kid who not only was not college material but who also had no saleable skills--and this from the school that seemed most open to kids of all academic abilities.
Is this what Catholic education is supposed to be about? Is it only to educate the college-bound--or maybe special needs kids but at schools away from the "normal" ones? The archdiocese touts the high college attendance rate among graduates of their "regular" high schools, but they don't mention how many kids drop out, are kicked out or are counselled out. College is a wonderful thing, but are kids who aren't college material less Catholic?