Sunday, March 02, 2008

Catholic Schools

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?


  1. It is a sad reality that Catholic high schools are almost exclusively about middle class (and up) kids going to college and very little else.
    I pray that you can find the right school for Jay

  2. I found Catholic elementary schools to be the same way here. If your child struggled a bit it "Is not our problem that your child is academically inadequate" that is a direct quote from the principal where my kids were enrolled.

  3. Being the devil's advocate...
    IF the reason for your child to attend Catholic high school was only for Catholic values- why then does your daughter (who is much more gifted from your words) not attend a Catholic high school? I think you know- as do I. Catholic High schools are private schools- in general they are for the middle and upper middle. It is the way it is. If you felt you were to get something different- your daughter would probably be attending the same school as your son...correct? The "Catholic" High school is few and far between- and usually failing because the public schools in the areas offer a "better" education for college. People are not interested in paying for values- they think their kids are somehow born with them.
    Saying that- I love the public school I teach at. It is full of interesting students. Would I ever send my son there- No Way!

  4. I'll be the first to admit that Catholicism had little to do with my choice of schools, which is a good thing not only because of this situation but also because of the dismal religion class he had last year. I chose to send him to a Catholic school for middle school because I thought he'd do better in a small school rather than a large one (Catholic schools are K-8; public uses middle schools for grades 6-8--about four elementary schools feed a middle school). I chose the Catholic high school because I thought they'd have a better handle on the behavior of the kids such as to minimize teasing etc.

    I realize that Catholic schools have to fill a niche in order to keep the doors open; and given that the tuition and fees exceed $6000/year, that niche isn't going to be educating the poor. I guess my real question, and its one I've asked before is whether we really ought to have Catholic schools--and I ask that question even though I've signed my little one up for our parish school. Why did I sign her up? Because of a change in district rules, I can't send her where her siblings went, she'd have to go to our district school, which while certainly not one of the worst, isn't in the top echelon like the one the older kids attended. I'm afraid this next school year will be a bit unsettled in the public schools because of a Consent Order that will redraw some boundries, reassign some teachers and force children to remain in their district schools absent only a few reasons. It will be nice not to have to haul her to religion classes on Tuesday nites, and I like the sense of community that I've noticed is much more prevalent in the Catholic schools than the public schools. Will she stay? We'll see.


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