ANSWER: The Catholic School advantage.
With the economy still in the dumps, there must be some benefit in order for it to be worthwhile. The benefit must go beyond the inclusion of a religion class throughout the course of the day; students can attend faith formation classes for free on the weekends. It must go beyond having the ability to accept and deny students based on academics and behavior (and in turn have fewer problems and higher achieving students).
"And so, now as in the past, the Catholic school must be able to speak for itself effectively and convincingly. It is not merely a question of adaptation, but of missionary thrust, the fundamental duty to evangelize, to go towards men and women wherever they are, so that they may receive the gift of salvation" (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, n. 3).
The Catholic School must have at its foundation an obligation to evangelize. It must charge itself with producing lifelong believers and future citizens of heaven.
"Its (the Catholic School's) task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian" (The Catholic School, n. 37).
The Catholic School must weave Jesus into all aspects of the curriculum and school culture. It must put the subjects and concepts taught in the light of the Gospel, and ensure that students are not just made smarter, but that they are also made better.
In a sense, the Catholic School must be able to produce productive citizens- people who can and do contribute in a positive way to their society. Ancient theologians argued that a good Christian made for a good citizen. Current research corroborates this:
A Harvard University study conducted in 2000 (Campbell, p. 25) reported that Catholic School students performed better than other students on the three basic objectives of civic education: the capacity for civic engagement (e.g. voluntary community service), political knowledge (e.g. learning and using civic skills), and political tolerance (e.g. respect for opinions different from their own).The longer that students spend in Catholic school's the greater the spiritual and academic benefits:
Catholic Schools are still the most effective means of forming adult Catholics that are active in their parish. 43% of those who had more than 8 years of Catholic School attended Mass every week (Greeley, p. 250).
If a student spends 8 years or more in a Catholic School, the advantage is higher math, reading and vocabulary scores (Sander, p. 545).Catholic School students are happier than their public school counterparts. They are healthier. They have a more benign view of their fellow humans. They are more accepting of people of different viewpoints. They are more generous in giving back to the Church, donating over $750 million dollars annually (Greeley, p. 260 - 261).
Even here in our own state, a 2009-10 analysis of students who qualify for Step Up for Students, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, shows that students in Catholic schools outperform their public school peers that they left behind. Catholic Schools can educate students better and for less than ½ of the money that it costs public schools to educate students.
Put simply, there isn't just a Catholic School advantage, there are Catholic School advantages.
Campbell, David. “Making Democratic Education Work: Schools, Social Capital, and Civic Education” (paper presented at the Conference on Charter Schools, Vouchers, and Public Education, March 2000), 25ff.
Congregation for Catholic Education. “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium.” Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry & Practice, Vol. 2, No. 1: 4 – 14.
Greeley, Andrew. 1989. “My Research on Catholic Schools.” Chicago Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3: 245 – 263.
Sander, William. 1996. “Catholic Grade Schools and Academic Achievement.” The Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Summer, 1996): 540 – 548.
Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School (Washington, DC: USCC, 1977).