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Posted August 23, 2007

Monograph: Making God Known, Loved, and Served: The Future of Catholic Primary and Secondary Schools in the United States

Authors: Notre Dame Task Force on Catholic Education, Final Report, Dec. 2006, University of Notre Dame Press

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

We know the story well, perhaps too well. Today, Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States remain the largest private school system in the world and still provide remarkable, often transformative, education, often on shoestring budgets. These schools arose as a response to public schools deemed anti-Catholic in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They flourished because of the bold vision of bishops, pastors, and religious orders and the sacrifices made by immigrant peoples who found in their Catholic schools comfort from a new and sometimes hostile culture and, at the same time, the opportunity for their children to participate more fully in American society. But, so the story goes, the glory days of Catholic schools have passed, abiding mainly in our collective memory of time when every parish had a school (or so it seemed) staffed by nuns and bursting with students.

Forty years after the peak enrollment of over 5 million, Catholic elementary and secondary schools now serve half as many students even as the Catholic population has soared. Another painful round of school closures at the outset of the 21st century has erased the modest enrollment gains of the 1990s. The religious are almost gone. Pastors are overwhelmed. Mass attendance is down. So are collections. Faculty salaries are still too low. Costs and tuition are rising. Enrollments are declining. Thus goes the litany.

Yes, we know the story well. Has it become so familiar, though, that we could forget its ending is not inevitable? Must we resign ourselves to fewer, less vibrant, and less influential Catholic schools for the Church and for the United States? In light of the grim statistics and trends, we might wonder: is it even possible for those of us who, in the words of Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, see Catholic schools as “national treasures” that must be preserved, to imagine a bright future of increasing enrollments and vibrant, financially stable schools?

This report issues from our conviction that Catholic schools can and must be strong in our nation’s third century. While recognizing the challenges that face Catholic schools, we are convinced that extraordinary chapters lie ahead if the Catholic community and other stakeholders summon the commitment to respond generously to the call of the Bishops in their recent pastoral statement, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium. Indeed, the Bishops’ decision to use th phrase “third millennium” in the title bespeaks their faith in the resiliency of Catholic schools, their appreciation of Catholic schools’ unique evangelizing and educational efficacy, and their desire to inspire us to take the long view as we strive to sustain and strengthen these “national treasure” for present and future generations.

An Excerpt from the monograph:

In response to the challenge and opportunity to strengthen the academic excellence of Catholic schools, we plan to launch, through the University’s recently established Institute for Educational Initiatives, the Notre Dame Initiative for Academic Improvement of Catholic Schools. This initiative will invest deeply in the research, development, and implementation of effective assessment, curriculum, and instruction in Catholic schools in the following ways:

- Conduct research on current best practices in curriculum and instruction

- Provide professional development workshops for teachers, principals, and superintendents on curriculum development, instruction, and assessment.

- Provide a rubric for the collection of student outcomes data.

- Develop benchmark goals tied to data for student results.

- Communicate an assessment process for annually and publicly evaluating student outcomes along with protocols for the use of this assessment to improve curriculum and instruction.

- Invest in the expansion and effective use of technology in Catholic elementary and secondary schools.

- Create the Alliance for Catholic Education Press to facilitate the rapid and inexpensive publications of articles, books, and resource materials nationally.