A Catholic Response to the Accountability Movement

Article excerpt

At the end of her thorough and insightful review of our nation's failed attempts to reform American education, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education," Diane Ravitch concludes: "If we want to improve schools and education we must first of all have a vision of what good education is. We should have goals that are worth striving for." And to move toward that vision (of the truly good school) we should attend, she insists, to quality. A quality curriculum, quality teaching, quality leadership and quality facilities are measured by standards that embody the vision of the truly good school. The "National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools" project, which you will read about in the following pages, is in essence a vision for what a quality Catholic school looks like, the kind of school our young people need and deserve.

This vision grows out of a long history of educating Catholic and non-Catholic young people. It grows out of a vision that was forged by many traditions of spirituality embodied in religious communities who founded and staffed these schools, and out of new responses to new and emerging needs. This vision was forged in urban centers, in suburban communities, in rural areas where the Catholic community built and staffed schools, spanning the gamut from pre-school to graduate higher education. A vision of quality is not something we need to invent. We know what quality looks like, what excellence in instruction and leadership looks like. We know, too, when our young people are being short-changed and deprived in sub-standard and inadequate educational environments. But, until now, we as a Catholic community of educators have not had an agreed-upon set of standards to which we could hold ourselves accountable.

"National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools" marks a true beginning in collaboration and a commitment to addressing the call that we are hearing from a variety of sectors for accountability in our schools. This call for accountability is being addressed to every sector of education and it demands that we demonstrate in concrete and measurable ways how and why our schools deserve the support they require in order to remain quality institutions.

The Work of Many

The creation of these standards was the work of many individual Catholic educational leaders gathered at conferences, seminars and meetings over a two-year period (2009-2011), beginning with the 2009 Catholic Higher Education Collaborative (CHEC) conference at Loyola University Chicago. These Catholic educators labored over how best to address what many had already noted: If trends continue and the number and size of Catholic schools continues to diminish, will they be available to a new generation of American children? Naturally, this discussion gives rise to the question of resources, the high cost of maintaining these schools and a related issue regarding when and who should determine which Catholic schools are worth supporting and maintaining. Difficult issues are being faced by diocese after diocese, sponsoring congregations, parents and pastors.

One result of these deliberations was the "Standards" project. Leadership for this endeavor came from Dr. Lorraine Ozar and her colleagues at Loyola University Chicago's Center for Catholic School Effectiveness in the School of Education. Those who worked on the standards themselves- a national task force- did so with the following premises or assumptions in mind. A quick review of the six premises reveals why the standards are a muchneeded contribution and can assist us in answering the critical questions we now face regarding the distribution of resources and guarantees of accountability. …