Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Catholic Schools as Schools of Academic Excellence: A Summary of the Third Catholic Higher Education Collaborative Conference Proceedings

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Catholic Schools as Schools of Academic Excellence: A Summary of the Third Catholic Higher Education Collaborative Conference Proceedings

Article excerpt

While studies have found evidence that Catholic school students, specifically, secondary students, outperform their public school peers and that the impact is particularly powerful for disadvantaged students or students from low socioeconomic, minority, and single-parent backgrounds (e.g., Bryk, Lee, & Holland, 1993; Coleman, Hoffer, & Kilgore, 1982; Jeynes, 2008), most of these studies have become dated and are fiercely debated (e.g., Alexander & Pallas, 1983; Goldberger & Cain, 1982; Murnane, 1981; Noell, 1982). Recent research has found that neither public nor Catholic schools have a consistent advantage over the other in raising student achievement in math and reading, though the impact of poverty is "considerably mitigated for students in Catholic schools" (Hallinan & Kubitschek, 2010, p. 143). Regardless of the research findings, Catholic schools are called upon to ensure "the instruction which is given in them is at least as academically distinguished as that in the other schools of the area" (canon 806 [section]2). Academic excellence is often a distinguishing characteristic of Catholic schools, one that is central to the mission and identities of these schools. What does it mean to be academically excellent? In an era of high-stakes assessments and increased accountability, many debate whether Catholic schools should adopt similar policies, using evidence-based practice or objective evidence to inform practice. Others advocate that all Catholic schools should adopt thoughtfully prepared standards to ensure high expectations, a socially just environment, and accountability (Kallemeyn, 2009). Still others call for a definition of academic excellence that focuses on critical thinking, questioning inherited concepts and fostering new ideas.

On September 26, 2010, invited Catholic school educators gathered for the third Catholic Higher Education Collaborative (CHEC) conference hosted at Boston College entitled "Catholic Schools as Schools of Academic Excellence: How Can Catholic Higher Education Help?" This 3-day conference, cosponsored by the Roche Center for Catholic Education at Boston College and the Center for Catholic School Leadership at Fordham University, was the third in a series of six CHEC conferences. CHEC began in 2007 at a national gathering of Catholic colleges and universities to explore ways to support and strengthen Catholic education at all levels. The group agreed to convene a series of six conferences focused on salient topics crucial to the sustainability and improvement of Catholic elementary and secondary schools, including the immigrant Church, leadership, academic excellence, Catholic identity, governance, and accessibility and affordability. Researchers and practitioners come together at these conferences in an effort to examine these topics critically, developing greater understanding of the needs of Catholic schools, identifying concrete ways to support Catholic education, and building partnerships between Catholic higher education and Catholic Pre-K-12 schools.

The CHEC conference hosted at Boston College focused on how Catholic higher education can assist--more and better--in developing and supporting essential components necessary to achieving academic excellence in Pre-K-12 Catholic schools. Speakers posed challenging questions, and, similar to the format of the CHEC conference held at Loyola University Chicago on leadership, significant time was devoted to discussion among participants. Eighty-seven invited attendees from 22 states participated in these conversations, including deans, administrators, and researchers from 24 Catholic colleges and universities; superintendents and other diocesan administrators representing 20 dioceses; presidents, principals, and school administrators from six Catholic schools; and directors and administrators from six Catholic education associations and organizations, such as the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium, the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Schools Consortium, and the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). …

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