DO WE GET WHAT WE PAY FOR?
The new school year is about to begin in our diocesan elementary and high schools, in fact it has already begun in the high schools. The diocese has a new Superintendent of Schools and there are a number of new principals in the various buildings. In the last two weeks, however, I have been looking at some statistics on the measurement of success of transmitting the faith in our Catholic schools in the diocese which I wish to share with you. They are encouraging. But before getting into the results of the testing, I feel compelled to once again raise the question of “Why Catholic schools?” To my mind there is only one plausible and logical answer to this question and that is that Catholic schools are the most effective way of transmitting the faith from one generation to the next. If they fail in this regard, then there is little reason for the Church to spend so much money and energy in maintaining them.
But teaching the faith is only part of the equation, though it is that part that is the responsibility of the schools themselves. Practicing the faith at the same time it is being taught is the responsibility of the sending parents. Like love and marriage in the famous song from the musical OKLAHOMA, “you can’t have one without the other.”
Too often we hear, I don’t know what happened to the faith of my children? I sent them to Catholic schools and yet today they do not practice. It is so sad. Well I am here to tell you that the school alone is not and has never been enough. What is taught must be lived and that lived experience is up to the parents and/or guardians. One can teach the Fourth Commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath Day” till one is blue in the face, can teach the gift that is the Eucharist to the children, but when Mom and Dad could but choose not to attend Sunday Mass with their children, then all that is taught is in conflict with all that is lived. So I pray and hope that the opening of school this year will be accompanied by a firmer commitment on the part of parent users to accompany their children on the journey of faith and support what is taught in the classroom with what is practiced in Church.
Now, to what is taught and how effective are our schools in transmitting the faith. Each year our elementary schools administer in the fifth and eighth grades the Assessment of Catechesis Religious Education developed and administered by the National Catholic Education Association. Additionally, our four high schools administer a similar test to eleventh graders. Jesuit High School and the Academy of the Holy Names either do not administer the test or choose not to share the results with me and with the diocesan school office. The good news is that in every category tested, our students outperformed the national average, often considerably so. The “domains” which are tested are God; Church; Liturgy and Sacraments; Revelation, Scripture and Faith; Life in Christ; Church History; Prayer/Religious Practice; and Faith Literacy. There are also four “pillars” which are also measured and those are: Creed, Liturgy/Sacraments, Morality and Prayer. Both knowledge and attitudes are measured and the “domains” mentioned above reflect key concepts of our faith while the “pillars” reflect the Pillars of Faith according to the Catechism of the Church.
One interesting note to me is that for the past three years while the diocese has been focusing on its “Eucharistic Initiative”, the students’ awareness, understanding of and appreciation for Liturgy and the Sacraments has increased – perhaps the first fruit of bring all the teachers of our young together for in-service education on this centrality of our faith. I have before me the scores for the past five years and they have been and remain substantially and significantly higher than the national average. I can also tell something of the effectiveness of each of our elementary schools but these raw scores must be interpreted carefully. Any standardized test requires basic reading skills and some of our elementary schools work with students whose reading aptitude is far below the norm for the year of study. All in all, I wish to compliment our elementary schools teachers and principals for a good year of transmitting the faith.
Our four high schools are also above the national average but not as markedly and remarkably as the elementary schools. I would like to see the results higher in the coming years and I will be communicating this hope to the high school principals soon. There are also some very remarkable variances and differences between the test scores of our four high schools with Tampa Catholic consistently outscoring her three sister schools (St. Petersburg Catholic, Clearwater Central Catholic, and Bishop McLaughlin). Again, I should also note that in the domain and pillar of Liturgy and Sacraments, there are also to be found better results in the last three years. I have reviewed all the results with our Director of Faith Formation, Brian Lemoi, and know that a careful reading, perhaps more careful than I have given which I would term more “cursory” than “careful” is required, but I can affirm to all parents reading this blog entry that I truly believe that in the area of faith formation and transmission, you are getting what you paid for. Now I plead with you to do your part.