Catholic Schools in collaboration with parents and guardians as the primary educators, seek to educate the whole child by providing an excellent education rooted in Gospel values. Since the founding of the first Catholic school, the United States Catholic Bishops speaking in conference have supported Catholic schools as foundational to the mission of the Church. As recently as 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to the United States, stated that “Catholic schools are an outstanding apostolate of hope . . . addressing the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of three million children.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Catholic Educators, April 17, 2008, Washington DC, par. 5). The bishops of the United States, particularly in the seminal document, To Teach as Jesus Did (1971), continuously underscore the threefold mission of our Catholic schools—to proclaim the Gospel, to build community, and to serve our brothers and sisters. In their most recent document, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium (2005), the United States Catholic Bishops emphasized that the entire Catholic community is called to evangelize our culture, and stressed that Catholic elementary and secondary schools play a critical and irreplaceable role in this endeavor. In this same document, the bishops committed themselves and called on the entire Catholic community to ensure that Catholic schools continue to provide a Gospel-based education of the highest quality. “Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the good news. First and foremost, every Catholic institution is a place to encounter the Living God, who in Jesus Christ, reveals His transforming love and truth” (Pope Benedict XVI Address to Catholic Educators, April 17, 2008, Washington DC, par. 2).
While the bishops in their document, Renewing our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium (2005), recognized challenges in the areas of the changing face of our Church, personnel, and finances, they expressed strong commitment to the future of Catholic schools. They called on the Catholic community to reach out to the broader community in order to address these challenges. “Our vision is clear: our Catholic schools are a vital part of the teaching mission of the Church. . . . We must respond to challenging times with faith, vision and the will to succeed because the Catholic school’s mission is vital to the future of our young people, our nation, and most especially our Church.” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, 15)
Recognizing the imperative that Catholic schools must provide an excellent academic program within a faith-filled environment, these National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools have been produced to provide a national articulation of defining characteristics and performance benchmarks that will enable all sponsors of Catholic elementary and secondary schools to assess, strengthen, and sustain their operations. The rich conversation among diocesan personnel, school leaders, Catholic educational networks, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), and Catholic university scholars and leaders at the Catholic Higher Education Collaborative (CHEC) Conference on school leadership held at Loyola University Chicago in October, 2009, surfaced the possibility and desirability of joining many voices into a single foundational statement that could serve as a basis for developing and validating local standards with the added credibility of a broader national vision. More specifically, conference participants voiced the conviction that collectively endorsed national standards supported and advocated by the Bishops offer the opportunity for the Catholic community to: clarify the “brand” of “Catholic school”; provide a framework to enhance public policy and advocacy efforts on behalf of Catholic schools; provide universal characteristics and criteria that could serve as a basis of Catholic school accreditation; provide a link to Catholic Higher Education professional development and leadership programs in support of Catholic schools; and increase funders’ confidence in school capacity for sustainable improvement. A number of local dioceses, Catholic school networks, and Catholic school accrediting agencies have developed similar documents for their schools. The publication of this document in no way intends to supplant or diminish their work.
The National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools is intended to describe how the most mission-driven, program effective, well managed, and responsibly governed Catholic schools operate. They are offered as school effectiveness standards rather than curriculum content standards, although they support curriculum development consistent with national standards and the Common Core State Standards. They provide benchmarks to determine how well a school is fulfilling its obligation to those who benefit from its services (e.g. students, parents/guardians and families, faculty and staff), to donors and contributors, to the Church, and to civil society. Catholic schools and sponsors are encouraged to commit to the defining characteristics and performance benchmarks of the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools and to work toward implementing the principles and practices outlined here within the context of their own culture and community.
This document contains three types of statements grounded in Church teachings, best practice, and proven success of those committed to the future of Catholic elementary and secondary education in the United States.
National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools was drafted by a national task force of Catholic school educators and supporters, in communication with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). The first draft was reviewed by participants at the Chief Administrators of Catholic Education (CACE) annual conference in October 2010. Using the feedback from CACE, the task force crafted the second draft for open review at the NCEA national convention in April 2011. Two sessions were attended by stakeholders representing all levels of leadership. Following revisions to the second draft, the Task Force invited selected domain experts, leaders in Catholic education, Bishops, pastors, and other key stakeholders to provide a final round of feedback on the third draft. A fully vetted and revised document is now offered to the entire community March 2012.