By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

Student from Holy Name Catholic School in Ketchikan, Alaska.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A set of national standards and benchmarks for Catholic schools — defining what makes them unique and providing ways to measure their effectiveness — was released March 7.

The publication: “National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools” is the result of a collaborative effort by the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Education, the Roche Center for Catholic Education at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and the National Catholic Educational Association.

“These standards and benchmarks should be looked upon as all-encompassing school effectiveness standards that give a common framework of universal characteristics of Catholic identity and agreed-upon criteria for Catholic school excellence,” said Lorraine Ozar, director of the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness and an associate professor at Loyola’s School of Education.

She said the landmark document was developed and vetted by a national task force of Catholic school educators and supporters through a process that began at a 2009 Catholic educators’ conference.

At the conference, educators said they were looking for a way to put all of the best ideas of Catholic schools — based on Vatican statements on Catholic education, remarks by Pope Benedict XVI and statements of U.S. bishops — into one statement that would “clarify the brand” of Catholic schools and give a framework for schools seeking accreditation or advocating for public policy efforts.

Students at Holy Name Catholic School stay focused on a project in their classroom. Holy Name is the only Catholic School in Southeast Alaska.

The document’s introduction says it hopes its description of effective Catholic schools will enable students, parents, families, faculty, staff members and donors to determine how a school measures up to what it should be doing.

In its section “Defining Characteristics of Catholic Schools,” the document notes nine traits of effective Catholic schools, saying they should:
— Model the example of Christ.
— Contribute to the church’s evangelizing mission.
— Strive for excellence.
— Educate the whole child.
— Promote understanding of the Catholic worldview.
— Recognize the vocational role of teachers, and as much as possible recruit practicing Catholics.
— Take part in a collaborative effort with parents.
— Strive to be accessible to all.
— Cooperate with the local bishop.

The document outlines policies, programs, structures, and processes that should be present in effective schools and also provides specific benchmarks to determine if schools are adhering to Catholic mission and identity, effectively establishing governance and leadership, providing academic excellence and successful management of facilities with up-to-date technologies and communications.

Karen Ristau, president of NCEA, praised the document for creating new ground.
“While we have had documents about Catholic education in the past, this one is quite specific in its definitions of exactly what comprises a Catholic school. This foundational document will ensure Catholic schools keep the promise they make to families and the community,” she said.