Values are the secret ingredient in the success of Catholic schools

Students at St. Michael School in Murrells Inlet participate in the celebration of Mass and daily prayers.

Editor’s note: Catholic Schools Week is celebrated annually to underscore everything that makes Catholic education special. See The Miscellany edition on Feb. 13 for photos of the weeklong event.

For Catholic schools to be relevant to families and children today and also be a vital part of transforming the future of our society, we must consider what has made and makes Catholic schools so revolutionary: the recognition and embrace of a values-based education, and that certain values in schools have significant and serious consequences for how students learn, grow, and contribute to society.

The legacy of Catholic schools makes a strong case for why we should look at the role values play in all schools, whether they are public, charter, parochial, or private. 

Two incidents in history, the Eliot School Rebellion in Boston in 1859 and the Philadelphia “Bible riots” of 1844 launched an explosive and transformative growth of Catholic schools in those cities because the values of their public school systems were incompatible with those of their Catholic and immigrant populations. 

As was the case over 150 years ago, education is never values-neutral. The choice that every parent makes for their child’s education is a definitive statement of their family’s values.

Research continues to suggest that in measures of academic achievement, long-term life outcomes, civic engagement, and charitable giving, graduates of Catholic schools outpace their counterparts in public schools as well as other faith-based schools. 

Kathleen Porter-Magee, superintendent of an innovative network of seven Catholic schools in New York City, notes that even recent attempts to replicate the “outside” features of Catholic schools — uniforms, discipline policies, and the like — have fallen short in public and charter school environments where the values and root beliefs have not been transformed. 

The secret ingredient of Catholic schools’ legacy and sustainability of success lies in the specific and irreplaceable values that drive Catholic education.

Every child deserves great schools with strong values. We must do better as both Church and society to provide equitable access to all parents and empower them to make choices for their children’s education, regardless of income or zip code, by the values they seek to instill. It is a battle to be fought on multiple fronts by advocating for academically excellent and mission-driven Catholic schools and “pushing in” to the discussion on the values that are present and embedded in public, charter, and private schools.

John Reyes is the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the diocesan Office of Education.