Standards and Benchmarks: Faith, Leadership, Excellence, and Vitality

On March 12, 2012 the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and High Schools were unveiled after a committee of Catholic educators from the P-12 Catholic schools, professional organization leaders and Catholic higher education collaborated in their development and final definition. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops vetted and approved the Standards and Benchmarks. The primary facilitation for these efforts was accomplished by Dr. Lorraine Ozar, Director of the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at Loyola University Chicago and Dr. Patsy Weitzel O'Neil, Director of the Center for Catholic Education at Boston College. Dr. Karen Ristau, President of the National Catholic Education Association, strongly endorsed and collaborated in the development of this initiative as well. Initially conceived in 2009 at the Catholic Higher Education Collaborative (CHEC) Conference, a conference hosted by Loyola University Chicago which focused on leadership in Catholic schools, the Standards and Benchmarks were launched as a guide to assess, strengthen, and sustain Catholic schools. Primarily, these standards and benchmarks will serve to create rigorous, in-depth, faith-filled guidelines for accreditation purposes or a framework for more specialized accreditation purposes as determined by specific diocese, archdiocese, or accrediting bodies. As noted in the document,, other purposes for the standards and benchmarks include creating a "brand" for Catholic schools, providing a framework for advocacy and public policy, providing opportunities for the development of or link with existing professional development and programs as offered by Catholic Higher Education supporting Catholic schools, and an increase in funders' confidence and capacity for continuous improvement of Catholic schools.

The newly published document delineates defining characteristics grounded in Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church; standards highlighting policies, programs, structures, and procedures; and benchmarks which further explain the standards and provided a means of assessment, opportunities for improvement, and measurable and observable objectives.

The Defining Characteristics of a Catholic school as noted in the document are found tobe centers of learning that:

  • foster a personal relationship with Jesus
  • contribute to the evangelizing mission of the Catholic church where life, faith, and culture are integrated
  • radiate excellence in programs, activities, and life of the school
  • educate the whole child
  • hold a Catholic worldview characterized by social justice, gospel values, wisdom and truth, self learners, and moral and ethical decision making
  • encourage employment of teachers and administrators committed to teachings of the Catholic church who give witness to that commitment
  • is shaped by communion and community where all members, teachers, parents, and the governing board respect children
  • is accessible to all who desire an education in a Catholic school
  • operates through the authority of the Bishop

The Standards and Benchmarks flow from the Defining Characteristics and are sorted into four categories: Mission and Catholic Identity, Leadership, Academic Excellence, and Operational Vitality. The Mission and Catholic Identity standards and benchmarks are intended to assist young people in seeing the role of faith in daily life and in society in the hope that students will one day fill critical roles in the life of the Church, country, and the world. Standards and benchmarks for leadership note the need to ensure effective operations, promote and protect the rights and responsibilities of the school community, Catholic identity, academic excellence and operational vitality, teaching doctrine and Sacred Scripture, building and experiencing community, serving others and offering opportunities for worship. Standards and benchmarks for Academic Excellence emphasize the hand-in-hand need for intellectual development and growth as a Christian. These standards promote energy and leadership among young people for sustainability of Church and country. Curricular experiences must be rigorous, relevant, research based and above all infused with the faith tradition. Standards and benchmarks of Operational Vitality provide the means for a culture of excellence and rigor through planning and development of finances, human resource policies and procedures, maintenance and plans for facilities and equipment, and communication, enrollment management, marketing and development.

Susan Ferguson, Director of the Center for Catholic Education at the University of Dayton, was privileged to have an opportunity to work with Drs. Ozar and Weitzel-O'Neil and others to develop surveys and rubrics for the benchmarks by which schools would be assisted in better understanding the meaning and range of compliance with each benchmark and to suggest sources of evidence to demonstrate compliance with each benchmark. These rubrics and accompanying surveys are currently infused in a pilot study for accreditation purposes.

In addition, the organization Catholic Higher Education Supporting Catholic Schools (CHESCS), seeks to develop a website that will assist schools needing professional development, programs, degree programs, courses, and webinars via institutions of Catholic Higher Education.