Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 marks National Catholic Schools Week, and this year, the theme is “Catholic Schools Raise the Standards.” 

It’s not that there was anything lacking. 

“It didn’t come from anything like that at all,” Karen Ristau told Our Sunday Visitor. “We were taking a look at everything that many people were doing and what many people were focusing on, and we put it into one document. The theme is from the inspiration of unity.” 

Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association

Ristau is president of the National Catholic Educational Association that represents nearly 7,000 elementary and secondary schools and 200,000 professionals from schools, parish religious education programs and seminaries. 

The theme of raising standards is related to the common educational standards that 46 states have adopted for their public schools, and that most Catholic schools took on voluntarily. In addition, Catholic schools have gone above and beyond those state standards with a program of “effective Catholic” standards (see Pages 9-11). 

“It is unconscionable to ask parents to make a choice between high quality academics and faith-based education,” said Lorraine A. Ozar, director of the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at Loyola University Chicago and coordinator of the project. 

Catholic schools have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that those academics are “absolutely, irresistibly excellent” and “deeply, authentically Catholic,” she added. 

For more than 25 years, research published by the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops has consistently shown Catholic schools leading all other schools academically. 

According to the 2010 statistics, 99.1 percent of students in Catholic schools graduated, compared with 97.9 percent in other religious schools and 73.2 percent in public schools. In completing four years of college, Catholic school graduates topped the statistics at 84.7 percent, with 63.7 percent from other religious schools and 56.2 percent from public schools. 

Time and again, you see Catholic school students — the teens in your church, your neighborhood and perhaps your own home — heading for college because, as the stats prove, the education is tops. Those are the academics. 

But how is the Catholic identity, the faith side, manifested at your parish or regional school? 

John Convey of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., is a longtime researcher into Catholic education and travels around the country visiting schools. 

I asked him, “What if someone took me to a school blindfolded and I didn’t take off the blindfold until I got inside. How would I know that I was in a Catholic school?” 

His answer was immediate. “Even if you kept the blindfold on, you would know,” he said. “And the one way you would know is the way you were treated. It’s the whole environment. It’s really palpable.” 

National Appreciation Day of Catholic Schools Week is Feb. 1.  

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.