In our opinion: Catholic schools provide a unique option in Utah's vibrant educational landscape

Deseret News editorial

Published: Mon, Aug. 11, 2014, 12:00 a.m. MDT


In just a short time, the school year will begin. And over the next decade, an unprecedented number of new students are projected to flood into Utah’s public education system. Meeting their needs will require innovative solutions and different approaches. As such, elected officials and school administrators might do well to take a cue from Utah’s Catholic schools, which are doing something right.

Nationwide, Catholic schools have seen a serious decline in enrollment over the past few decades. Fifty years ago, there were nearly 13,000 Catholic schools in the United States with more than 5.2 million students. Today, the number of Catholic schools has been cut in half, and the number of students has dropped to 1.8 million.

Utah, however, is bucking the national trend. Since 1999, five Catholic schools opened their doors, and none have closed despite increased competition from the surge in charter schools. Enrollment has remained stable, and the quality of the education is impossible to deny. Catholic schools can boast of their astonishing 99 percent graduation rate, and Utah’s Catholic schools rank in the 98th percentile in their rate of college placements.

Public schools don’t even come close to those numbers.

Some observers attribute this success to the ability of parochial schools to deny admission to problem students, whereas public schools have to take all comers. There is some truth in that assessment, but the educational environment is continually changing on that score. Sister Catherine Kamphaus, the superintendent of Utah’s Catholic school system, recently told the Deseret News there has been an increased focus on admitting students with low to moderate learning disabilities in the past few years. The effects of increased competition in the educational system make it necessary for all schools to accommodate as many students as possible. The Catholic system is no exception to the rule.

Another fact that may surprise observers is about a fourth of all students in Utah’s Catholic schools are not Catholics. Mormons, Protestants, Jews and Buddhists combined make up approximately 25 percent of Catholic school students, and both the students and parents of other faiths can have a positive experience in these schools. Parent surveys show that educational excellence is the primary factor for enrolling their children in Catholic schools, followed by the safe environment these schools provide. Religious faith ranks third as a consideration. It’s encouraging to know people of different faiths can find value in a Catholic educational experience.

Of course, Catholic schools are not for everyone. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Utah’s education needs have a no one-size-fits-all solution, and it’s heartening to know Utah’s Catholic school system continues to thrive as a viable option for those who want it.

1. procuradorfiscal
Tooele, UT,
Aug. 11, 2014

Re: "Of course, Catholic schools are not for everyone."

But the concepts that make them a success are.

If Utah public schools concentrated more on the proven, affordable educational successes produced by Utah's Catholic schools, and less on cynical UEA/NEA priorities, like early education/free babysitting, unsustainably small class size, unwise teacher-tenure initiatives, Common-Core dumbing-down, and unlimited taxpayer fleecing, we'd all be better off.

Shoddy, communalized, unionized, education, operated for the primary benefit of union bosses and sub-par educators is the real trend being bucked in Catholic schools.

And, it's high time we all followed their lead.

2. UtahBlueDevil
Durham, NC,
Aug. 11, 2014

@procuradorfiscal - so who is the this union boss in the state of Utah that the state board of education and local districts are protecting? What is his or her leverage over the state? Good grief.... we get it... all the problems in education are because of the unions and lazy teachers.... and of course the socialist dictates of Washington DC.

Of course none of it has to do with the fact that Catholic Schools are a self selecting community. That Catholic Schools don't have to put up with discipline problem students. That the kids in these schools are there because their parents value education enough to put up the extra money for these schools.

Nope, its because of the unions, teachers, and standards that public schools have issues. The parents....absolved.

I in my youth and my kids have both had times when the Catholic School system was used. Brigham Young used the catholic teachers for his kids. It is a great system. My youngest may yet attend a local Catholic high school. Not to avoid unions - but because he will be surrounded by kids whose parents value their education enough to pay for it.

3. procuradorfiscal
Tooele, UT,
Aug. 11, 2014

Re: "Of course none of it has to do with the fact that Catholic Schools are a self selecting community. That Catholic Schools don't have to put up with discipline problem students."

You've apparently never been to a Catholic school.

They have the same discipline issues as any other school. But they deal with the problems, resolve them, rather than putting up with them, as liberals always suggest public schools must do.

And yes, sometimes they expel the most serious cases -- which public schools could also do. They just don't.

It breaks solidarity with that thug element that union bosses are so fond of.

4. Mike Richards
South Jordan, Utah,
Aug. 11, 2014

The difference is in what we expect a "school district" to do. We expect that students going to a Catholic School will behave themselves. Why don't we expect that students going to a "public school" also behave themselves?

Parents MUST expect their children to perform. A school cannot teach a child when there are no expectations from the parents. No parent can expect a school to teach a child discipline if discipline is not taught in the home.

Everyone of us knows that we are expected to obey all laws. Why do we allow children to pick which laws they will obey?

I applaud those who can see that discipline is lacking in public schools. I applaud those who can see that "Catholic Schools" expect students to respect discipline.

Personally, I think that society's problems can be laid at the feet of parents who expect nothing from a children and then tell us that society has failed their children.

5. glendenbg
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 11, 2014

@procuradorfiscal - I don't know if you have any real world experience with Utah's Catholic schools. I do - I'm a graduate.

Catholic schools succeed because parents choose to put their kids in them and kids choose to stay - by doing the work, by behaving, by succeeding. Students are there by choice. It changes the dynamic in the school. It's comparable to a school full of advanced placements kids who are choosing to be part of the program.

It is a self-selecting community but in a different way than people often think - it is a community of parents, students, teachers and administrators who have chosen to value education and to make it a primary priority. The effect of those collective choices are obvious in the difference in high school graduation rates and later college graduation rates.

By contrast, public schools have many students who don't want to be there; they feel forced to attend and they resent it - they would choose to be elsewhere if they could. Even though they are a minority, there are enough students like that to make a real, qualitative difference in the school.