5 Myths About Catholic Schools
It’s Catholic Schools Week, so I pray you’ll indulge me. We’ve been Catholic school parents for more than a decade and with five kids currently enrolled, high school to kinder, we’ve learned a few things along the way. I think it’s important to note that my husband and I are both products of the public school system (I’m the daughter of a public school teacher!) and we have many, many friends who are successful homeschoolers. This isn’t meant to shame or put down any of them. We have seen our children grow and thrive in the Catholic school environment and it’s my hope you might find the same with your family.
Let’s throw it back all the way to middle school and play a little true/false, shall we?
MYTH #1: Catholic schools are only for rich kids.
I can personally say this one is definitely not true. Truthfully? Catholic schools are for any kid – regardless of income. It’s the question I get the most, “How do you afford to send your kids to Catholic school?” For starters, here’s 23 tips on making it affordable. But, my best advice? Go talk to the school principal before you decide if you can make it work for your family or not. There is likely tuition assistance, deferred billing or other options. Don’t just pull up the school website, search for tuition rates and then start shaking your head. I’m certainly not saying every family can afford Catholic school, but before you cut and run, set a meeting, offer it to prayer and see what God has to say. There is a high school in our diocese that follows the Cristo Rey model of a corporate work-study program to pay for tuition. It’s quite remarkable and it’s paving the way for kids of every socioeconomic background to become first-generation college students, all while gaining invaluable work experience. In addition, our diocese conducts an annual event to raise money for each of our 22 schools. They have provided nearly half a million dollars in tuition assistance since 2009. Maybe yours does something similar.
MYTH #2: Catholic schools only focus on elite academics.
Are academics important in Catholic schools? You bet they are. And, it’s probably the statistic that gets the most press. Around 99% of Catholic school students graduate and 85% go on to post-secondary education. But, I will tell you as much as I’m loving that my kids are challenged academically (in the healthiest of ways), the reason we scrimp and save to send our kids is because of the whole education they’re receiving. Service is a huge part of our children’s education model and I love that. Because, truly, you can’t educate a child’s mind and forget about her spirit and her body. They are intimately woven together. When our preemie began his first day of kindergarten, his teacher, who had been with us since his birth, squeezed my shoulder and said, “Mama, he’s gonna be fine.”
MYTH #3: If nuns or priests aren’t teaching, it can’t have a strong Catholic identity.
The second most asked question is always, “Is there a priest assigned to the school – or – Do nuns teach?” Y’all, there is an important observation we must all understand. Spirituality and faith are not exclusive to priests and religious. Are they enhanced when a sister or priest walks the halls or teaches the classes? Yes. But they are not mutually exclusive. Some of the teachers that have changed my children, rocked their worlds and brought them closer to Christ are lay people. It is the preparation of the teacher’s heart that matters most, not the clothes she wears or title she has. Ask your principal what the academic and spiritual requirements of teachers are and there you will find our answers. The last several years we have been blessed with amazing Sisters in the classroom and mighty fine leaders of priests at the altar. But it has been the living rosaries, the saint projects, the service initiatives, the community building, adoration hours and the prayer time that has forged an indisputable Catholic identity in my school and in my children.
MYTH #4: Catholic school kids live in a bubble and aren’t exposed to the ‘real’ world.
I would argue that because my children attend Catholic school they are better prepared to tackle the world’s inequities. Let’s be clear, though. Catholic school does not equal a substitute for my role as a parent. School simply reiterates and further explains what we do at home, as a family. I cannot expect my children to learn service if we don’t practice it at home, nor will they learn prayer, kindness, love and acceptance if we don’t provide those life lessons under our roof. Bottom line? We are active participants and equal partners with the school in forming our children. We make a good team when we both do our part. I’m not afraid to call my principal when I see an area of improvement (trust me 😉 ) and I expect them to provide me with great resources and a phone call when I need to step up my game, too. Our kids are only living in a bubble if we allow it.
MYTH #5: Catholic schools are only for Catholics.
Each year, Catholic schools save taxpayers approximately $24-billion based on the public schools cost. $24-billion. It costs Catholic schools around $5,200/student per year and public schools are racking up around $12,000/student. So, yeah, we’re doing more with our students, using less money. And, you might be surprised to hear that a growing number of non-Catholics are seeking a faith-based education for their children in a Catholic school setting. I’m proud not only that our schools are forming solid citizens and being good stewards of our tuition dollar, but that we’re seeking to form faith-filled young adults, regardless of religious upbringing. I’m seeing, first-hand, the fruits of a Catholic school education and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Want to learn more about Catholic schools and how they might be right for you?
Applying to Catholic School? 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask
How Do You Do it? Choose, Apply & Thrive in Catholic School
An Open Letter to Catholic School Parents
Five Questions Every Catholic School Parent Should Ask the Principal
Five Things I Wish I Would’ve Known as a First-Time School Mom
The One Lesson Every Mom Should Remember on the First Day of School
Number 5 is an eye-opening stat. Thanks for including that here. There’s a lot to think about/discuss within that topic! Our Bishop was trying to get a Cristo Rey school going here, but it just fell through. Someday, maybe…
A point of hope. That school started as part of the Cristo Rey network, but recently broke off to be self-sustaining. The model is still working and the school is still thriving.
In the Southern part of the Philippines, where there is a sizeable Muslim population, Catholic schools have many Muslim students.
Last night we had a friend over who teaches in a public school. He’s switching to the Catholic School and told us that the Catholic schools in our diocese pay 85% under what the public schools pay. So these teachers aren’t doing it for the money, obviously!
Nope! We love our teachers.
We are so blessed in Carmel and Westfield, IN to have parishes that do not charge tuition for school. The parishes of Our Lady of Mt Carmel and St. Maria Goretti are tithing parishes and consider the school their most important ministry. Parents must be practicing Catholics and are required to do a certain number of service hours. There are, of course, waiting lists. Both of these schools are Blue Ribbon schools.
I am sure that this has been your personal experience but not all Catholic schools are the same. My sister used to be the development director of our local Catholic school and the principal ( a nun) often crossed poor families off the wait list and moved rich families higher up. The school also uses Common Core curriculum and county textbooks. They also have zero programs for special needs. So, I understand that your experience is positive and I am glad for you. But, you can’t make a blanket statement that these are myths. We pulled our children out of Catholic school when a wealthy family’s child bullied our son relentlessly. The school would not help our child. Several families left for the same reason.
Melissa, thank you so much for your comment. You’re right, not all schools are the same. I am very disheartened to hear your sister had such a negative experience, but I can tell you that is not the norm! And, we have a child who was born premature and required extensive therapy. Our Catholic schools were not equipped to provide the resources he needed, but with private therapy (and some reinforcement/help from the Catholic preschool), I’m thrilled to say he’s now thriving in Catholic school. And, one of our children needed some accommodations and the partnership between our Catholic school and the public school system was commendable. I still stand by these myths, because I believe they are only true if we allow them to be. When we see inequity, lack of faith-based curriculum and the like, we have to stand up and be instigators of change. We have dealt with bullying, too, and I know how very difficult it can be on a kid, and a family. I pray that you found your educational solution and your children are thriving. In the end, it’s what matters.
Our experience was so similar to yours! It was heart-wrenching. We tried for far too long to make the situation work thinking we should keep our daughter in Catholic school. While I believe that Catholic schools can be a positive place for some children, faith first and foremost starts at home. It is our responsibility as parents to teach our children to live out their faith in their lives and in their schools whether they be Catholic or public schools.
I agree wholeheartedly and that’s what I tell others who ask….. it all starts at home , not school
I agree whole heartedly. The Catholic church like every other business , follows the almighty dollar. I lived in Philadelphia when my four children were young, public schools in Philly were not an option
Once we were behind on tuition, they sent a note home with my second grader (who could read) telling us not to send out kids back until the tuition was paid. In total, my children went to three elementary schools because the Archdiocese of Philadelphia kept closing our neighborhood schools due to “changing demographics” translation…the money has left the city and gone to the suburbs. Which I promptly did and enrolled my daughter’s in a wonderful public school!
Rita, thanks for commenting. That note in your child’s backpack must’ve been an extremely hard thing to suffer through, for that I am very sorry. No family should ever be made to feel like that. While I can only comment on my time in two diocesan school settings – Indianapolis and Austin – I know that closing of schools is something no bishop takes lightly. When our Austin bishop made that hard choice, he said it was one of the most difficult decisions he’d ever made. As his personal friend, I believe that. Demographics change and sustainability becomes a major factor. I’m proud to say that several of our inner-city schools are thriving and the ones in the suburbs continue to flourish. I’m so happy you found a great solution for your daughters – whether it be public, Catholic or home, our child’s happiness and well-being always comes first. Good for you for recognizing a need for change.
Loved this article and due to my husband job we have moved around the country extensively and often. We are also a larfe, multi racial adoptive family (my husband and I have adopted 11 children) Catholic education and the Church have been the constant that has helped our kids to move so often. We have had schools with nuns in full habit, schools with only the parish priest. We love Catholic education!
How awesome – 11 kids! That’s fantastic.
Thank you for writing this Kathryn! I am a ‘lifer’ of Catholic education and I love both my children’s Catholic grade school and pre-school. I serve on our schools Catholic Identity committee and I know I have learned so much these past 5 years working with other faithful moms and dads in our school. No Catholic school is perfect, but I truly believe we have to support our Catholic schools as much as possible. They are such a gift!
I was at a Catholic school for grades 6-8. Academically I needed the push to up my game. Socially I needed a better environment, and after only having 2nd grade CCD to receive Holy Communion, I definitely needed the catechesis.
Our 3rd child is spending one year for 8th grade at a Catholic school. It’s not entirely the positive environment your family’s experience is, and I wish it was. She’s a strong personality and has no problem calling out people for behaving badly toward her, but we are working on tact and filters. I think her classmates appreciate her candor though. Our 4th child may change schools by middle school if the current situation remains. There is an unfortunate legacy that precedes our arrival at this nearby parish, which explains the general attitude from parishoners toward the school. I’m not sure the school at our parish is the right fit for her either. I thought about homeschooling but I am not sure I have it in me to do it for her or our 5th.
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As someone who grew up in the Catholic school system, I find these to be mostly true except for the point about being in a bubble. I was completely in a bubble. A bubble with a decent environment inside, but a bubble nonetheless.
I would love to see students of Catholic schools engage with the rest of the world more – because unless they stay in the Catholic bubble their entire lives, they really won’t know how to have good encounters with the rest of the world. I also find that Catholics in closed circles often lack compassion for those who have differing worldviews that are based on legitimate concerns. Catholic schools also tend to have certain demographics that are not representative of the country (or of the Church) – for instance, it’s hard to learn about racism when the community around you is all white.
That’s a really interesting perspective and I appreciate you sharing it. I suppose my lens is someone distorted because of the extensive service programs our schools have and that I grew up Protestant. So, the Catholic bubble exists but not to the extent it might in other homes. We live in a fairly diverse city and our school demographics reflect that. We are far from an all-white school. But, you definitely bring up good points – not just for our Catholic school kids, but society in general. We have to work to step out of comfort zones, out of what we know and encounter Christ in other situations through other people. Thank you for that reminder.
I wish I could say that Catholic schools are for every kid. Sadly, they aren’t, and probably cannot be through no fault of their own. My wife and I adopted a little boy with cognitive disabilities (due to physical and chemical abuse suffered at the hands of his natural parents). The Catholic school cannot meet his I.E.P.; they just don’t have the personnel (it’s too expensive to retain that kind of help for so few kids).
That has definitely been the hardest aspect to accept. We have a number of friends with children who require more services than what our school provides. I am so very grateful our awesome public schools are stepping in and helping those kids succeed.
I have been a teacher in a Catholic school for 21 years. We just finished our Catholic School Weeks celebration on Friday. Your article is spot on! Isn’t it amazing that those statistics and myths are similar across the country? I’m sharing your article now! God bless!
My Catholic school education was great when I was younger, my parents couldn’t afford to send us to the high school because sending four kids to catholic high school was well out of their budget so unfortunately I had to graduate from high school at a public school, I turned out ok the only thing that I think it lacked was more Bible- based teaching out of the school, I feel like it was the same stuff every year that we were taught as far as out of the misslette. While it might not be for everyone is certainly could be for some. I can tell you the Catholic schools in the area where I live here in Dallas are extremely expensive and typical people at the school can not go to them maybe they are cheaper up north?
It sounds like your great foundation led to a fruitful life. Tuition rates vary from area to area, but I know many of those schools have sliding scales and tuition assistance. One just has to ask. Thanks for commenting!
My experience is that families who follow what the Church Teaches are more prone to be open to life. NFP works as a means of regulating births, but generally it makes a couple seriously consider having another child. In a sense NFP users are thinking of having children, those who contracept end up thinking about not having children. As a result the overwhelming number of NFP couples in my circle of friends have 3 or 4 children not 1 or 2.
It’s also been my experience that NFP couples will either send their children to public schools if they’re good, or home school. Unless they are wealthy NFP couples simply can’t afford 5K per child for elementary school, or $12K per child for high school before college. The lack of nuns and brothers who once served as the foundation for low cost Catholic schools are gone. As a result of these two factors Catholic schools in my area have now become more private schools for dual income parents with no more than one or two children. I don’t like to say that these couples contracept, but the ones I’ve spoken with have either boasted of “being fixed”, dismissed the Church Teaching on contraception and/or are ignorant about what the Church Teaches.
All this does not fair well for the Church being a witness to an openness to life and/or social justice.
It seems to me to be a “frog in the water” effect. As nuns and brothers retired from teaching and were not replaced, the cost of Catholic schools fell more and more on the parents on a per child basis. There really needs to be a consideration of how to replace the foundation of low cost nuns and brothers. I think the answer is along the lines of what Witchita Kansas has done: Catholic school is declared to be a mission of the whole Church and everyone tithes and everyone goes.
(Please don’t speak of “scholarships” for children who have more than one sibling, this is not a solution long term, nor is it a real possibility for most middle class as most “scholarships” go to poorer persons.)
David, thanks for your comment.
I’m not sure how we leapt from myths about Catholic schools to the validity of NFP. But, you’re making a gross generalization to say that practicing NFP couples send their children to either good public schools or homeschool. And, to add insult to injury that only wealthy NFP couples send their children to Catholic school. My husband works for the church, we have 6 kids, we practice NFP and we send our children to Catholic school. Don’t belittle our choice, or the school system in which we choose to send our children. And, yes, I will speak of scholarships for children with more than one sibling. Many of our friends are able to send their children to school with that assistance, some are “poor” and many are “middle class.” We pray fervently for vocations, but schools cannot hire religious that do not exist. They do the best they can with the resources available. That’s a task for all of us to ponder, pray and support.
There needs to be a change in the foundation of Catholic schools. The foundation that existed (low cost labor from religious orders) is now gone. Continuing as though the foundation is there when it is not, and passing the costs on to parents on a per child basis is not a working solution. It will lead, in many instances already has led, to once catholic schools becoming elitist and dare I say it -contraceptive.
David, with the decline in religious and added pressure on diocesan offices to fund more and more programs, the Catholic school parent does – indeed – carry the burden of funding our schools. I’m grateful to say that my husband, in his role as Secretariat for Development, is part of the solution here in Austin, doing what he can to shift funding of Catholic schools across the diocese, rather than squarely on the shoulders of a few hundred families. I do take issue with your elitist and contraceptive comments. That may be some schools, but you do a disservice to equate those terms with them all. They only become elitist and contraceptive if we allow it. So, rather than berate the system we have, we’ve chosen to be instigators of change for the schools we desire. I dare say, it’s working. I am a Catholic school fan for life.
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