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Feb 1, 2019

Going to a Catholic School: Some Pros and Cons

Merridith Frediani

My children are the fourth generation in our family to attend Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  I’m a big fan of Catholic education, but when choosing the best school for our children all things must be considered. Based on my own experience and advice I’ve received from other parents, here are some good and some not so good things about giving your children an education through Catholic schools.

The Good

1. Your children will be educated in an environment that does not negate what you are teaching them at home.

We are living in troubled times. Issues that used to be clear are blurry and secular society is preaching a version of truth that is decidedly not true from a Catholic perspective. Being a devoted Catholic family, actively pursuing the Faith and passing it along to our children is weirdly considered counter-cultural. [Public schools embrace gender fluid ideology and those who agree with the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality are labeled bigots. There is limited respect for the unborn and the aged.] Public schools teach our society’s cultural values. Catholic schools teach Christ’s truth.

2. Everyday faith

This was one of my arguments when I laid down the “my children will attend Catholic school” ultimatum prior to getting married.  I wanted my children to understand that God is not just something we do on Sunday. I wanted them in an environment where faith is interwoven throughout the subjects—including, and most especially, science. In Catholic schools, teachers are free to teach that life begins at conception, and abortion is wrong. Morality and virtue are woven into social studies so children don’t just learn that slavery is bad, but also that—as Catholic Christians—we believe in the inherent value of all people because they are children of God.  

3. Weekly Mass 

While I often heard on Sunday morning “Why do I have to go to church when I just went on Friday?” from my children, it was an argument I was happy to have, because it gave me the opportunity to discuss the Sunday obligation and the importance of prioritizing our Creator. Weekly school Mass, however, is more than just attending Mass. The kids plan the Mass. They practice proclaiming the readings.  They help select the songs. They write the petitions, and they get the experience of worshipping in community with their friends, which leads us to the fourth good thing …

4. Faithful friends  

If I ever slept over at a friend’s house on Saturday night, I knew to pack my church clothes because the next morning, we’d be going to Mass. When my Snow Bowl team in high school was about to compete, we prayed to Mary, Queen of Victory. When a friend died in a car accident, her funeral was held at our school. Growing up in Catholic school meant praying with my friends was normal. Now as a parent, I have become friends with other parents trying to raise good Catholic kids and we support each other.

5. Heavy parental involvement  

This straddles the pros and the cons. Studies have found a link between invested parents and successful students. Most parents sacrifice to pay tuition and want to get their money’s worth. Private schools also have less financial resources so they rely on parents to help out. It sends a message to students that education is important when parents take time to help out at the school whether it’s in the classroom or school events.  

6. Small size

Since Catholic schools are often smaller than their public counterparts, there is often a better student-to-teacher ratio. Teachers can tailor their lessons to their class more effectively and offer more one-on-one support. Also, the smaller class and school size can help foster a more tight-knit community. 

The Not So Good

1. Heavy parental involvement

 It can go too far.  Sometimes parents believe that since they are paying tuition or they donate generously, their child should receive special attention or maybe a behavior issue should be overlooked. Parents can forget that teachers and principals are professionals. Managing demanding parents takes the principal away from the job of running the school.

2. Tuition  

According to the National Catholic Education Association, average elementary school tuition is $4,841 per child and high school is $11,239. Add this up over time and multiply it by the number of children you have and it quickly becomes a staggering number. The bad news is that many families cannot afford it without having two working parents which then means daycare costs if there are younger siblings. The good news is that many schools offer assistance. Still, sending your kids to Catholic school usually costs a lot of money and it means you probably won’t have much left over for college.

3. Learning differences  

While some Catholic schools can accommodate some kids with learning or physical disabilities, not all can and they aren’t federally mandated to.  For families with a disabled child, this means two different schools with two different schedules and a lot of chasing around. With limited financial resources, Catholic schools cannot be all things to all kids.

4. Lower salaries. Higher turnover.

Blame those limited financial resources again.  A study by Walter F. Przygocki discusses teacher retention and the challenges for Catholic schools. “Teachers in Catholic schools are more likely to leave their positions than teachers in public schools,” he said.  He cites evidence from prior studies that teachers who are paid higher salaries stay in the profession longer. Lower salaries also make attracting high quality teachers harder.

5. Small size 

Again, this one is both a pro and a con.  Smaller class size means more individualized attention and your child won’t be just another kid. But sometimes Catholic schools can be too small as in just one classroom per grade, and sometimes only one or two other kids of the same gender as yours. This makes it harder to find friends.

Do what works for your family, but consider Catholic schools.

In the end, it’s important to make the best decision for your family. It’s a personal and often emotional decision but not a permanent one. Kids are resilient. If your choice doesn’t work out, it can be changed. There are awesome and amazing Catholic and public schools out there and terrible ones.  Take it to prayer and do your research. Talk to parents whose kids attend the school you are looking at.

I encourage parents who are deciding on a school for their children to research school quality and student performance in your own school district, as well as the Catholic schools available in your area.   

Stay tuned for a pros and cons list of public schools.  

Can you think of any other Catholic school pros and cons not on this list? Mention them in the comments below. 

Many thanks to the Milwaukee Catholic Mamas Facebook group for their valuable insight.  

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About Merridith Frediani

Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. She loves leading small faith groups for moms and looking for God in the silly and ordinary. She blogs and writes for her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee.

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  • Pro: Uniforms! While they are an added expense up front, uniforms can sometimes be worn for more than one year and take the hassle out of finding something to wear everyday (something even the kids learn to love very quickly!). Uniforms also put all kids on an equal playing field with regard to attire, eliminating worries about wearing the latest trend. Finally, wearing uniforms put the kabosh to discussions about dressing appropriately for school.

    • Well that applies to schools where the principal has the guts to enforce the dress code. OURS DOES NOT. On top of which 15% of the days are “free dress” and they violate the rules for that as well. We’ve had shaved heads, hair dye, other than uniform clothing, other than black shoes, mohawks, spandex, jeans with holes in them, cleavage on 8th graders showing… You name it… And invariably the principal will send home multiple uniform notices to the same families just for show… But there will always be a rich kid here or there that automatically gets to run around the school looking like he or she wants cuz Daddy wrote a big check.

  • Con: (but this one sits the fence between pro and con…) Usually in a smaller school environment, everyone knows everyone else’s business, this includes parents and families. It could make things uncomfortable if ever there are troubles. But on the positive side, it also gives you an almost automatic group of prayer warriors who will hold you in prayer without even asking!

  • Con:
    I attended Catholic school as did my children, however the Catholic school connected with my parish has become primarily for the financially elite. Barely half of the children are Catholic, fewer than that are from families that are practicing their faith and half of our parish is Spanish speaking. However the school has very few minorities. If my children were still at home, I would send them to public school.

    • Sounds like or school. Half the kids aren’t CATHOLIC… Which means 50% of the families just don’t get it. These are Catholic-my-ass schools. And as far as minorites are concerned who cares.

  • Con: Kids are kids. Just because the school is Catholic and the kids go to Mass, doesn’t mean they’re any more saintly than the public-schoolers; and the difficulties attracting and retaining quality staff can make it more difficult to address behavioral problems in the classroom.
    My parents were shocked at the amount of bad words, sexual jokes, and other undesirable information that I heard from my peers at a Catholic elementary school. Add constant bullying on top of that because I was a shy, bookish kid who didn’t understand double entendres, and I was eventually pulled out to be homeschooled. The difficulty attracting and retaining quality teachers probably also played into this situation- one illustrative example of lackluster staff engagement occurred when my mother tried to get me moved to a seating assignment away from kids who bullied me. She was told it was /my/ responsibility to learn to get along with the other students, and her request was dismissed.

    Con: Cliquishness. After I was pulled out, I lost most of my friends- the parents didn’t want their kids playing with someone who didn’t go to the school anymore, regardless of our shared Faith. I imagine this doesn’t have to be limited to Catholic school, but the added exclusiveness of a faith-based private school seems to more easily foster this undesirable social situation.

    • I feel ya! Same goes on at our school. No discipline whatsoever. 15 minutes detention for everything no matter what it is and every piece of garbage who walks through the door gets accepted.

      • Every piece of garbage? What a catholic thing to say. Let’s hope your children don’t have your disgusting attitude.

        • I hate to break it to you sweetheart(Angela) but Catholic schools are notorious for accepting ANYONE who has the price of tuition. I know because I did 11 years in the private Catholic school system. Maybe if you stuck your head outside your little ivory tower once in a while, you’d see the world as it really is.

  • You missed that catholic schools are not always truly “counter-cultural” (if only they were!!!). Many catholic schools have a catholic “flavor” picking up convenient pieces of catholic-ness but have no real depth and are completely incapable of being an extension of your home to make disciples because they are as secular as the public schools in their leadership, staff and student body. This creates a more dangerous atmosphere in public school where the lines are blurred and students who do take a truly catholic stance are ostracized and bullied. Also the factor of trying to gain more students using “snob appeal” and marketing the school as an elitist option steers the school in a direction that is motivated by many other things none of which are imparting the catholic faith and the love of Christ to our kids. Some catholic schools truly have a surface sheen but a truly toxic and faith smothering undercurrent. How I wish this were not the case!

    • The Church me a mistake when it agreed to educate everyone who ISN’T Catholic along with everyone who IS! The result is that a lot of trash had entered our schools out of the Church’s desperation.

  • Con- Sometimes there may be poor leadership from the principal. A principle should not be afraid of confrontation. It is part of the job. There also needs to be a sense that decisions are made based off of what is true and right, not off of large checkbooks from individual families.

  • I pay for my grandson to go to Catholic school. Faith isn’t observed at home. Public school in our area are terrible. Feel like I’m wasting my money

  • I paid for my son to attend Catholic School for grades K-8, principally for the Catholic education. This met our expectations for grades K-5, but really dropped for middle School (Grades 6-8) when it is most needed. Rather than continuing to teach Catechism, Scripture and Apologetics (not to mention the rich history of the Catholic Church) . . . the teachers almost ignored the textbooks for Religion Class . . . choosing to have the kids reflect upon their thought on some parts of what the text offered . . . or more often upon issues in day-to-day life that may have impacted their spirituality. Upon confronting the teachers in 6th grade and the principal, I was told that the text was weak (and that the school would be adopting new textbooks with more Catechism) and that their current method of teaching was more effective at reaching kids of this age (rather than memorizing, learning and discussing). What is there to learn if we are only reflecting upon our feelings, without a solid framework that is much more richly nourishing to our kids souls? Didn’t Satan himself appeal to Adam and Eve’s feelings/egos in the Garden of Eden? 7th and 8th grade only got a little better. It seems that I was one of the few parents who made these feelings known . . . and upon asking around it seemed that I was one of the few with these convictions.

    I’m sure every school id different, but our Catholic Schools are not what I remember. There is almost a complete lack of religious orders teaching in the elementary schools and the ratio illustrated in this article are about half of what my kids are experiencing. Most of the average class sizes are 30 kids where my kids went /go. They will tell you the ratio of teachers to students is 15:1, but that includes a teacher’s assistant, who are only there for the younger classes.

    My son currently attends a public high school because we could not find a Catholic High School we could afford or find worth the value of the high cost, spiritually or academically. At his public school, he is able to be a good witness to his faith and the quality of his education is better and the teacher:student ratio is better as well. We continue to reinforce his strength by practicing our own and discussing Faith-based issues. He also has begun his Confirmation classes. Unfortunately, it seems to be more of the same ideology that I found problematic in his Junior High School Religion classes. Kids will talk readily about their feelings, but they really need strong Catechesis to help them keep their Faith in this godless day and age.

    My 2nd-grade daughter is still in catholic School, but so far, things are not getting any better. It seems that the Church has also found itself more and more financially strapped from the mistakes they made in the sexual abuse scandals. Not only is this a financial burden, but it is further compounded by the decline in number of younger priests and nuns who had been such an asset teaching at these schools as part of their vocation.

    So, unless things get better, we are looking at either homeschooling our daughter or sending her to one of the better public schools in the area. I should mention that we live in Southern California and are self-employed, so the high taxes and overall cost of living really amplify the financial impact upon this issue.

    We are hopeful that things get better . . . or are better for those whose kids are in other Catholic School schools.

  • It’s good to know that enrolling my daughter in a Catholic junior high school will teach her the inherent value of all mankind since we are all children of God. My husband and I have different religions and we respect each other beliefs, but he gave me permission to decide for our daughter. Since I want her to realize the most important values in the present society, it might really be a good idea to introduce her to a Catholic environment.

  • I find within my generation, baby boomers, or even children from the 70s and 80s. Education depends on the child my Catholic school friends were mostly arrogant thinking they were better or superior. The true fact is most of them never went to college and they still carry that arrogance. Hey, I was born Catholic but my kids went to public school, learning and making friends with a diverse group of children! Best of all they got a better education and finished their masters degree. Best of all, no bashing of people, no arrogance and well rounded!

  • You nailed it on the parents and behavior! We are in our first year of Catholic school. My husband went when he was young, but we tried public for our kids first. Due to the difference in cultural / world-view, we switched to Catholic school. But some kids can be serious punks and get away with it since they come from the ‘right’ Catholic family. We aren’t native to this community so we don’t have any pull. It helps me understand how easily people can leave the church after getting thrown into this. It’s so very unfortunate.

  • I went to public school for nearly all of my life, but my parents transferred me into Catholic school for eighth grade. Now, the public school I had been attending was a relatively good one, although fights and threats were not uncommon. I however, made good friends and my academics were amazing. I was succeeding. My mother had a job relocation, and the public schools near the new home were awful. My parents were upper middle class, and they had sent me to public school just because it was close to the house. The principle at this new Catholic school was a nun, and I, having almost no experience with religion or faith, was disturbed by that. There were four other nuns in the school, one of whom would become my math teacher. The school was almost half the size of the public school, a fact which I hated. I did not do well with one-on-one teaching. I preferred to sit in the back of the class, do my work, and leave. I hated having somebody watching me at all times. It’s not that I would be doing something bad, I just was used to being left alone. The area we had moved into was blue-collar, a very different area than the upper middle class neighborhood I was used to. The kids however, thought they were rich, just because they attended Catholic school. The boys were of the worst people I have ever met in my life. These boys said racist, homophobic, sexist, and ableist slurs, and when they were called out for it, turned petulant. The parents were purely annoying. The school was being payed thousands of dollars a year in tuition payments, yet they had to have a parent volunteer as a recess monitor. These parents would come up to my friends as I and say things, such as “Oh look at my son playing soccer over there. Isn’t he just so cute? I’m sure one of you must have a crush on him?” Once or twice, there was even the “Look at that girl over there. She’s getting kind of fat, isn’t she?” The parent was referring to a student. This could be just the Catholic school I attended, however the school was extremely biased towards kids that were Catholic, versus the ones that weren’t. If for instance, one of the Catholic kids taunted a non-Catholic kid, that would be ignored by adults. However, if a non-Catholic kid taunted a Catholic kid, adults would be all over it. I was placed in all advanced courses, and I felt that teachers were harder on me than all of my peers, just because I went to public school, even though I received academic scholarships to every high school I applied, whereas none of my peers came even close to that. The Catholic school also stood for the pledge of allegiance, and the public school did not. That’s just a minor detail, however I hated being forced to stand for the pledge. The girls at that school were mostly okay, however there was this one girl that was an absolute bully to literally everyone in the class. Nobody liked her and she had zero friends. Teachers saw the bullying occur multiple times, however her mother was heavily involved with the school, so the teachers always let the girl slide. I overall hated that school with all my heart, so much so that I threatened my parents to let my grades drop (so I’d lose the scholarships) unless they promised to put me in public school.

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