Message from NCEA’s President/CEO – August 2016

President's Message August JPEG

This week marks my first week as president/CEO at NCEA. After nearly eight months of leading the organization on an interim basis, I’ve gotten to know much of the great work and history of the association. I am grateful to serve in this new role and look forward to connecting with the thousands of Catholic school educators who are doing great things day in and day out to pass on the faith to the next generation.

As we wind down the hot and hazy days of summer, I hope you’ve had the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate, and grow closer to our Lord and God. With another school year before us it’s time to reflect on what stories we will proclaim in the year ahead: stories of our own faith and also stories about the great value and excellence of Catholic schools. Catholic schools work – and we need to tell more people about them!

On the national level, it is known that Catholic schools’ students outperform public schools’ at an academic level. We know this because of the data we are given from national test scores – including SATs, AP exams and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

Canon law tells us, “Those who are in charge of Catholic schools are to ensure, under the supervision of the local Ordinary, that the formation given in them is, in its academic standards, at least as outstanding as that in other schools in the area.” (Can. 806 §2) As practitioners in Catholic education, we must find a way to show – not just tell – how our schools compare academically to other schools, including neighboring public and charter schools. Yes, our mission is different – we educate the whole child in faith and focus on encountering Jesus Christ – but the need for excellent academic outcomes remains.

As an example, the Archdiocese of New York – through its Build Bold Futures Initiative – focuses on academic excellence by gathering data. State tests results are used as a benchmark for future years’ progress, informing the changes that may be needed in standards, curricula and assessments. In addition, they gather outstanding data unique to the Catholic school community: faith-based education data. In the archdiocese, their annual religion test scores continue to rise, with 99% of elementary schools passing the exam. Many dioceses use other assessments to demonstrate performance and improve outcomes, and with regards to teaching the faith, 2,464 schools in 120 arch/dioceses use the NCEA ACRE assessment for this purpose.

Across the country dioceses and schools spent part of the summer assessing last year’s test results and designing professional development programs for this year to enhance instruction where needed – in all subjects, including religion.

NCEA is here to help you with your professional development needs, and has a great resource library on the new website at, in addition to a well-stocked bookstore for useful publications. Our blog,, shares stories, resources and best practices – be sure to follow us. We also offer a variety of webinars and professional development events to suit your needs. In the fall, superintendents and other diocesan Catholic school leaders will gather for our Catholic Leadership Summit in Indianapolis, October 23 – 26. Jumping to the spring, I look forward to seeing all Catholic educators at all levels will join us in St. Louis for the NCEA 2017 Convention & Expo, taking place from April 18–20. See you there!

Please mark your calendars for these important dates – we look forward to working with you toward a bright future for Catholic education this year. I invite you to please, share your stories with NCEA by emailing or tweeting us @NCEATalk; join with us in proclaiming the good news of Catholic school education.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Thomas W. Burnford, D.Min.