The following blog was contributed by Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., NCEA Director of Public Policy and Educational Research.
Not another survey! I often hear that from busy Catholic school educators to whom surveys and other appeals for information seem ever-present. Requests to complete surveys often require several follow-up pleading reminders to those being asked for their participation. Yet, without comprehensive, reliable, longitudinal data sets, effective planning is not possible.
Comprehensive, current and complete data are needed to provide an understanding of Catholic education as an important sector of American education, to inform the public discussion of educational policy issues and to encourage and improve practice at the school level.
Since 1970, the National Catholic Educational Association has been tasked with obtaining and managing the collection of Catholic school data. Annually NCEA publishes a report on Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States. The data analyzed and presented are based on census data collected by each Catholic arch/diocesan school education on behalf of NCEA. The diocesan superintendents have been important collaborators with NCEA in assuring that all schools report information that is current and accurate.
This annual statistical report presents an overview of the historical dimensions of Catholic education and the context of American education in which Catholic schools operate. Also included are Catholic school enrollment and staffing demographic data that highlight school, student and staffing characteristics, tuition and special services provided to students in Catholic schools. Available longitudinal data that track changes over time, both nationally and regionally, enables dioceses and schools to compare their particular schools with others similarly situated as they assess their viability and engage in strategic planning for the future.
Another NCEA publication is the Annual Financial Report. This is based on surveys of Catholic schools conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. While not all schools choose to participate, this summary report highlights some of the national, regional and specific school-type data about schools’ finances, governance, administrative structures, tuition, financial aid and other relevant fiscal issues. The data provide diocesan and local school leaders with relevant information needed to understand and appreciate the many aspects of school finance that are a prerequisite for planning and good stewardship.
In addition, this information presents a clear picture of the financial contributions and sacrifices that Catholic school parents, teachers, parishes and dioceses make to educate children. Catholic education is a significant contribution to the common good of the nation, not only in the morally educated citizens it produces, but also in the substantial taxpayer savings of more than 20 billion dollars annually.
Busy school administrators know the importance of having and using data in managing school finances, effective instruction, student learning outcomes and long-term viability and are grateful to have it provided in a format that is readily accessible. But to have good data, all need to help provide it. As the lottery ads used to say, “You have to be in it to win it!” Catholic school leaders, please think twice about what your data can contribute before you hit the delete key!