New research shows that poor and marginalized students attending Catholic schools have remarkably higher retention and graduation rates than their peers in public schools.
The pilot study, conducted by Loyola Marymount University’s School of Education, focused on a particular set of L.A. Catholic school students who received tuition funding from the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) between 2001 and 2005. Surveys were conducted with the students, their families and the principals to understand what is it that makes a difference in a Catholic school for those most “at risk.” The study followed 603 students from eighth to ninth grade and 205 students from ninth grade to high school graduation, at nearly 30 different schools throughout Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Of the 603 eighth grade students, 100 percent continued to ninth grade. Of the 205 students who continued with CEF tuition support into high school, 98 percent graduated.
This was the first time the Catholic Education Foundation opened their records to a university and provided the Catholic school data in such detail.
Of the 205 students tracked throughout high school, 98 percent graduated with a diploma. Based on these results, CEF’s Catholic school graduation rate is almost 35 percent higher than graduation rates for public schools in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara from that same year.
“This research indicates how essential Catholic schools are to the future of Los Angeles,” said Shane P. Martin, dean for the School of Education at LMU and co-author of the study. “The CEF and Catholic schools provide a model for effectively educating marginalized students and improving graduation rates, two critical issues for our L.A. school-age children.”
The CEF supports families living in or at the threshold of poverty. The 205 high schools students selected for the study primarily represent the most underserved students in the Catholic school system in this region and more closely resemble the economic, ethnic and personal backgrounds of their peers in the public schools they would have attended.
“This study tells us Catholic high schools are very successful in educating the poor and underserved in our LA area communities,” said Nancy Coonis, superintendent for Secondary Schools at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “Through the process of participating in this study, our high schools are now capturing more student achievement data, which helps in recruiting students and in raising tuition funding to help those most in need.”
All students selected for this study were considered “at risk” because of low socioeconomic status, which included a cohort of SOS students (Save Our Students) considered the most “at risk” of all Catholic school students. All students in the study compared by zip code, ethnic background and income levels to students in local public schools located primarily within the LAUSD area. A subgroup of the 205 students were part of the SOS Program, which was considered the most “at risk,” and remarkably, 100 percent of the SOS students graduated from high school.
SOS students may be under the care of guardians, have incarcerated parents, live in shelters and come from abusive family situations. The Catholic school experience is what keeps them focused on the future and provides the environment to learn in a safe, gang-free and drug-free environment.
“The results show that L.A. Archdiocesan Catholic schools give children born into poverty a 98 percent chance of graduating from high school and a 98 percent chance of going on to college,” said Kathy Anderson, executive director for the CEF. “After seeing these results firsthand, you begin to understand what sort of investment we’re actually making.”
Results of the study and surveys indicate that the Catholic school environment helps make a difference. The schools provide a stable learning place for children who are crowded into one-room apartments or living in shelters. For the families of these children, safety is the most important issue and the schools are providing that security for the children where drugs and gangs are simply not tolerated.
The CEF was founded in 1987 by Cardinal Roger Mahony and a group of business leaders to provide tuition assistance to students who would otherwise not be able to attend Catholic schools due to financial limitations. As of 2007, the CEF has provided about $80 million in tuition assistance to 88,000 students. The CEF primarily supports students in schools that receive a subsidy from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Out of the 50 high schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the CEF supports students in 30 of these high schools and eight of those schools are subsidized. The CEF supports 167 of the 225 elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 44 of those schools are subsidized.
About the Loyola Marymount University School of Education
The School of Education is dedicated to the education of Pre-K-12 professionals who will impact countless lives in local schools and school districts. With more than 250 undergraduates and 1,100 graduate students, the SOE offers undergraduate credential options and graduate credential and degree programs. Just recently, the SOE was ranked 117 in the US New & World Report Top 250 Schools of Education.