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On public schools, Catholic schools and educating the whole child

Our perceptions of inadequacy of public schools has led politically to our infatuation with standardized testing, and that has upended the mission to educate the whole child, writes Philip V. Robey, an executive with the National Catholic Educational Association and a former principal and teacher in public schools and Catholic schools.

In his Education Week commentary, Robey says the larger field of education could learn some things from the administration of Catholic schools:

When Catholic schools say they teach the whole child, they mean it. By nature and mission, these schools operate in such a way that moral choices and character values are just as strongly emphasized as educational performance. This emphasis contributes to a culture fostering the notion that it is important to use our gifts well, and be appreciative of them …

… In high-stakes testing environments, the educational emphasis falls on adults and their ability to raise students’ scores. The stakes are important enough that financial incentives are sometimes used as enticements. While, on the surface, this sort of rewarding may seem harmless, it can undermine the educational process by putting such a heavy emphasis on test scores that there is little energy for much else.

Statements like that would find a friendly audience in Diane Ravitch, Matt Damon and the masses behind Save Our Schools. So why do these same advocates become unraveled at the prospect of publicly funding a scholarship that could bring a low-income child to one of Robey’s schools?

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit


A law creating publically-funded scholarships for Catholic school tuition would be unconstitutional. It’s called the Establishment Clause.

Since the question posed by the author refers specifically to “Robey’s schools,” i.e. Catholic schools, I took that to mean he was suggesting a law that would not pass the Court’s test (in that it would not be neutral with respect to religion). I can see now that I probably misinterpreted the question, since he said the scholarship merely “could” send a child to one of Robey’s schools. I appreciate the response.

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