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Sobering Data from Ohio Adds to Our Resolve

Catholic Schools Week across the country is usually a fun-filled celebration marked in schools by school assemblies, spirit dress-up days, classroom and community celebrations, and Masses of Thanksgiving. These are small ways our school communities come together to celebrate the gift of Catholic education.

This year, while our in-school celebrations may be a bit more “socially distant,” they are as joy-filled as ever, in part as we show our shared support and gratitude for the Catholic school teachers and leaders who have made in-person learning possible in this, the most challenging year in modern history.

Yet, this amid the celebrations this week, we were also given a glimpse into the positive impact school reopening may be having on the children we serve. Specifically, two Ohio State professors released alarming research last week that shows the negative impact COVID and the schools shutdown has had on students.  Key takeaways from Vladimir Kogan and Stéphane Lavertu’s research include:

  • Average achievement on the Ohio Third-Grade English Language Arts (ELA) assessment declined by approximately 0.23 standard deviations between fall 2019 and fall 2020. This is roughly equivalent to one-third of a year’s worth of learning.
  • Black students experienced test score declines that were nearly 50% larger than white students—for a total decline of approximately one-half of a year’s worth of learning. The scores of economically disadvantaged students also fell more than scores of students not identified as such.
  • Achievement declines were more pronounced among districts that began this academic year using fully remote instruction compared to districts using either hybrid instruction or in-person instruction.

Catholic schools in Ohio and nationwide have opened for in-person instruction since the start of the school year. As data like this suggests, that isn’t just a matter of convenience for some parents; it is a vital matter of social justice for students who have historically been woefully under-served. Thanks to parent choice programs in Ohio that allow families of all backgrounds to choose the best schools for their children, Catholic schools in Ohio have been serving students—including those from families with economic challenges—in person since the beginning of the year, because that is what kids need.

To face the challenges of this moment takes a fierce love that transcends fear and other obstacles—mindsets Rachael Dengler spoke of earlier this week in her reflection on the one-year anniversary of the announcement that the Catholic school where she taught would close. That school—St. Thomas Aquinas—did not close; it is now part of our Partnership Schools network, and Rachael is now the principal.

She relates that the near-closure of the school has caused a “whatever it takes” mindset to take hold among her colleagues—a hard-working zeal that Rachael models as a first-year leader:

Take on a new curriculum in every grade level? Welcome over a hundred new families to our school in one year? Take on new students daily for the whole first month of school? Do all of this while teaching in-person and remotely in the middle of a world-wide pandemic? If that’s what it takes to keep our family together, then we’ll do it. And we’ll be grateful to do it.

We, in turn, are grateful to educators at Catholic schools across our network and throughout the country who, supported by science and compelled by faith, are doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of students, needs that research such as Kogan and Lavertu’s make clearer every day.