Viking & Alumni News
CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK, January 2023
Good News & Cause to Celebrate For Catholic Schools - Katie Bakker
Catholic Schools Week is a time to celebrate the successes of the Catholic Educational system nationwide. With many years of declining enrollment and school closures, this year has been a tsunami of good news for both private and Catholic Schools alike. While we should take this week to rejoice, celebrate, and congratulate our educators, we also need a rally cry, a call to action, to those who want more from our education systems. Help proclaim that what Catholic schools do works and it works all across the country, rural to inner city, for the advantaged and disadvantaged alike. With school choice bills appearing in many states, including here in Utah, this legislative session, we need this latest news declared loud and far. Spread the word, Catholic schools do it better, do it for less, and our difference is missional!
In case you haven’t heard, In October, the NAEP released national testing data on student achievement in private, public, and charter schools. Hugely Significant, as it is the first national data set gathered since 2019, and shows both unprecedented and catastrophic losses for the nations 4th and 8th grade students in reading and math. From the NAEP website, “The primary purpose of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card, is to measure the educational achievement and progress of the nation’s students at established grades and ages…NAEP results also enable comparisons of what representative students know and can do among states and jurisdictions, among various demographic groups, and over time. NAEP results provide insight into K-12 education and student achievement in our nation.”
For most of the students tested, decades of academic progress was wiped out across multiple subjects. Math scores dropped to levels not seen since 1992 and showed the largest decrease ever recorded by the NAEP. In 8th grade math, 4 of every 10 students failed to show mastery of basic math facts. Reading scores were not much better, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant declines. Testing confirmed ongoing fears of increasing racial inequities. For 4th graders, Black and Latino students saw bigger declines than white students, widening gaps that have been present for decades. Another source adds, “Inequities were also reflected in a growing gap between higher and lower performing students. In math and reading, scores fell most sharply among the lowest performing students, creating a widening chasm between struggling students and the rest of their peers.”
So what’s the good news? Catholic School student scores held, lost significantly less ground, or improved (8th grade reading) from 2019 scores. While math scores showed the most significant drop, Catholic students were so far ahead of their peers from charter and public schools that scores remained 15 points higher, after accounting for the loss. The NCEA issued a statement on Oct. 25, clarifying and highlighting that the NAEP data also shows that Catholic schools are near the top in learning outcomes for students receiving free and reduced-price lunch, “demonstrating the system’s commitment to underprivileged students.” So while the learning gap significantly widened in public and charter schools, it shrank in Catholic Schools! The twitter quote heard round the nation from Kathleen Porter-Magee, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the superintendent of Partnership Schools, succinctly sums up the data, “If Catholic schools were a state, they’d be the highest performing in the nation on all four N.A.E.P. tests.”
It is impossible to discuss the successes and failures the NAEP testing revealed about education without also addressing cost. Catholic schools come out near the top here as well. When searching for the cost per pupil spent (varies significantly by state), my listed amounts do not take into account the $190 Billion literally poured into the public/charter system during the pandemic with the idea that more money was the only way schools could possibly be successful. With the unprecedented losses shown, taxpayers ought to be seeking a refund. In Utah, per pupil spending per year combining federal, local, and state taxes is around $10,200 www.utahtaxpayers.org not counting any extra funds from the American Rescue Plan. Other states spend up to $16,000 on average, also not including rescue funding. Catholic High Schools national average cost to educate is around $9840 (NCEA data) per pupil, $4840 for K-8, and Catholic schools had little to no access to any of the pandemic rescue funding. So Catholic students of all backgrounds significantly outperformed public/charter schools losing less ground while still growing and they did it with almost no additional government assistance and for much less than the public system. These results should demand evaluation and accountability of the public system, not choice schools.
The final piece in the triad of good news, is the simple explanation of how and why Catholic Schools are so successful year after year. While not explicitly trackable data, it certainly explains Catholic Schools’ successes across time. Catholic Schools educate better and for less because it is our calling and our mission. Teachers and administrators are passionate about what they do, feeling called to serve by a higher power, and are willing to often work harder for significantly less compensation. As school systems were deciding how and if they could open in the fall of 2020 and throughout that year, offering a variety of hybrid or completely on-line options, Catholic schools opened their doors to forge ahead with in-person learning. This took immense and creative planning, as well as buy-in to help ensure full community dedication to safety protocols. The result being that the evidence overwhelmingly shows it worked and was the best option for student outcomes, both academically and for social/emotional growth. 92% of Catholic Schools vs only 43% of public and charter schools offered in person learning throughout the pandemic. Our schools, teachers, and administrators bore the weight of the world so students wouldn’t have to.
If what Catholic Schools demonstrated as possible is desirable for all students, support school choice! Catholic and many private school systems are extremely successful with long proven track records, and Catholic schools in particular, support families and students from all walks of life, while often remaining underfunded, with faculty underpaid and filling many roles. In order to ensure tuition is reasonable and affordable, and that no family is turned away who can be reasonably served, Catholic schools rely on private donors, diocesan support, and “jack of all trades” administrators who are dedicated to the mission of Catholic education.” In Utah, on average more than 50% of families attending Catholic Schools receive some assistance for tuition, lowering costs to families. And while this illustrates our missional nature, it still costs a tremendous amount of money to effectively educate. With school choice, some portion of student tax dollars would ensure our teachers are better paid, programs are fully funded, and paid staff could replace volunteers, opening the doors to additional students who haven’t previously been able to be served by our schools. Sadly, we ask our teachers to do far more for far less and they do it. We must speak to the excuse that there is no accountability with school choice as to where the funds go and if “choice” schools perform. There is an exhaustive amount of data out there to support both private school and Catholic School performance. With the NAEP data, why are we still having the “unaccountable non public school” arguments. Where is public school accountability-it’s primarily their own report card they failed.
We also have great data for underprivileged students who are allowed the opportunity to attend our schools. The diversity stats of Catholic Schools are quite impressive when compared with their counterpart district schools. How do we make Catholic education sustainable for another generation: school choice. It just so happens that school choice helps ensure that the growth and success Catholic schools are experiencing, can continue. In addition, there is compelling evidence that school choice helps public schools as well in “school choice” states. When looking at federal and state testing data from Florida, “choice schools” give better outcomes for black students. “Choice school” students also enroll and earn degrees and much higher rates than district schools. And, district schools also benefit and have improved outcomes. Black students in the public system show academic gains at a rate higher than the national averages in districts where some students left for “choice schools.”
It’s time to stop pandering to public schools, teachers unions, and the uneducated public with their badly reasoned arguments. Catholic Schools are outperforming, period. When the absolutely ludicrous amounts of money thrown at the public and charter school systems actually start providing data that what they are doing works for their students, perhaps parents demanding school choice will return. With an average ACT score of 20 for the state of Utah, and the average for Catholic High Schools at 26, there really isn’t much else to say when considering the years of data and the recent NAEP report card. The schools, systems, and teachers that are getting it done for Utah students deserve the funding to continue to do so without having to endlessly beg, borrow, and chase alternative funding while working harder for less. So while joining us in the Catholic Schools Week celebration, SPREAD THE WORD, Catholic Schools do it better, do it for less, and the difference is missional!
Here We Go Again - Katie Bakker
Here we are again. I feel like a broken record, or rather a trinket spinning on a broken record, dazed, dizzy, and most definitely confused. Have you seen the latest educational headlines in the NY Times? With a headline of Math Scores Fell in Nearly Every State, and Reading Dipped on National Exam, the news just keeps getting better. A title like that should have the attention and deep concern of every parent in the nation. Reading on only confirms that parents should be paying attention, “The results, from what is known as the nation’s report card, offer the most definitive picture yet of the pandemic’s devastating impact on students.” What are we, as a nation, doing with our students’ education? At what point will voting citizens consider alternatives to a failing system? While clearly, the pandemic was devastating on many levels, academic performance and scores weren’t exactly terrific pre-pandemic either. Forty percent or less of students demonstrating proficiency at their grade level pre-pandemic, and thirty percent or lower (teen percentages in some places) post pandemic, isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of our public school system. It’s long past time for a complete educational overhaul and a re-think of how we do things. We must stop fighting and engaging in the private vs public debate, and take a long hard look at what is actually working, regardless of system.
I had originally intended to write about a friend’s experience with the special needs scholarship program, Children’s First, questioning why the public system has to continually bog down, interfere, and outright block any funding that helps parents who want an alternative education for a whole host of valid reasons. Why can’t we work together for the good of our students, the very individuals who are failed by fighting, games, and the “us versus them” philosophies? This scholarship was created to be easily accessible to students with a qualifying disability. Qualification was simplified by allowing a disability diagnosis from a variety of sources, including physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and/or a student’s district IEP. However, the public system couldn’t possibly trust doctors to make diagnoses so families could expediently gain access to these funds, funds which do not come from or take away from public school coffers. The public system intervened at every level as the bill for Children’s First was signed into law and ensured that they became the gatekeepers and overseers to this funding for Utah families. As it stands, only an IEP gives families access, but even then, doesn’t ensure full funding. If there was a loophole to block access, it was used. Unfortunately, the reality is that districts are backlogged, understaffed, and unable to handle the special needs workload of district students, much less the students waiting for IEP evaluations to attend private schools. If that isn’t bad enough, they went on to include in their qualifying process, IEP specific language ensuring that if a student was already in a private school, they would qualify for a significantly lower amount based solely off the label heading on top of the education plan. Students lose funding if their plan says PSSP instead of IEP, a labeling system they chose. To be explicitly clear, students lose needed funding that is neither from nor for the districts because of a label, a label the districts created.
Apparently someone else wishes to be clear about where we stand in education…
‘“I want to be very clear: The results in today’s nation’s report card are appalling and unacceptable,” said Miguel Cardona, the secretary of education. “This is a moment of truth for education. How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery, but our nation’s standing in the world.”’
I couldn’t agree more!!!!! However I don’t think we would agree on what’s next. My guess is that politicians, education specialists, and lobbyists will want to make sure (for the trillionth time) that we can’t fix education by pouring more money into an unaccountable system that has again and again proven to be run poorly with even poorer outcomes for students, pandemic or not. Que the next quote…
“The findings raise significant questions about where the country goes from here. Last year, the federal government made its largest single investment in American schools — $123 billion, or about $2,400 per student — to help students catch up. School districts were required to spend at least 20 percent of the money on academic recovery, a threshold some experts believe is inadequate for the magnitude of the problem.”
As I was saying-yes, let’s keep throwing money at this system because it clearly works when we do. That amount of money ($2400 per student) buys quite a bit of tutoring and interventions in the hands of parents over the course of a year. But why would we put money in parents' hands and let them help their individual students in the specific areas they are struggling? How could they possibly know what’s best for their child, they’re only raising them and providing for their needs in every other aspect of their lives. Besides, what if they used it for “private services”? The public system clearly demonstrated they used that $2400 to improve things, right? If you are thinking, what about those students who have parent/parents that don’t/can’t make good decisions. The $2400 could still be used by schools to offer tutoring and services to that specific group, providing services at a high level, given that with many parents allowed to choose alternatives, the system would be far less bogged down.
“The pandemic laid bare the deep and troubling inequalities that dominate many aspects of American life — especially in education.”
And the solution couldn’t possibly be to allow these students and families access to better schools and/or alternatives and interventions possibly outside the public system?
“In fourth grade, for both math and reading, students in the bottom 25th percentile lost more ground compared with students at the top of their class, leaving the low-performing students further behind.”
Once again, it sounds like these are the very students who either need access to alternatives, despite the “well spent” extra $2400, or more from their public school. These students need a tremendous amount of additional support, whether that occurs at their public school or not, they aren’t getting what they need. What could it hurt to offer alternatives? Allowing alternatives, unburdens the public system, freeing educators to provide higher quality care and more time to those remaining students who need it most. At some point we have to stop fearing choice more than we care about how our students are actually doing. If your child resides in the specific part of the country with percentages reside in the teens for students who can perform at grade level, what do you honestly have to lose? Your student’s school babysits your child and does little else. What does the future look like for those kids? Choice is hardly the worst thing out there.
And finally, I desperately desire to add again the pitch to possibly consider Catholic Schools. I want to add links to the many articles published about how well the Catholic School System performed pre-pandemic, mid-pandemic, and now post-pandemic, but that really isn’t the point of the article or my argument to consider any and all options that might help students. I believe in the Catholic System, especially given the huge amount of data showing it works, but I also know it isn’t the right option for every child and every child deserves their best education. As a nation, that is not happening, and it is not happening now for most students, not just a few disadvantaged groups, although they are faring the worst in this mess. Until we stop fighting, blocking funding, ignoring data, making excuses, and tossing money around without accountability at those schools, nothing changes. Can we finally call a truce? Can we vote for solutions requiring accountability? Can we offer alternatives? As stated earlier, “choice” is hardly the worst outcome at this point for the nation’s students.
Contaminated Water, Quality Assurance, & Alumni Assistance - Katie Bakker
During the spring and summer the universe presented two important learning opportunities involving drinking water and the importance of quality controls and testing to ensure it is safe. When my family traveled abroad, despite following medical best practice, some of us still experienced GI illness, the most likely culprit being water contaminants. Thankfully, a relatively quick trip to the doctor for antibiotics took care of it. The second, far more significant lesson, occurred at my sons’ school, Saint Olaf Catholic School in Bountiful, Utah, where I work as the communication director. With that title, I feel a sense of duty to share our experience, including our discovery of a potential lurking problem in the pipes of homes, businesses and schools all around us. During our yearly water quality check last spring, low levels of lead and bacterial growth were present in the drinking fountain water, leaving us surprised and wondering how this happened? Where did the contaminants come from and who or what was responsible, financially or otherwise to correct this?
Often, it takes news like Flint Michigan, changes in governmental regulations, or your own private contaminated test results to question water quality and the processes hopefully ensuring it is safe. A pertinent side note to this story is that, the State of Utah, in early 2022, passed into law, House Bill 21, updating the “safe lead level standards” for schools and child care facilities, mandating water testing and reporting of all such facilities within this year. While we were already testing our water yearly, this change in Utah Law led to testing sooner rather than later. Many schools and daycares have yet to test. Our immediate response to our contaminated water included questioning what this could mean for the health and safety of those drinking the water should it remain contaminated, and figuring out how it gets fixed, and who pays for it? How fortunate we were to have an Alum of Saint Olaf and friend, Les Merrill, testing our water and helping us navigate this process. As the president of Retego Labs LLC, with a website designation as, “your local Crusader Water Dealer” Les might say water quality is his life. Not only does he run Retego Labs, but also works closely with the city in water testing and quality assurance. By working with Les and doing a bit of our own water quality search, we discovered there is much that can be misunderstood or unknown.
Just as it takes a village to raise, educate, and prepare children for adulthood, it takes a village to ensure clean drinking water. While all municipal water supplies pass through a standard treatment process, water undergoes several different levels of treatment depending on where the water originates from. Surface water needs a higher level or degree of treatment than groundwater because lakes, rivers, and streams tend to contain more sediment and higher levels of contaminants than naturally-filtered groundwater. “Surface water is often contaminated by rainwater runoff that washes pesticides, nitrates, and trash into water sources as it trickles across roads and down hills. Groundwater usually becomes contaminated when the water that trickles through rocks picks up heavy metals such as arsenic.” After going through four standard treatment methods (coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, and filtration), the water supply then requires disinfection ensuring the water becomes and remains safe to use. Disinfection can use chlorination, chloramines, ozone, or ultraviolet light.
The CDC website outlines responsibility for testing and quality assurance. Because of the endless possibilities of water contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency sets legal limits for over 90 possible contaminants. Drinking water must meet these standards before dispersal. City water treatment processes must ensure standards are met while the EPA oversees and regulates municipal water systems up to the meter of any building. The city and the EPA work in partnership.
While much goes into delivering safe drinking water, up to the meter, where do contaminants in pipes, not present in city water, originate from? Les relayed that there are a multitude of factors within a home or business’s plumbing system that can lead to contamination of the water. Plumbers used lead solder to connect copper pipes into the 1980’s (banned in 1986). This is not an issue unless the pipe degrades in some way allowing bits of lead to break off into the pipes. Adding a water softener or taking an extended vacation/absence from a building can allow contaminants to flourish in pipes due to stagnation and/or changes in the chemical composition of the water. Spring run-off can significantly affect pipes as well. Unless the water has recently been checked within a facility or there is a water filtration system already in place, one can’t be sure of the quality. Given the extensive Covid-19 building closures, including schools, Les relayed that contaminants in the pipes is not just a local Utah issue, but a national problem, unknown, without public education and testing past the meter within buildings. These possible unknowns in our water should cause concerns for any school, home, or building resident. EPA oversight and city testing end at the meter. When was your last water check?
We are beyond grateful that this eye opening trip into the world of clean drinking water led to a great outcome for Saint Olaf Catholic School. Perhaps the most important lesson we’d share is that testing water is both easy and fairly inexpensive. RETEGO testing starts at around $100. While eliminating contaminants in the water and installing preventative filtration systems entailed expense and inconvenience, Les reminded us, “There are no safe levels of lead in drinking water.”
The RETEGO crew and Les, found a creative solution for our 60 year old building, saving money and producing clean, properly balanced, and fresh tasting water. Les volunteered many labor hours and was available to answer questions-including showing us inside sections of removed pipe, solder joints and more. While working with city officials to determine where the issues originated, they couldn’t say enough good things about Les Merrill and RETEGO. Les is involved in much of the public testing that goes on in Davis County. Our appreciation and thanks to the city of Bountiful, Les Merrill, and the team at RETEGO for helping ensure the safety, health, and well being of our students, faculty, and the residents of Davis County through the testing, monitoring, and fixing of our water systems, up to the meter, and beyond. Having Les and RETEGO in our community makes finding an expert easy and we certainly recommend their water testing system. We also recommend checking with your school/daycare about their results or when they will comply with the state to test their water. In your own home, health and peace of mind may be worth $100.
Optimum Water Solutions. “How Does Your City Treat its Drinking Water.” Optimum Let’s Drink, July 13, 2020 www.drinkoptimum.com/how-does-your-city-treat-its-drinking-water/#:~:text=While%20specific%20water%20treatment%20methods,sedimentation%2C%20filtration%2C%20and%20disinfection.
Drinking Water Home, “Importance of Water Quality and Testing.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 28, 2020 (page last reviewed)
Drinking Water Home, “Water Treatment, How Water Treatment Plants Make Water Safe,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 16,2022 (page last reviewed)
Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems, “Drinking Water Regulations,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, October 24, 2021 (page last updated)
Welcome to Retego Labs Tab. “The Perfect Storm,” “Do you Know Your Water,” “What is Your Water Environment,” “Technical Details,” “Who We Are,” RETEGO, sourced August 24, 2022
Common Sense Advice for Back To School??? - Katie Bakker
It seems strange to be talking about preparing to go back to school, when for most school administrative teams, we’ve been working all summer toward that very goal. The day the 2021-22 school year ended, we began actively planning for 2022-23. I sometimes need to replace my school admin brain with my parent brain, however, or I might actually forget in the hustle to prepare classrooms, building, and staff, to get my own kids’ uniform order placed, or backpacks selected, or summer work completed. Preparing to go back takes many forms and our Utah Catholic Schools will be ready.
Our principal recently circulated an article with advice from teachers to parents on ways they can support teachers and their students throughout the school year. Our faculty briefly exchanged messages about the great advice given and discussed how to share this information with families as it appeared on an education site, a place most parents may never see. I have thought about the article and the exchanges surrounding it, probably more than I need to and sitting here tonight, with only 3 weeks left of break, some things became clear.
The advice given was common sense and so basic that after reading through the various iterations of “eat a healthy breakfast”, “get enough sleep”, “help with homework when needed”, and “be aware of what your child is doing and learning at school.” I found myself incredibly sad that teachers needed to put this advice out. Reminders are great, especially when that uniform sale is fast approaching, but if you aren’t getting your child to bed, feeding them, or tuned in to their lives, at school or otherwise, an infographic from the school, whether on a web page, facebook or sent home, probably isn’t going fix things for you or your student’s year.
In thinking about the families in our school who might appear to need the article’s advice, I haven’t come up with quick or informational solutions to personal/family barriers to heeding best practices. However, what I know about our Catholic Schools is that regardless of how your student shows up, we will fill in those cracks, gaps, holes, or trenches, teaching and growing all students. If you can’t help with homework (you work 2 jobs, you always hated math yourself, there’s a language barrier..), we sure can and we do. If you forgot or don’t have a snack or lunch to send for the 10th time this year-we’ll make sure your student is fed. If your student didn’t get enough sleep and needs an academic break at school, we’ll make it happen. We are here for you and for our students.
If you’re struggling and are wondering what’s the best thing you can do for your kids to reduce any of these disadvantages your family may face, find a Catholic community, find a Catholic School. We are here to serve your family and your students, however they show up-day in and day out. Don’t let your fear of finances, faith, uniforms, or anything else keep you from stopping by and getting to know us. Educating your students well, caring for them mind, body, and soul is our mission. Let us partner with you, wherever you’re at and surround you with the love of Christ and a warm, supportive community.
Saint Olaf Legacy of ServiceLocal Catholic Recognized for Years of Volunteer Work
Does what we do matter? - Katie Bakker
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” My dad used to say that often to my sisters and I growing up. I took it to mean, pick yourself up, try again, move, move in any direction. Recently, though, as the phrase came to mind, I thought about running away. I laughed to myself as I thought that maybe when the tough get going, they are just hightailing it outta dodge, because things aren’t working. Have I had it wrong all along? There is inspiration (what we should do) and then there is reality (what we actually do), something relationships like marriage & parenthood, combined with life’s trials beautifully illustrate. I dislike this time of year, likely why I was feeling discouraged and recalled this particular phrase at that moment. I used to dislike January and February because of the horrible inversion and craptacular gray Utah weather. Now, it remains that, plus re-enrollment season here at school. It doesn’t seem to matter how we attempt to roll out re-enrollment, it is difficult, painful, disheartening, and demotivating. So much so, that I wish to run away and not return year after year.
As a semi volunteer, semi employee here at Saint Olaf, I am here because I believe in this school, the community, and Catholic education in general. I believe these small communities are a microcosm of how God desires us to live-in communion with each other and Him, serving, and sharing the hope of Christ, while raising and teaching our children to do the same. In one sense we are a safe place, a compass, a guide, a net, but also we are messy, broken, ordinary people from all walks of life, trying our best to do what God calls us to do, while failing again and again. We are addictions, broken individuals and families, mental and physical illness, and many other things, both beautiful and ugly. The safety here isn't the absence of the realities and failures of life, but instead the constant call to something better, something higher than ourselves, the pursuit of what it is to be Holy. So as we fail, our friends fail, our kids fail-and we each must face the pain and consequences, ideally, we are surrounded by a community that forgives, understands failure, and remains with us as we again pick ourselves up and try again for Holy.
Unfortunately, re-enrollment season highlights two things for us. One, that we are still not this kind of community for many of our families and have failed to live up to our part in some way, whether aware of any issues, or not. Two, we have families not interested in this kind of community and see our school as simply a transactional experience that is expendable at any point. There is little to no relational experience for them. Both of these feel soul crushing to a committed advancement director because I have completely failed to convey what we exist for and why families should care and keep their student(s) here. Through the stress and tears created through these failures and losses, I’m asked why I don’t actually run away.
My answer is that I still believe what happens here matters and is important for all of life for our students and our families. I don’t know that I matter here, or if that question is even relevant in the eternal scheme of things, but this place, this community, this school matters, and it needs representation and people who will fight to preserve it. We need to keep creating and protecting places where community exists-faith filled and honest, ugly, dirty, hard, work it out, live in accountability, forgive, apologize, and keep trying, community. Academics certainly are important, but to steal the words of a brilliant and Godly man, C S Lewis, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man into a clever devil.” I want for my children and for all children, an excellent foundation to what will be a lifelong education, AND I want a community that strives for the Holy, respecting, accepting, and serving each other. Those are the skills they will need to serve God and others, while living lives of faith, purpose, and passion.
As you consider your child’s path for next year, and the next, please hear this explanation of why we are here. If this ”why” isn’t your “thing,” we wish God’s richest blessings on your journey, but if we have simply failed in our part of the community we are striving to be, come talk, let us attempt repair and restoration, call us to be and do better and we’ll do the same. And if this sounds like what you might be looking for and you just haven’t plugged in yet, let us help you. As we emerge from this pandemic and begin creating activities and events again, there are a multitude of ways to connect and build fellowship, friendship, and belonging. Regardless of the choices made over the next few months, please also know that we will never stop praying for, serving, and educating children and families and we are richly blessed to have the opportunity to do so, despite wanting to run away now and then.
Consider Pandemic Data, Consider a Private School - Katie Bakker
If you’ve never considered a private school, now might be the time. Below is the data from a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune concerning Utah public/charter school students and the pandemic.
The article lists many sobering numbers and findings, opening with a quote from author Courtney Tanner:
“Some decline was expected, but the state said it was worse than its worst-case scenarios.”
Literacy rates dipped 5% for kindergartners
Achievement gaps for low income and students of color widened
Math scores saw biggest decline across the board
All data was worse than anticipated-scores went down significantly from 2019
Data was collected from 7 different exams
A significant number of students opted out, mostly from underrepresented backgrounds so data is likely far worse
Largest drops for 6th graders in language arts show a decrease in proficiency of 54%
5th grade math showed a decrease of 39%
Reading benchmark scores dropped for most first graders
1st-3rd graders tested for reading on one exam (pre-pandemic) showed 69% succeeding, but a year later dropped down to 62%
Kindergartners dropped from 71% to 64% on a similar test
The article reiterates again that these dips don’t include non testers so actual scores are likely much worse
“In some cases, we observe over two times the declines in student achievement in Utah compared to the effects attributed to Hurricane Katrina on students from New Orleans.”
Quote from Leslie Keng, Center for Assessment
It’s hard to miss all the education headlines if you are paying attention. The emergency red lights are flashing. In the last day or so, the following two popped up under my news and on my social media and there are so many more every day. It’s a scary time for our nation’s children.
NPR Article entitled “Parents are scrambling after schools suddenly cancel class over staffing and burnout”
New York Times Article entitled “Schools are closing classrooms on Fridays. Parents are Furious”
Lest you think the concerns raised in these two articles don’t apply here or aren't happening in Utah, the New York Times article states... “in Utah, the Canyons School District announced that all of its schools would go remote one Friday a month from November until March, equivalent to more than a week of school.”
I have found myself scratching my head and puzzling over several things as the data pours in. We have had several parents leave our school this fall because of promises from local district or Charter schools that they can do better for students. These are nice promises that obviously prey on the fears and deep concerns parents have for their kids’ education, given all the above stats. However, I’m puzzled because the stats don’t lie. That is the pandemic data-that is where district and charter school students tested. That is the “better,” if anyone is paying attention. Are we, as parents, actually looking at the data or are we listening to sweet words and hopeful promises that can’t and don’t match actual assessment data? Promising extra reading help or a great math program doesn’t really mean anything if students test as they did above. I can’t recommend enough that you carefully look at testing and assessment data and ask despite how great something sounds, is the curriculum, teaching, or program producing measurable results and good data.
Here at Saint Olaf, we endlessly assess and review our data and have been privileged to have excellent teaching paired with solid, result producing, curriculum. We know that part of our success is that we remained open all year for the 2020-21 school year, offering our students an in-person complete academic year. On 3 separate tests: ACT Aspire, Dibels, and HMH Growth Measure Assessments, our student scores went up across the board in ELA/Reading from our 2019 scores. Students improved from 77% (on or above grade level) to over 80%! This is a remarkable feat given the above district data and speaks to that successful combination of being open and in person with effective teaching and solid curriculum. Our Math scores dipped- we had about a 20% dip, the minimum observed nationwide. What is interesting and important is that this dip wasn’t in all classes, many scores went up or held firm. By analyzing the data, the dips were primarily in Middle School and was a trend we watched all year. This then led to a complete revamp of teaching and curriculum. Our start of year to mid year test data is already showing impressive improvement/growth for the 2021-22 school year. We intend to close that gap and recover this year, however ambitious that may be. We consider a 20% dip unacceptable, but also feel relief when we look at the Utah middle school dips of 39-54%.
As a small private school, we can easily pivot as needed and make necessary changes quickly. The data would seem to indicate that in public/charter schools, this is a significant challenge that has yet to be overcome or successful for students. If your student is somewhere lost in the above stats, may I recommend checking out alternatives. Pay close attention to data, discerning those sweet promises by comparing them with the actual school data. Programs, teaching, community-all critical components to student success, however, it's the data that actually shows what students have taken away from those things.
Solid Covid Data Could Mean Good News For Private Schools - Katie Bakker
This spring, our school administration, like many small private schools nationwide, met to decide whether to apply for the second round of PPP loans or the EANS Grants to help us remain financially solvent in the devastating wake of COVID-19. These are federal funding programs available to all schools as a result of the pandemic. While this may seem like an insignificant thing to be writing about given the emotional, psychological, and physical fatigue to families, students, teachers, and faculty worldwide, the critical nature of the seemingly insignificant is just what has come to light in the pandemic. It certainly has brought many issues to the surface of our national educational pool. Probably any private school right now would report, if asked, that funding adds significantly to the stresses of all other on-going fatigue, during a pandemic and in general. After all, schools that aren’t fully funded can’t pay their teachers and faculty, can’t fund innovation and offer exciting programs, and can’t grow and teach young minds- if they can remain open at all. I have to wonder, does it have to be this way? Are there no tax dollars that can funnel to private schools when not in a global pandemic? If it seems important to help our nation’s private schools now, are we not acknowledging that they serve a purpose in our educational system?
Whether a supporter of private education or not, we do seem to be indicating at this moment that private schools are important in some way. A simple internet search reveals that they do in fact, relieve significant burdens on the public school system by removing students who would otherwise require space and services in often already full classrooms. Especially during the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine how the public schools would have been able to safely remain open and operational if 5.7 million students were suddenly back in the public system (the number of students currently being served in private schools across the US). This number accounts for 10% of students preK-12th grade nationwide. Private Schools also make up 25% of all schools in the US. It would seem rather obvious that keeping private schools open is a national priority involving everyone. If only 10% of private school students went back to public schools, the combined state and local costs would be approximately $6.7 billion. Imagine the public school system scrambling to accommodate the influx of these students they hadn’t previously been responsible for despite having received full funding for them through tax dollars. One must see that Private schools therefore, are quite necessary, helpful, and well worth even a small investment.
One piece of recent Covid data highlights the value of private schools by identifying their more efficient, quicker, and better pivot in several key areas, when facing the unique pandemic demands placed on education. As evaluation of the last academic year has begun, private schools easily beat out public schools in overall parent satisfaction with their student’s education-whether remote, hybrid, or in person. Part of this reason is that private schools were able to switch to remote and hybrid learning systems much more rapidly, saving weeks of student learning in the academic year. This quick pivot allowed more practice with distance/hybrid learning and additional time to make positive and efficient adjustments to the process. Early Covid data showing academic loss tragically follows ethnic and lower socioeconomic lines putting the most disadvantaged students in an even worse position coming out of the pandemic. One summation of educational losses states, “The results are startling. Students on average could lose five to nine months of learning by the end of June 2021. Students of color could be six to 12 months behind, compared with four to eight months for white students.” (1,2) Any school saving even a few weeks of learning, would offer an advantage to students. Time will tell just how much that advantage is. In addition, private schools were more easily able to offer in-person learning along with, in many cases, more personalized student instruction and one on one time due to smaller class sizes and less educational bureaucratic red tape surrounding pandemic guidelines.
Can any of this emerging data be used for good as we move out of this pandemic? Are there things that need to change for our schools, whether public or private? Many educational experts believe that there are solid answers in the pandemic data, and otherwise. Many, experts and educators, hope it may finally be time that as a nation, we stop having the public or private debate, and begin looking at an educational overhaul that allows many options to survive and thrive in our educational system. We need to define the term thrive, as a new system providing appropriate and solid educational options to each and every student, regardless of neighborhood, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or ability. While his suggestions speak primarily from the private school perspective, one expert’s solution is surprising, in that he isn’t advocating more PPP Loans or bailouts, but instead a more forward thinking plan for the future; one that allows all schools to perform (thrive) for their students and families...
“Because COVID-19 has mainly shuttered already vulnerable institutions, a sustainable solution to the problem of closing private schools is not more one‐off infusions of federal cash. It is for state and local governments to change how they fund education, moving away from putting dollars directly into public schools and allowing them to follow children to the educational options that families choose. Ultimately, what would be best for private schools and society would be a level financial playing field.” Put another way, “The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly demonstrated the need for American education to be much more agile and adaptable to changing and unique circumstances and has shone a light on the way to do that: decentralization, especially by funding students instead of school systems.” (3)
Why are we so invested in this type of solution as a small Private Catholic School? What was most surprising in so much of the research was that private schools do in fact echo Neal McCluskey’s sentiments of not wanting more government funding to “get us through” the Covid times, but rather, wanting an overhaul to the entire broken system of haves and have-nots. We believe strongly in the need for a system where some percentage of each student’s educational dollars can follow them, no matter which school parents select. Instead of being pitted against our local public schools, while endlessly worrying about finances and how we can offer more with less, it makes good sense to continue to remove part of the burden on public schools by servicing some of those students while at the same time, having the funds to do so. What do we tell our most disadvantaged students nationwide? What is the solution for them? They continue on in the public schools that left them behind and underserved to begin with, and now have an even bigger academic hurdle to jump over? As Catholic Schools, we firmly believe that every student deserves a Catholic education and we work hard to provide that, often when the tuition dollars are not there from our disadvantaged families. Our commitment to students and families is unwavering. It is our mission.
While, there will always be elite schools with pricey tuition that only few can access, as a Catholic School and system, that is hardly our model. Catholic Schools were founded to serve those in the faith and those whose needs are not met in other educational systems. This means, we serve the underserved, the behind, those on the margins, and those in need. Families often can’t pay tuition or pay what they can, hence the endless funding gap cycles in our schools. If the overall educational system was working for ALL students, there would be no need for private schools, which is simply not the case. It is okay to acknowledge that public schools can’t serve everyone, no single path can. And, one could easily argue, the pandemic data would look very different if the public school system was truly a one size works equally well for all.
We need to start having these conversations in our homes, as we talk to neighbors, as we make decisions on charitable giving, and as we vote. Do we really as a society wish to continue to pour all educational dollars into a system that while available to all, leaves many behind, disadvantaged, and/or underserved? Nationwide we can do better. Please start or keep having conversations and investigating how well schools in your area are truly serving their students-really look at the data. Look at the public schools and the local private schools. See what you find. Until the day finally arrives that funds, at least in part, can follow students into schools truly serving every one of them, we are left in the endless shortfall cycle. We will always remain true to our mission and will continue to serve all those students who desire a Catholic Education regardless of ability to pay. However, ending the lack of funding cycle and its stressors would allow so many small private schools to focus solely on the critical work of educating every student well, which after all, we believe is the point.
1 McCluskey, Neal. “Private Schooling after a Year of COVID-19: How the Private Sector Has Fared and How to Keep It Healthy,” Policy Analysis no. 914, Cato Institute, Washington, DC, April 13, 2021. https://doi.org/10.36009/PA.914.
Read Across America Week at Saint Olaf - Katie Bakker
“There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools”
Read any of Ken Robinson’s books, watch a TED talk or two, or follow his work and you're sure to be inspired by his lofty goals for education reform and strong belief in teachers as key leaders of this much needed reform. He excites audiences by showing what could be possible in the academic world for students. So while this year especially, it has been easy to get ground down by the stressors of daily life in school, his reminder that teachers are our lifeblood is important and necessary. When teachers are on fire, inspiration flows from our schools.
We recently experienced firsthand that inspiration flowing here at Saint Olaf Catholic School in Bountiful, Utah. Our 4th grade Teacher, Ms. Kelli-Ann Allen and her colleague, librarian and art teacher Mrs. Kathy Dorich took the entire student body on an odyssey through their own version of Read Across America Week. Although this national program was created in 1998 in conjunction with Dr. Suess’s birthday on March 2, the program has blossomed into and encourages reading all year long, as it is critical to all learning.
Here, at Saint Olaf, Ms. Allen started our own version of Read Across America several years ago, keeping the original week long celebration in March. In non pandemic years, Ms. Allen has had donuts with grandparent/parent reading buddies, invited parents and community guests to read with and to students throughout the week, offered before and after school snacks paired with reading time, had students read to other grades and with each other, snuggled in the library, or in corners of their classroom. She incorporated games, art projects and class/school challenges into the week. Students and parents alike also participated in an all school book exchange where each day of the week, a book could be donated and another chosen, refreshing home libraries.
However, with the pandemic, Ms. Allen and Mrs. Dorich knew this year would look different and would need to be creative and fun in its own socially distanced way. Students need exciting things to look forward to, and to not lose all “special” activities due to COVID-19. So where there had been parent, family, student, and community close contact interactions, this year the presentations, reading, and activities would need to be spaced. It was an amazing coincidence or perhaps divine inspiration that Saint Olaf had recently caught the attention of the NCEA and catholicmom.com, with a representative contacting the school to see about a possible working partnership.
What followed were several weeks of conversations and emails between our Principal, Simon McFall, these 2 teachers, and multiple authors, including a very well-known and accomplished illustrator and Saint Olaf Alumni, Pete Oswald. Although he wasn’t able to join us via zoom for Read Across America Week, we are thrilled to have reconnected and look forward to future projects in the works. We were able to set up zoom presentations with 5 Catholic/Christian Authors, also all very accomplished and published through Paraclete Press, and 1 local Utah Author. Not only did 6 authors do zoom presentations with our students throughout the week, they sent multiple copies of their books to be distributed to students. Lisa Hendey, creator of Catholic.mom.com led a mini retreat for our staff on Friday, closing out a full and fabulous week. Our Author guest list was as follows:
- Jon M Sweeney, The Pope's Cat
- John Gray, Keller's Heart
- Lisa Hendey, I'm a Saint in the Making
- Laura Alary, Breathe, A Child's Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time
- Karen Kiefer, Drawing God
- J Scott Savage, The Mysteries of Cove Series
Other activities students participated in included designing or redesigning favorite book covers, dressing as favorite characters or authors, playing a week long Bingo game-encouraging daily reading and storytelling at all levels, and a fantastical scavenger/trivia treasure hunt campus wide. Ms. Allen and Mrs. Dorich would love to see the program grow every year, with more to look forward to. Ms. Allen’s students also participate in a reading program all year, where they must select books from every literary genre, trying them out. Both teachers report wanting to make this year extra special because of the extra burdens students and families have felt. However, truth be told, these exceptional teachers are always doing more, pushing for something new and different. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these teachers and many other teachers working with our students. With more than 80% of our students reading on or above grade level, the inspiration of our teachers is flowing stronger than ever!
Saint Olaf Catholic School Remains in the News!
A Testimony to the Strength & Endurance of Catholic Education
IS YOUR STUDENT EQUIPPED? How Saint Olaf Catholic School handles COVID-19 - Katie Bakker
How are our local schools dealing with the present COVID-19 crisis? Are we meeting this challenge to our educational system? Is this destined to be the lost quarter for students globally? We toss these questions around endlessly at Saint Olaf Catholic School. This past fall, before there was COVID-19, we changed our logo and created a motto. While we spent much time evaluating our ethos and how to best capture that in two symbols, we had no idea how intensely significant these new symbols would become as we seek to save precious academic and social/emotional time for our school, our students, and families during a global pandemic.
We started with ideals that seem to register with all parents: college prep, solid academics, and leadership. We do offer and value these, however, we offer more. While students pre K-12 are technically only our responsibility through their senior year, we are not just a school-we are a community of faith, a responsibility we take very seriously. Our faith compels us to focus on the development of the complete student, not solely their K-12 career. We are attempting to prepare and equip our students for the entirety of life, far beyond the school years, while also equipping them for today. The hard truth is that not every child is going to be a leader, an A student, or even attend college, however, every child can be equipped to deal with life’s highs and lows while developing their own individual talents, and learning to live in a Christ-like manner.
In this strange and unusual time of social distancing, evaluations naturally take place. What is really important to me and my family. What have I lost that I deeply care about and miss? What loss has been “no big deal” or a “blessing in disguise?” We share our school process and evaluations as encouragement to others to intentionally lean into this time, process your evaluations, and prioritize maybe again what has value. Possibly ask, “who is my school, what do they say they offer vs what do they provide?” What do I ultimately want for my student?
At Saint Olaf we traded a solitary male Viking logo for a Viking ship on an ocean’s journey. The ship is a symbol that includes everyone. On a ship, we all have a job to do based on our individual skills and talents. We journey together going our separate ways when the final destination is reached. The voyage will be rough and exciting as we grow together. Our selected motto is Strength & Endurance. Our Principal, Mr. McFall, uses three key words to describe instruction. We develop learners who are endlessly curious about all things, resilient to face life’s ups and downs, and deeply faith-filled, kindly serving those around them. As the ideals of these 3 words are used to shape our students, they depart our ship equipped to face present trials and unknown futures.
So how are we at Saint Olaf Catholic School facing this turbulent moment? We face COVID-19 in the same way we have faced every day, with the Strength & Endurance we have built brick by brick, layer by layer. We honor our students’ academic year by seeing it through to its completion, even when we are weary, scared, and overwhelmed. We spend hours in early March prepping student work and moving to on-line platforms as we learn & adapt them. We plan creative ways to keep even our specials like Music, Spanish, and Art going. We use Zoom meetings and other platforms to connect and prepare staff and engage with our parents, equipping them for the coming storm. We remain in the ship, completing this portion of a very important journey for our children as they will never get this year back. The students at Saint Olaf finish the 2019-20 school year in its totality. They will return in the fall equipped to move forward in the next grade level. We will continue on together, stronger, having endured something unprecedented for our time. Our logo and motto have truly become our inspiration, urging us forward into new waters. Our hope and prayer is that each and every student’s academic year can somehow be honored and completed as the wave of COVID-19 washes over the entire globe.