Today's Inquirer here runs with a cover Metro story on the increasing presence of college-level Advanced Placement classes in Catholic high schools.
Those of you who are parents of high school-aged kids know what APs are, and how important they are. As a public high school grad whose AP scores really helped down the line, it's good to see that Catholic education is finally getting religion.
This comes to a major issue which diocesan-operated high schools are increasingly having to grapple with, especially in more affluent areas: the simple truth that, in a complex and competitive education market, values alone aren't enough to boast of.
After several years of 4 percent growth in public and nonpublic schools offering AP courses, the College Board was surprised last year by a 15 percent jump among nonpublic schools.
"We have never seen anything like it," said Trevor Packer, executive director of Advanced Placement.
In the Philadelphia region, AP courses have increased especially among the 28 schools operated by the Catholic Church even when many lost enrollment.
About half of those schools added one to six AP courses since 2001. Eight of them lost enrollment, according to data collected for The Inquirer's annual Report Card on the Schools.
"We want to give students more challenges and to be more competitive with other schools in the area," said Diane Tucker, vice principal for academic affairs at Sacred Heart Academy in Vineland whose growing 360-student school introduced three AP courses.
The push to add AP courses even touched Lansdale Catholic in Montgomery County, which lost 136 students in the last four years but added AP courses this fall in economics and studio arts. "We're responding to an expressed interest," said Linda Robinson, principal.
Students and parents know how such courses add luster to high school transcripts. "Colleges are always looking for the kids that have more APs," said Chris Jones, 17, a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School in Northeast Philadelphia who is taking AP statistics, calculus and English.
Jayesh Patel of Bensalem said the number of AP offerings was an important factor when the family was selecting a school for his daughter Durvi, who wants to be physician.
"I wanted her to have a better opportunity to prepare for college," Patel said, whose daughter has taken four AP courses at Ryan. "When she applies for college, she will have a greater opportunity by having more AP courses."
This is especially true in the suburbs, where the property taxes which fund public education often run in the $5,000-8,000 range per household. If the academics aren't present in the Catholic school system, the thinking goes, then what's the use of banging up an extra $4K to send your kid there? (Especially when the local public has a sterling academic rep.)
Faced with this quandary, even now, many parents who want to give their kids the best combo of sound values and academic formation are resigned to sending their kids to private Catholic academies which routinely have tuition in the $15K range and upwards.
The dioceses still have to up the ante if they're going to keep afloat. In this corner of the world, when the annual education stats are released every year, the diocesan-operated Catholic schools do not reveal their average SAT scores by order of the Chanceries. As you all know, a good average is worth its weight in gold, and choosing not to reveal them at all is tantamount to an admission of guilt.
But again, however slowly, it's good to see that they're getting religion.