Preliminary findings from a national study suggest that seniors in Roman Catholic high schools, despite their focus on traditional moral values, may be more prone to engaging in shoplifting and drug and alcohol abuse compared to their peers in public schools. These unexpected results were presented at the annual convention of the National Catholic Educational Association, surprising many attendees and leading some educators to call for greater attention to these issues.
The study, directed by Peter L. Benson, a consultant from the Search Institute, aims to assess the effectiveness of Catholic education in promoting moral values while also addressing adolescent behaviors that need to be prevented. Benson, who plans to complete the study next year, believes that evaluating the success of Catholic schools in shaping students academically and morally is essential. He expressed the need to analyze "how good a job we’re doing" in fulfilling the mission of Catholic education, which includes influencing students’ moral development, in addition to academic growth.
The research conducted by Mr. Benson, commissioned by the N.C.E.A., analyzes data from the "Monitoring the Future" survey, a yearly examination of student beliefs sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The survey encompasses 16,000 high school seniors from both public and nonpublic schools across the country, including 1,000 seniors from Catholic schools. Sister Catherine McNamee, the president of the Catholic educators’ group, acknowledges that the study reveals that students do not always follow through on what teachers preach, highlighting the need for curriculum changes and further investigation into teaching methods related to alcohol and drug abuse. However, Sister McNamee emphasizes that the findings have not been thoroughly analyzed yet due to the study’s ongoing nature.
The National Catholic Educational Association acknowledged the significance of the preliminary results and resolved to secure funding for a comprehensive substance abuse prevention program. Sister McNamee explains that this program would adopt a multidisciplinary approach to address substance abuse, rather than a standalone course. Most Catholic schools already incorporate some form of drug education within their health curriculum.
Regarding drug and alcohol use, Mr. Benson’s breakdown of data from the class of 1985 reveals that Catholic school seniors reported higher percentages of alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana use compared to their public school counterparts. Specifically:
– 45% of Catholic school seniors admitted to being intoxicated in the two weeks preceding the survey, compared to 39% of public school seniors.
– 21% of Catholic school students reported trying cocaine, whereas 17% of public school students claimed to have used the drug. The rate of cocaine usage among Catholic school seniors has nearly tripled over the past decade.
– In terms of marijuana use, 57% of Catholic school students reported trying the drug at least once, while the figure stood at 54% among public school students. Additionally, 44% of Catholic school seniors and 41% of public school seniors admitted to smoking marijuana in the six months leading up to the survey. Furthermore, 28% of Catholic school seniors disclosed using marijuana in the previous 30 days, in contrast to 26% of public school seniors.
– Approximately 40% of Catholic school seniors claimed to have engaged in shoplifting in the past year, compared to 29% of their public school counterparts.
It is important to note that only around 20% of Catholic students in the United States attend Catholic high schools. Mr. Benson expressed surprise and concern regarding the results, acknowledging the sensitivity of the issue. However, the lack of knowledge about the prevention efforts employed by Catholic schools hinders the identification of effective strategies to combat substance abuse and shoplifting.
Mr. Benson proposed that the significant concentration of Catholic high schools in urban areas could potentially contribute to a higher incidence rate of shoplifting among their students. Another possible explanation he suggested is that Catholic schools might have a higher enrollment of students with behavioral issues. According to him, the parents of such students may believe that Catholic schools can provide the necessary discipline their children require.
Regarding the study’s findings on Catholic-school seniors, they expressed a strong belief in various traditional values, in contrast to their responses on drug, alcohol, and shoplifting questions. Both public and Catholic high school students rated the importance of having a good marriage and family life as their primary concern. Additionally, both groups placed importance on finding stable employment, developing strong friendships, and achieving success in their careers, in that order. However, a slightly higher percentage of Catholic-school seniors deemed marriage to be extremely important compared to their public-school counterparts.
The survey revealed that Catholic-school students displayed a higher level of social concern compared to public-school students. Around 50 percent of Catholic-school respondents expressed a desire to pursue work that would be valuable to society, even if it didn’t offer high salary or prestige, while this figure stood at 43 percent for their public-school peers.
Over the past decade, the significance of these values has increased among Catholic-school students by approximately 6 percent, whereas it has decreased by around 4 percent for public-school students, as per the annual survey. The survey also highlighted that around 30 percent of Catholics attending parochial schools considered religion important to them, in contrast to 22 percent of Catholics enrolled in public schools.