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Parochial, magnet schools' educational standards earn praise

America's cities should pattern neighborhood high schools after Roman Catholic schools and magnet public schools that have clear missions and aggressively shape student values, a study concludes. "By reputation, religious and special-purpose public schools experience much greater success with low-income students than do comprehensive zoned public schools. We found the reputation justified," concluded the study published by the Rand Corp., a private, non-profit research organization.

But the typical high school "has lost its support," said the report, "High Schools with Character: Alternatives to Bureaucracy."

They are "so encrusted with rules and procedures that no one in them can work to his or her full potential," it said.

Catholic and specialty schools, which the study collectively dubs "focus" schools, "unhesitatingly place burdens on their low-achieving students."

Meanwhile, adults at typical neighborhood schools "agree not to demand too much in return for the students' agreement not to cause trouble," the study contended.

The result: markedly higher Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and graduation rates at the Catholic and specialty schools studied.

The report urged New York and other cities to replace existing neighborhood schools with focus schools incorporating the virtues of Catholic and specialty or "magnet" public schools.

The 97-page study examined 13 schools _ 10 in New York City and three in Washington, D.C. Eight of those, all in New York, were studied in-depth: three were Catholic high schools, two were standard public schools, two were specialty public schools focused on vocational or academic programs, and one was a special school designed for students who had failed in regular education.

"We are not claiming that Catholic or special-purpose public schools would do as well with a random group of disadvantaged students," said study author Paul Hill.

But he said most regular school students would likely do better if they had the strong direction and high standards focus schools would provide.