kitchen table math, the sequel: saving Catholic schools

Sunday, March 23, 2008

saving Catholic schools

Seton Hall’s Epics program — the acronym stands for Educational Partners in Catholic Schools — is one of about 20 similar efforts by Roman Catholic colleges and universities. Taken together, the initiatives have placed several thousand teachers in urban Catholic schools, and collectively they comprise a sort of religion-based version of Teach for America.

One major difference, besides the religious component, is in national visibility. Teach for America has become a virtual brand name on elite college campuses and a coveted item on graduate-school applications and corporate résumés. Programs like Epics have received far less public acclaim, and yet they are vital to the almost literally lifesaving role that Catholic schools play as an affordable alternative to chronically failing public schools in many low-income areas.


In 1970, more than half the teachers and administrators at Catholic elementary and secondary schools were unpaid clergy members. As of 2008, Ms. Helm said, clergy members account for about 5 percent of teachers. At the same time that nonwhite and often non-Catholic pupils are increasingly seeking out Catholic schools, the number of such schools in cities has been shrinking in the face of rising costs and insufficient revenue.

St. Patrick’s, where Mr. Encarnacion teaches, offers an archetypal example. The school, which runs from prekindergarten through eighth grade, is actually a merger of three schools. Roughly two-thirds of its 440 students are black Protestants. Of 26 full-time teachers and administrators, one is a member of the clergy.

Offering Teachers Incentives; and a Chance to Live Their Faith
by Samuel G. Freedman

We've had sad news here. The Catholic school down the hill from the high school is closing.

I hate to see these places go.

Catholic Schools and the Common Good


palisadesk said...

I was happy to see that the Catholic elementary school where I did some project work while I was in graduate school is still there and apparently thriving ( Our Lady of Victory ).

I doubt it serves many low-income families, though. That part of town is pretty high-end now. When I was there, the geographic area nearby included a working class residential area on the south side of MacArthur Boulevard which is probably pretty gentrified by now.

A year ago I went to a large conference on school improvement (the focus was on using test results and assessment to determine instructional priorities, action plans, etc.). There were a number of presentations from schools that had made significant progress. My principal and I went and chose to attend presentations on low-income, high-diversity urban schools, since we figured that would be most relevant to our situation. We both noticed that nearly all of the presentations (teacher and principal teams presented what they had done and details of their implementations, etc.) were from Catholic schools.

What stood out was not so much the specifics of what they did, but the commitment of the faculty. They were clearly dedicated and willing to go more than the extra mile in a way that would be unusual in a public school, even one with very competent and caring staff. Whether it was their faith per se, or more of an ethos of service, it was quite strikingly different from what one would encounter in a public school, even a good one (and I have worked in a few).

Now of course these were "success stories," and it does not follow from this that every Catholic school is similarly graced with highly committed staff, but the factor of shared vision is probably an important one that should not be underestimated, and is difficult to replicate in a diverse public system, where many values are simply *not* shared.

Ms. Longhorn said...

The entire education system is falling apart.. it's sad to hear this is trickling into the "private sector" as well...

Catherine Johnson said...

Ed's sense, after talking to colleagues at the American Historical Association conference last January, is that outside major cities where you have a large pool of Ph.Ds looking for jobs, private schools are pretty bad, too.

We made the rounds of private schools here in Westchester last fall & discovered that there aren't even close to enough seats in these schools to provide a real alternative.

The lowest ratio of applications to seats was 4 to 1 -- and many of these schools don't overenroll.

Rye Country Day, for instance, admits no more students than they have seats for. I think the ratio there, for boys, was something like 17 applicants for each spot. (Close to.)