kitchen table math, the sequel: save the schools

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

save the schools

re: the loss of Catholic schools
The American public school system is vast. More than 15,000 school districts govern over 95,000 schools employing over 6 million people serving 50 million students and spending $500 billion per year (Hess & Finn, 2007). Public schooling, in short, is a colossus casting a very long shadow. Major reform efforts within the public education system will inevitably influence the private school sector, sometimes profoundly so.

Even as by far the nation’s largest system of private schooling, at 2.3 million students (McDonald, 2006) the size of the Catholic school system pales in comparison. Nevertheless, Catholic schools have a proud tradition of outperforming public schools, in particular with disadvantaged students. In vast swaths of urban America today, Catholic schools remain the highest performing schools available to inner-city youth.


I was wondering this morning whether Kitchen Table Math could sponsor a student through an Adopt-a-Student program. Tuition at Mt. St. Ursula is $6,300 a year.

The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem by Patrick McCloskey


Anonymous said...

Speaking as a practicing Roman Catholic, urban Catholic schools have plenty of problems before you even get to the issue of competition from charters or school vouchers.

The article you cited only paid a small amount of attention to the big big issue: They picked Arizona vs. Michigan: a growing sunbelt state with a huge hispanic population, and a dying iron belt state that practiced a single-state recession for the 7 years before the financial meltdown hit us all. Detroit's population decline has reached a point where the murder rate is falling because "there just isn't anyone left to kill" (,0,5435392.story

So, before you ever get close to the school issue, you have to look at the parish issue. Catholic parishes in in urban centers and non sunbelt areas are shrinking in population. This is for two reasons, the first being the main demographic trend hitting everyone: the baby boomlet (of the boomers' kids being in school) is over. In terms of schools, this means that naturally, school districts are shrinking everywhere except for the sunbelt states/places with high immigration. The second is a trend away from practicing Catholicism by "cultural Catholics", especially in places where the parishes watered down the Catholic teaching.

Dioceses haven't been quick to shutter old churches and consolidate parishes (though St. Louis has done so, iirc.) So the parishes with schools have done everything they can to open up their school to non-Catholics (which tends to accelerate the "watered down Catholicism" trend). This in turn leads more practicing Catholics away from that parish and parish school, rinse, wash, repeat. The practicing Catholics can't find a Catholic enough school to send their kids to even in places with Catholic schools, so why bother spending 4-6k when you could go to a charter?

This cycle has a big effect on the basic Catholic population in most urban and older areas. Detroit are dying because the population is going kaput, the Catholic population is going kaput, and the diocese didn't do enough to close old schools to keep the few remaining financially viable. Arizona has actual parish growth, largely from the immigrant population, so it's not surprising the schools are growing.

So while in vast swaths of urban America, Catholic schools remain the highest performing schools, that's really not a testament to them as much as it is to the disaster that the publics are. And the urban cities being vacated are the most likely to have those Catholic schools failing left and right because of lack of demand. Shuttering parishes and schools would save the ones that remain.

Doug Sundseth said...

"The American public school system is vast."

Hmm, I think it's more like "half-vast".


It's old, but it's mandatory.

Catherine Johnson said...

So while in vast swaths of urban America, Catholic schools remain the highest performing schools, that's really not a testament to them as much as it is to the disaster that the publics are.

I'm sure you're right in a broad sense (Exo's experience teaching in a Catholic school is evidence, I think), but, speaking as a newbie, I think Catholic schools are doing at least one thing right (not just better than public schools, but right): they use phonics to teach kids to read.

At least, they did as recently as 10 years ago.

Now that we're in the Catholic school world (again: as newbies), I can't tell you how many times I've had parents tell me, "My child had dyslexia, so I sent him to Catholic school."

At Catholic school, the child learned to read. There are kids with that personal narrative at Hogwarts, which is a fairly or somewhat selective school. (They take every applicant who scores at the 75th percentile or higher on TACHS: Test for Admission to Catholic High School.)

C. told me something very interesting in passing the other day.

I'd gotten onto the subject of reading, and he said the Hogwarts kids read out loud MUCH better than the kids here did.

They're fluent, they read with expression, etc.

I found that fascinating.

Now, it's true that C. was never in homogeneously grouped classes here, so I don't know how much to make of this.

Still, we know for a fact that there are students at Hogwarts - more than a few, it seems - whose parents pulled them out of public schools when they didn't learn to read.

These kids now score at the 75th percentile or higher on TACHS, and they read out loud "with expression" at Hogwarts.

Catherine Johnson said...

Does anyone know whether Catholic schools as a group are committed to phonics instruction?