The Future of Catholic Schools: Parents and educators respond to Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan
In the September 13-20 issue of America Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York calls upon all Catholics to recommit themselves to the mission of Catholic education. "The truth is that the entire parish, the whole diocese and the universal church benefit from Catholic schools in ways that keep communities strong," Archbishop Dolan writes. "So all Catholics have a duty to support them. Reawakening a sense of common ownership of Catholic schools may be the biggest challenge the church faces in any revitalization effort ahead." In the interest of continuing the conversation, we have asked a panel of educators, scholars and parents to respond to the archbishop. Responses follow from Melanie M. Morey, Maureen T. Hallinan, John J. Convey, Robert Sullivan, Patrick J. McCloskey, Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J., and Kristina Chew.
Formation, Formation, Formation
‘We need Catholic schools, not simply schools operated by Catholics.’
Melanie M. Morey
In challenging American Catholics to rebuild the Catholic school system, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan insists rightly that the effort be rooted in long-term financial security. Catholic schools in this country will disappear unless we can find a viable economic model that is sustainable over time. But there is another critical issue that also must be addressed if we hope to have vibrant Catholic schools in the future. It is the religious character, identity and culture that distinguishes Catholic schools and makes them so successful. To meet the challenges of our own time we need Catholic schools, not simply schools operated by Catholics. In order to be vibrantly Catholic, however, Catholic schools need educators who are prepared and willing to do three things:
1. They must be knowledgeable about the Catholic tradition.
2. They must be prepared and willing to integrate the Catholic tradition across all aspects of school life, including in academic subjects beyond religion classes.
3. They must give public witness to the integration of the faith in their own lives.
In the past, religious sisters, brothers and priests staffed Catholic schools, establishing and sustaining their robust Catholic culture. In choosing their religious vocations, these individuals assented to what the church teaches and became visible witnesses to the faith, able and anxious to share it with others. The education and religious formation they received prepared them to integrate their faith across all areas of school life.
Committed lay people are now leading the schools and teaching in them. According to Paul Galetto’s research findings, reported in Building the Foundations of Faith (1996), lay Catholic school faculty are knowledgeable about some aspects of the Catholic faith, but they are less well-informed about others. Also, while they believe some tenets of the faith, they do not accept others and there is little existing data about the extent to which they actually practice their faith.
Lay Catholic school teachers are required to participate in on-going professional development workshops and seminars. But their religious formation is largely their responsibility both personally and financially. They are being asked to do the same work as the sisters, brothers and priests who came before them, but without the equivalent support in terms of their religious preparation and formation.
Most Catholic school teachers and administrators attend secular colleges and universities where little or no attention is given to religious issues. But even those who attend Catholic colleges and universities will find little in departments and schools of education that adequately prepares them for their uniquely Catholic educational ministry. In 1999, Sr. Mary Traviss, O.P. found that only 26 of the over 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States offered specific programs for the preparation of Catholic school teachers and administrators. And she found there was very little that was religiously distinctive in most of these programs. Traviss concluded there was a real problem that needed to be addressed and she called upon bishops, superintendents and Catholic colleges and universities to cooperate in addressing this apostolic challenge.
If Catholics are going to “recover our nerve and promote our schools for the 21st century,” as Archbishop Dolan urges us to do, we must address the real issue of teacher preparation and formation. If we fail to do so, our schools—no matter their number—will be Catholic in name only.
Melanie M. Morey is coauthor of Catholic Higher Education: A Culture in Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Renewing Parish Cultures (Sheed and Ward, 2008).
A Catholic Advantage?
‘Catholic school students may no longer outpace their public school counterparts in terms of achievement and other outcomes.’
Maureen T. Hallinan
The severity of the Catholic school crisis described by Archbishop Dolan raises a number of questions about the contribution that contemporary Catholic schools make to the church and to society. Some answers may be found by examining the cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of a Catholic school education.
In a society characterized by an intense interest in student achievement, many Catholics feel secure in the longstanding reputation of Catholic schools as providing an outstanding education. This positive reputation has been referred to as the “Catholic school advantage.” It is based on empirical evidence that throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Catholic secondary school students attained higher standardized test scores in reading and mathematics than public high school students.
Yet these findings are dated and may no longer accurately describe the academic benefits of Catholic schools. Recently, the federal government has taken aggressive steps to improve public school achievement. Considerable financial resources have been made available to schools through President Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation and President Obama’s Race to the Top competition. In response to these programs, public schools have implemented a number of educational reforms, some of which have been quite successful in raising test scores. In contrast, under-funded Catholic schools are struggling to provide a solid education for their students within strict monetary constraints and typically cannot implement many of the reforms adopted in public schools. In light of these changes, it is important to determine whether Catholic school students still outpace public school students in terms of achievement and other student outcomes.
An analysis of nationally representative, longitudinal surveys allows for an evaluation of contemporary schools. A few studies indicate that at least at the high school level, students in today’s Catholic high schools, on average, still outpace those in public high schools. More research is needed to determine whether this is a stable pattern and whether it extends to earlier grades. A recent analysis of seventh and eighth grade students in middle or elementary schools in a large urban environment failed to find a Catholic school achievement advantage in reading and mathematics for the average student; but it did show evidence of a benefit for disadvantaged and minority students in these grades. Another study reports that children who attended kindergarten and early elementary grades at Catholic schools received slightly higher, though barely statistically significant, test scores than those in public schools. These findings provide evidence that while Catholic schools may not provide a strong academic advantage for K-8 students, it does benefit certain subsets of students, namely, those in most need of academic support to succeed in school.
Catholic schools are also highly valued for their emphasis on social and emotional development. Research by Anthony Bryk and others shows that by establishing strict order and discipline, Catholic schools facilitate student learning while reducing instances of bullying and other violent behavior. The unique communal organization of Catholic schools also provides an advantage: families and other community members share with school personnel the task of teaching children humane values, civic and community involvement and service to the poor.
So for both academic and developmental reasons many parents still choose to send their children to Catholic schools. But the benefits of Catholic education may not outweigh the financial burden of maintaining these schools. In the final analysis, however, one compelling reason should override all others in considering whether to sustain the Catholic school system: a Catholic education provides strong training in our common faith tradition. It gives children a vision of the meaning of life and how it should be lived as a Christian. The question parents of school-age children must ask themselves, then, is how much value they attach to this religious training. This is the same question that all Catholics must answer in responding to Archbishop Dolan’s plea to preserve the American Catholic school system.
Maureen T. Hallinan is the White Chair in Sociology at the University of Notre Dame and a fellow in the Institute for Educational Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. She is the former director of the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity.
Reversing the Decline
‘The loss in the number of Catholic students is more dramatic than Archbishop Dolan indicates.’
John J. Convey
Archbishop Timothy Dolan lays out a strong case for the importance of Catholic schools. He is correct in asserting that Catholic schools are necessary for the overall health of the church in the United States and that the church cannot afford to lose many more of them.
The number of Catholic schools has declined dramatically since the mid-1960s and unfortunately the decline has accelerated in the past decade. The loss in the number of Catholic students is more dramatic, however, than Archbishop Dolan indicates. In the mid-1960s practically all students in Catholic schools were Catholic. While the total population of Catholic schools is about 2.2 million (2008-2009), Catholics number only 1.6 million in grades 1-12, a decline of more than two-thirds since the high point 45 years ago and this despite a larger and wealthier Catholic population.
The reasons for the decline are as Archbishop Dolan states: demographic shifts, increased costs, and a shift in the thinking of some American Catholics about the importance of the schools. But the archbishop overlooks another factor: the lack of strong leadership in the church to build a sufficient number of Catholic schools in areas where the Catholic population has moved in droves. And while some American Catholics have abdicated their responsibility to support Catholic schools, many have not. The surveys my colleagues and I have conducted at The Catholic University of America as part of diocesan planning studies have indicated strong sentiments among older Catholics to support Catholic schools, especially among those who have grown children who attended Catholic schools or who have attended Catholic schools themselves. Often they have not been formally asked to support the schools. We need to change that.
The growing Latino population, almost all of which is Catholic and currently underrepresented in our Catholic schools, is also of concern to the church and its future. Approximately 275,000 Hispanic students attend Catholic schools, about 12 percent of all students in Catholic schools. But according to the 2009 report of the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Families in Catholic Schools, this represents only about 3 percent of the number of Hispanic students of school age. The church must make a greater effort to provide meaningful experiences for Hispanic Catholics to help acculturate them into the American church and enroll their children in Catholic schools.
The success or failure of Catholic schools depends on the initiative and foresight of the Catholic population and its leadership. Every Catholic school must have a strong academic program, an equally rigorous program of religious instruction and a culture that has a clear Catholic identity. The future of Catholic schools depends upon the willingness of Catholic parents to spend more of their discretionary income on tuition, the support of all parishes for Catholic schools, and the implementation of strong programs of stewardship that will help all parish ministries, including Catholic schools. Let’s heed the call of Archbishop Dolan, regain our nerve and renew our confidence in the jewel that is the Catholic school.
John J. Convey is the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Professor of Education at the Catholic University of America.
Beyond Religious Education
‘We need not think that our church will exist only if we push children through religious schools.’
As a parent, a catechist and a one-time young person who went to public school, let me offer this response to Archbishop Dolan’s rallying cry for Catholic schools. What if, in short, Catholic schools moved into the future by being more catholic than Catholic? Given the troubled state of U.S. public schools—not just in low-income and immigrant neighborhoods but everywhere—Catholic schools might specialize in emphasizing the things that many public and even private schools have lost sight of in their pursuit of higher (but meaningless) test scores and the all-or-nothing race to college. What if Catholic schools focused on the writing and reading and the study of, say, Latin, a tool for exploring the roots of language, not to mention Western thought? They might teach math as a vocational tool, or science in conjunction with local universities, looking to grow area jobs.
What if, moreover, these schools deemphasized religious education? In so doing, the school itself—educating young people to be thinking, interested citizens, conversant in the arts and history, in addition to perhaps theology and philosophy—would be an act of social justice, and, as well, a continuation of the American church’s historic role as host to immigrant communities, especially in cities, but also in suburbs where immigrant populations have increased greatly over the past decade. There is historical precedent: in Reformation Spain, Jesuit schools exempted Protestant students from religious studies. Rather than act as evangelizing mechanism, schools might operate more on the model of Catholic hospitals, or even Catholic colleges, which accept and encourage the presence of a variety of religious beliefs, not to mention non-believers.
Yes, I recognize that some studies have shown that Catholic schools can be an effective means of passing on the faith. But I remain skeptical of the idea that young people who attend Catholic schools are more likely to attend Mass later on. In my own experience, the most important indicator as to whether or not the young person will or will not attend Mass is unmeasurable and mysterious and has mostly to do with the parent. (If you could plot it would have the parent’s own relationship with his faith on one axis and his or her relationship with their children on the other.) And parents could use an institutional church that stops trying to be the church of the 1950s, all the Catholic kids in the neighborhood schooled by the parish. Just because the American Catholicism is in decline as an organizational operation doesn’t mean it is in decline as a place of spiritual value, at least for those who see a reason to practice. Our strength will be in our acceptance of a logistical limitedness. We need not think that our church will exist only if we push children through religious schools. If we think that, we only undermine what we believe. Rather, we need to be accepting and welcoming, and, if we are able, we could be there at the door of America, acting in a way that a Catholic young person can understand as not concerned with the continuation of power but of selflessness and the love of a vibrant civic and cultural life.
Robert Sullivan is the author of, most recently, The Thoreau You Don't Know.
Recovering the Passion
"Undoubtedly there are adequate intellectual and financial resources in the Catholic community to meet current and future challenges."
Patrick J. McCloskey
Archbishop Dolan eloquently articulates the value of Catholic education and the tragic consequences of school closings. Saving Catholic schools should be our top priority, as the archbishop emphasizes in quoting his mid-19th century predecessor, John Hughes. Then as now, “the school is more necessary than the church” (italics added by the archbishop).
Catholic education reached its zenith in the mid-1960s, after which over 45 percent of schools were shuttered at the same time as the Catholic population increased by the same percentage. School closings have become a peculiar Catholic rite of spring, averaging 145 schools a year—and worse, enrolment losses have outpaced closings. Most remaining schools are barely hanging on, especially in the wake of massive job losses during the recent recession. Catholic education risks collapse, leaving behind small clusters of elite schools for affluent Catholics and a token number of schools for the disadvantaged.
The big question is how to save Catholic schools? The underlying financial issues have frustrated stakeholders for decades, causing many dioceses to sink into what Archbishop Dolan describes accurately as the “hospice mentality.”
The good news, however, is there are solutions, which I discovered on a recent tour for my book The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem. I spent 12 months at book-signing and speaking events, where I had the opportunity to talk with educators across the U.S., Canada and Australia. Numerous answers to fiscal and other challenges have been implemented successfully, albeit not widely known. American dioceses with less relative wealth than troubled urban systems, for example, provide Catholic schools with low or even no tuition.
Combining successful initiatives with best business practices and a “sense of common ownership” (as Archbishop Dolan stresses) by the entire Catholic community enables resolutions to local fiscal challenges and the development of a national framework to stabilize troubled schools and revitalize Catholic education. Proven and creative financial solutions will be the focus of my next book since all issues in Catholic education risk becoming moot points as schools close.
Undoubtedly there are adequate intellectual, managerial and financial resources in the Catholic community to meet current and future challenges. An abundance of brilliant leadership and expertise is available among top professionals, academics, CEOs, CFOs and so on in dioceses across the country. If ordinary Catholic families increased parish donations by half (from $300 to $450 a year on average, and still less than Protestants) and these funds were dedicated to education, endangered Catholic schools would not want. Affordable housing could be provided to many teachers, bolstering recruitment and retention, which are crucial to improving academic quality and strengthening mission.
Also crucial is effective leadership from the hierarchy, as Archbishop Dolan demonstrates. The fierce passion, which characterized prelates and religious orders from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, needs to be recovered where lacking throughout the Catholic community. Collectively the bishops must assert ownership for their schools and begin forging a national campaign. And if schools are more important than churches, then inculcating future generations in the faith should take precedence. A fraction of the church’s equity-in-the-ground could be leveraged (not sold) to fund the reinvigoration of Catholic education. The greater risk is not the potential loss of underutilized facilities but of the minds and souls of Catholic children.
Patrick J. McCloskey is a freelance journalist and author of The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem, University of California Press, 2009.
A Perfect Storm in a Changed Climate
'Now is not the time to weather the storm; rather it is time to chart a new course.'
Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J.
First a foremost, I am grateful to Archbishop Timothy Dolan for his timely article, and I am happy to provide some thoughts in response.
Most of the 100,000 Catholic schools worldwide enjoy government support. The prohibition of direct government support for p-12 faith-based schools in the United States warrants careful re-examination. In today’s contentious political arena, unfortunately, the school issue often gets clouded by other partisan concerns. It is important to emphasize that an equitable plan for school choice, in which people from all strata of society have the same opportunity, is the best way to support Catholic schools. Can philanthropic efforts, however well meaning, provide the sustained financial foundation required by 21st-century schools, especially those that serve the poor?
In some dioceses, mostly in the South and West, schools are opening with the expanding Catholic population. In every diocese—and, for that matter, in all schools public and private—affluent people are generally able to offer their children the type of education they desire. The most alarming figures about Catholic-school closures are in large dioceses with a significant number of the urban poor who, according to a wide range of scholars, benefit most from the Catholic school environment. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, 583 Catholic schools in these areas closed or consolidated in the past decade; the total Catholic school enrollment dropped from 940,182 to 682,474. A recent longitudinal, representative study of urban elementary schools conducted at Boston College paints an even bleaker picture: almost 40 percent of the schools surveyed in 2000 closed by 2008.
A perfect storm has caused the dramatic decline. Demographic shifts, deferred maintenance, lack of investment in capital improvements, rising teacher salaries and economic recession have taken their toll. The growing disaffiliation from the church among affluent white Catholics, often caused by issues unrelated to education, has undoubtedly led to decline in enrollment and philanthropic support. Most significantly, the climate of educational practice and policy has changed, and Catholic schools, by and large, have not acclimated. Archbishop Dolan posits that Catholic schools enjoy a high level of academic excellence, but in the current policy environment of school and district level accountability, such claims must be substantiated by sophisticated measures of academic performance. Too often, leaders of Catholic schools have neither the desire nor the infrastructure to compete successfully in the data-driven competitive marketplace of innovative charter schools and increasingly responsive public districts.
These tempestuous times call for broad and deep support throughout the Catholic community. Sadly, bishops, priests and seminarians are often uncertain about the value of Catholic schools. Some influential lay leaders, suffering from donor fatigue, recommend replacing explicitly Catholic schools with charter schools. Catholic institutions of higher education are only now stepping up to the plate. Archbishop Dolan’s article is important.
Now is not the time to weather the storm; rather it is time to chart a new course. Rooted in their mission to hand on the joy of a Catholic life to the next generation, schools must reinvent administrative structures, devise creative curricula, find new models of effective instruction, and create valid and reliable measures of success. The proud legacy of Catholic schools demands no less.
Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J., is the dean of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.
"Catholic school has not been an option for Charlie due to the extent of his educational needs."
Our son, Charlie, was born over 13 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri. As we speculated about what our boy's childhood would be like---my husband Jim thinking Little League, me hopeful that I could teach Charlie a little Latin and maybe the Greek alphabet, why not?---we batted around the idea of Charlie one attending one of St. Louis's two Jesuit high schools.
That was the talk of a time gone past. Just over nine years ago, we moved back to Jim's native New Jersey, in search of the best education we could find for Charlie, who'd been diagnosed with autism in the spring of 1999. Charlie's needs--he is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, is minimally verbal, can't really read, and has a history of very difficult behaviors---have long made it necessary for him to receive special education services and only to be taught by teachers and therapists with extensive training in teaching autistic and developmentally delayed children. Catholic school has not been an option for Charlie due to the extent of his educational needs.
That's not to say Catholic schools may not be a good option for autistic children. Both Jim and I teach at institutions of Jesuit higher education in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. We have both been fortunate to have students with Asperger's Syndrome in our classrooms, and thereby to witness how an educational and faith community can provide an accepting and stimulating environment for students whose "difference" can make college life particularly challenging. The Jesuit ideal of nurturing cura personalis, of the "whole person," in ways that recognize and even celebrate a young person's diverse and unique gifts, can create a welcoming setting for students who have not found it easy to "fit in" socially and otherwise. An emphasis on social justice and giving of oneself to others--via Campus Ministry and community service and other programs--can go a long way in helping students who have struggled to connect with others truly to become engaged with the community and even to discover a sense of vocation, of what their life's work can be.
It is our hope that parents of children and young people on the autism spectrum can be encouraged to consider Catholic schools, especially at the level of higher education, as an option and, too, that the communities at such schools can continue to explore how they might be foster the best environment for such students.
Kristina Chew is an associate professor of classics at Saint Peter's College. She writes about her and her husband, Fordham University professor, Jim Fisher's life with Charlie at We Go With Him.
We are called to be rooted in Tradition, to integrate Tradition in our daily practice, and to be public witnesses to the truth. It appears that Catholic schools have gone far away from where they began, and are for the wealthy not for those struggling to make a better way in their communities. If we do not concern ourselves with the suffering of those around our parishes and in our communities, if we don't see the schools as the opportunity to transform lives and evangelize, if we check our balance sheet before we look to our grounding in Catholic Social Teaching and concern for the common good, the decline will continue because we failed to witness to our faith Tradition.
Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum) and Benedict XVI (Spe Salvi) articulate how our faith forms our action. There is a recurring theme in these encyclicals of the prophetic vision, seeing God's image in the least of our brothers (Catholic or not), and being grounded in the absolute truth which is the living Christ. If we are to succeed in restoring Catholic education, we need to look long and hard at what our faith Tradition calls us to do, then check our financial balance sheets, not the reverse. If we check the balance sheet first, we will never find the will to transform. We can play WWJD. In times of struggle Christ did not go to the money changers, he went to the Father in prayer, had compassion and always did something transforming. Is that not our faith? If we practice and witness to the way, the truth and the life, even though its hard, we will prevail because we will be practicing as the body of Christ.
First, let's get a small,current, good, easily readable, non-pedantic catechism that can be on the shelves of every Catholic family; which could be reviewed daily in homes, even poor homes, and get us all on the same page; far distant from the Creative Theology that besots our Catholic Universities- something like the Baltimore Catechism that was familiar in the homes of most immigrant families a century ago.
Secondly, put Catechism classes in the neighborhoods, into homes, closer to families, where an educated couple provides two teachers for the same cost (nothing) as one. The Church exists in the heart and mind of it's people - not in an overpriced mausoleum miles away. For celebration of the Mass and worship, of course we love our mausoleums. In the 60's our parish had such a program which was very successful (15 teacher couples) until a Jackass cleric wiped them out with the wave of a hand and disappeared from town a few months later, leaving a wimpy program, poorly attended; dominated by preschool educators. As I read the gospels, Christ and his disciples never built an architectural structure in their lifetimes and the Faith was largely maintained and spread in homes.
Why would such ideas be objected to by the clergy ? Perhaps because, as an old immigant woman once observed: It has to be "all about Father."
These services are incredibly expensive and in the United States we are lucky to have PL 94-142 and its successor IDEA where each special education student is entitled to a free and appropriate public education. This can range to over $100,000 or more for severely handicapped students and is paid for by the government.
Some Catholic schools make arrangments with their school district to have special educators come to the Catholic school to offer services, such as consuilting services for learning disabled students.
An analysis of the funding issues by specialists might offer some ideas concerning how to make even more services in special education available in Catholic schools. Perhaps some Catholic schools could specialize in particular learning problems.
Sadly I have seen a better understanding of special education students in the public schools, especially regarding peer acceptance, because public schools have a decades long tradition of mainstreaming and hiring special education teachers who have credentials in this speciality.
I think this is an area worthy of further analysis.
william van ornum, ph.d. nys licensed psychologist, nys certified school psychologist
Many alums today are volunteering their time, talent and treasure to help these institutions to thrive within the new and challenging environment so well described by the Archbishop. The generous contributions, personal involvement, and concern for justice and opportunity for the poor on the part of many Catholic oriented philanthropists, is living testimony to the lasting values of a good Catholic school education.
What's missing right now is a united campaign at the national level to take Archbishop Dolan's vision forward in a concerted way. Would this not be a worthy undertaking by the hierarchy as a group in partnership with the laity to bring us together as a church? Has not our localism and parochial approach, while a strength in many ways, hindered us in an era that requires more innovation, telling our story more cogently in the mass media , and enabling us to price our product competitively?
Could a national campaign thereby lay the groundwork for the kind of religiously committed and informed servant leaders we hope for in the decades to come?
Congratulations to AMERICA for this brilliant and hopeful article, the beginning, I am sure of something very important for the future of our Catholic schools.
Francis J. Butler
Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities
I am not a product of Catholic schools (well, I did attend up until 2nd grade when it was too costly for my parents to keep me enrolled) and I am also a part of Generation X. Probably two important factors when considering my perspective. Interestingly I send my children to Catholic schools - intersting because I am not an advocate of them per se. My reason for sending my children to Catholic school and my answer to my question I posed above is because I am seeking for them to have a strong Catholic community to support them and my wife and I in raising our children in faith.
Yet, I find that this, in my opinion, should be the purpose of the parish. What troubles me is the vast amounts of money that is being diverted to maintaining Catholic schools when our parishes are failing in its basic purpose to be that supportive and nourishing community of faith. Imagine what could be done in the parish when all the resources that both parents and the parishioners (sometimes mutually exclusive) spend on the school is aligned with the essential efforts of the parish community: More capable and competent staff, more resoruces to designate to our worship and sacramental celebrations, more funds to encourage religious education in the context of the parish community and with the family - where many of our church documents direct our energy for catechesis, and more ability to encourage the work of the justice and serivce.
If we want a better education for our children then we should focus our time and energy on the public schools. But if we want to build people of faith we should focus our time and energy where it belongs, at the parish.
The 21st century “facts of life” marshaled against traditional Catholic schools are formidable. Among them the following:
1. The numbers of men and women in Consecrated Life simply will not return to anything close to pre-Vatican II levels.
2. Today’s dedicated and skilled teachers expect to be compensated according to their passion and skill – not unlike Catholic physicians, lawyers and funeral directors.
3. Catholic parents will not and should not entrust their children to inferior teachers or schools however religiously fervent. In today’s internationally competitive world, they simply cannot afford to do so.
In the face of such opposing realities, one must remember that Catholic schools are a means and – however precious – not an end. Primarily, they are a means of enculturating our children into the Church and of facilitating and promoting their ongoing conversion and growth in the faith. Both are things that can be accomplished through other means – means which do not involve the high cost of duplicating educational services provided by the state.
Another 21st century “fact-of-life” is this. Parents of all religious persuasions in America’s middle and lower economic classes are facing a common and urgent crisis – urban and rural school districts that increasingly fail to prepare their children for participation in the increasingly competitive global economy.
Organizations concerned about this crisis, such as the Gates and Walton foundations, recognize and celebrate the historical success of Catholic schools in serving low-income families. But, they are not willing to bet their money on the slim possibility that these schools will survive much less expand. These foundations have “run the numbers.” The true cost of quality K-12 education runs somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 – 15 thousand dollars per student. The conclusion: there are simply not enough philanthropic dollars out there. Consequently, these powerful private funders are betting entirely on state supported charter schools to revive urban education.
Coincidently, among the populations most experiencing the dire effects of this education crisis is the rapidly growing population of predominantly Catholic Hispanic immigrants. Nationally, high school graduation rates for Hispanics are catastrophically low and appear to be getting worse.
All of this leads me to question whether this really is an opportune time for the Church to recommit and reinvest its limited resources and energies in a separate school system? Are we not, perhaps, being called to take another way.
One might recall that back in the late 19th century there was one American Archbishop who did propose a different way. Rather than building a separate school system, Archbishop John Ireland of Saint Paul, Minnesota, wanted to work with the public schools and with other communities of faith to assure that the public system itself met the educational needs of all the children. In Ireland’s vision, the catechization and enculturation of young Catholics would take place within the public school buildings during released time in rented classrooms and by Church employees. This idea was squelched by the rest of the American Church (with no little thanks to the Jesuits, by the way.) But one must wonder what might have happened to inner city public school systems over the last half-century had the churches – ours and others’– become and remained intimately involved with the schools.
Perhaps the charter school movement has created a new opportunity to test John Ireland’s vision. Ironically, the followers of Islam seem to have achieved something like that vision in a school near Minneapolis. Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) is an elementary school (K-8) in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. The school is sponsored by Islamic Relief USA and conducted in facilities leased from them. Religious practice and instruction take place in the same facility after official school hours.
Around 80% of TiZA’s students are English language learners and 77% qualify for Free or Reduced Price Lunch. Despite this, the school has one of the highest reading scores in Minnesota on standardized tests and a long, long waiting list.
A further irony is that a Catholic local newspaper columnist “blew the whistle” on TiZA, arguing that the school had violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by teaching religion in the school. The subsequent investigation by the Minnesota Department of Education exonerated the school and ultimately strengthened it in some respects. But, that columnist might have better applied her talent in rallying other faith communities, including Catholics, to emulate TiZA rather than in condemning it. I find it somewhat embarrassing that a Catholic writer would so criticize an effort that we Catholics apparently have neither the imagination nor the audacity to try.
So, I appreciate Archbishop Dolan’s concern that the Catholic Church in the USA must take new initiatives to ensure that Catholic community life is revitalized and that the faith is effectively handed on to the next generation. I’m just not convinced that traditional Catholic schools are the right means in this new century.
David Haschka, S.J.
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School – Twin Cities
Hopefully Timothy M. Dolan will glance at the article following his “Liberating Catechesis”(9-13-10), wherein Robert Brancatelli calls for ‘imagination in the 21st century’, and prior to that quotes Paul VI’s “Evangelii Nuntiandi” seeking “hope in something that is not seen and that one would dare to imagine.”Archbishop Dolan’s nickel and diming approach appears to be mired in conventional Christianity, which of late has put the institution ahead of the individual, and is resists stimulating the imagination. Brancatelli’s path forward seeks parishes which would put their resources into adult faith formation and institute governance models based on charisms rather than office. Such programs, he suggests, would have empowerment of the faithful as a goal and ultimately lead to radical discipleship with Christ.
John D. KirwinSaratoga Springs, N.Y.
Practically speaking, the Catholic Schools must close and the resources used for "Confraternity of Christian Doctrine" and other programs which can be kept open to the poor. Remember, the Church managed without Catholic Schools for centuries. We can get along without them today. The essential factor is to cultivate enough Faith to act in the Gospel Tradition, namely, THE POOR GET PRIORITY. The rich and middle-class are welcome too. But the poor come first.
But the singular most important issue in all this is the Catholic schools are a thing of the past and they are being promoted by clergy and other educators because they lack the imagination or spirit to build up the parishes. Catholic schools are a neat way to regiment the faith. We need life and spirit to liven our parishes. That takes a more active approach not ivory tower imaginings.
Catholic schools, as educational institutions, carry a lot of expensive baggage - all the other academic subjects. It may have served well the work demanded by the Gospel when teachers were visibly - by their very Gospel lifestyle [read religious sisters and brothers] - doing what they did because of their commitment to Jesus Christ. They did not collect paychecks! They were primarily evangelizers and catechizers.
The Catholic School System, to my way of thinking, made a fatal error in the late 60's and early 70's when it clearly made the decision to compete with public schools - we are better! Competition is not a Gospel value; cooperation is! We couldn't find our faith imagining something new and becoming a 'leaven in the world' - requiring dress codes just did not accomplish it. It was what the buyer wanted - access to the American Dream. And we gave in to keep the system going.
In my seven decades of life, I have never seen the decision makers in the Church put the emphasis on the faith development of all from 'womb to tomb'. Was it Sr Elinor Ford, a former superintendent in the Archdiocese of New York, who said, more than 35 years ago, 'We have been reading the Gospel wrong. Jesus played with children and taught adults. We have been doing just the opposite."? And so we will continue.
Dear Archbishop Dolan: All is not lost. Simply look west to Seattle, where we have a fantastic network of schools and funding to help families send their children to Catholic schools. The Archdiocese of Seattle has a financial aid program and the schools themselves help as well. We have a wonderful group of schools called the Rainbow Schools. They are made up of mostly minority and immigrant children, with some families very close to the poverty line. Parishioners at St. James can send their children to a Rainbow School, can apply for a Rainbow Schools scholarship AND apply for funding through the Fulcrum Foundation. St. James parishioners also receive an in-parish discount when sending their children to a Rainbow School. Parishioners from a Rainbow School-affiliated parish can send their children to another Rainbow School.
As we are parishioners at St. James Cathedral and the cathedral no longer has an attached school, my children attend a Rainbow School. Besides our own parishioners at St. James, the parishioners at my children's school and church are extremely generous with time and money, and make it possible for families to send their children to this amazing school.
Besides learning geometry, science and social studies, every student from pre-school to eighth grade learns to walk the path of Jesus and the saints. They learn the beautiful prayers, attend Mass once weekly where they donate food, learn about the poor and hungry, learn about service to school and community. My children are fully immersed in a Catholic education that does not stop when they come home. It follows them around like a ray of light, guiding them and teaching them.
As one of the few Latino families at this school, I agree that more should be done to bring Latinos into the Catholic schools, at least in Seattle. Apart from the fact that it is part of our heritage, it helps to have a stronger sense of community. But we are happy with our school, where, if you go into our gym, you will see flags from every corner of the world. Our families come from Kenya, Russia, Canada, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Panama, Mexico, Vietnam, China and many more wonderful places. We are truly an immigrant school!
And the alumni are amazing, also continuing in the same vein. They volunteer, donate money, attend events and support the school. And it's not just the older or retired alumni, but students from high school and universities who return to lend a hand. This school is so special and I know that even when my last child has left this school, I will be back. This school gives me confidence that Catholic education is alive and well!