The Catholic school system as we know it must change

(iStock photo) (iStock photo)

First, let me make it clear that I am not a parochial school “hater.” In fact, I have spent most of my life in Catholic education. My parish had a high school, so I spent my K-to-12 years in one school, taught by wonderful Benedictine nuns and priests and dedicated lay teachers. From there, it was on to a Catholic college and Catholic graduate school. My entire academic career has been spent teaching in Catholic colleges and universities. Some might describe my education as narrow. But it certainly has given me an appreciation for the contributions of Catholic school education to our society.

But the model that supported my education is broken. It needs to be replaced by a new model. Simply put, the economics of the old parochial school system no longer work, and the result is serious financial stress. To put it in language more palatable to a faith-based organization, it is no longer good stewardship on the part of Catholic dioceses and parishes to continue supporting the old model of Catholic parochial schools. As distasteful as this thought is to those who are heavily invested in the parochial school system, it is time to recognize this reality and search for a new model.

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The fact of the matter is that the parochial school system has been in decline for some time. For example, according to the Official Catholic Directory, since 1965 the number of Catholic elementary schools has declined by 50 percent, while the number of students attending Catholic elementary schools has declined by 69 percent. The pace of this decline has increased in the past few decades. As I said above, the reasons boil down to basic economics—supply and demand.

Supply-Side Factors: No Nuns

On the supply side, the primary reason typically given for the financial stress that parochial schools face is related to the decline in the number of women religious, most of whom carried out their apostolate by teaching in parochial schools. Looking back, it is a scandal to see how little these dedicated women were paid. But low labor expenses kept parochial schools affordable. Today the sisters have been replaced by lay teachers, who are also scandalously underpaid but whose compensation is many times that of the sisters. The increase in parochial school labor costs is the most frequently cited reason for their financial stress.

But this is too simplistic a view. Other factors, at least as influential on parochial school finances, have also been in play. One is the mismatch between the current location of parochial schools and the location of the Catholic population. At one time Catholics were heavily concentrated in the urban areas of the Northeast and Midwest. Naturally, that is where the bulk of Catholic parishes and their associated schools were built. Over time the Catholic population has migrated to the suburbs and increasingly to the South and West. They have been joined by immigrants, who have also settled in large numbers in the South and West. But the parishes and parochial school buildings still tend to be located in urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest. Dioceses are faced with the prospect of nearly empty parochial schools in their urban areas while schools in their suburbs and the South and West are underbuilt. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many urban parochial schools find themselves serving a population that struggles to afford parochial school tuition. Many of these students are not Catholic (the saying goes, we serve this population not because they are Catholic but because we are).

But there is even more to this story. According to data collected by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, half of all Catholic parishes in the United States were established before 1950, nearly a third of them before 1930. Presumably the age of parochial school buildings mirrors this distribution. There are serious maintenance issues that accompany structures this old. Parishes have not always been able to keep up with this maintenance. Even if these school buildings are safe and up to code (many are not), catching up on the deferred maintenance adds another layer of expense.

Add to all this the competition that parochial schools face. Not only do suburban parochial schools face competition from well-funded suburban public schools, but increasingly in recent years, urban parochial schools face competition from publicly funded charter schools that for a variety of reasons offer more competition than do urban public schools.

The final supply factor, and perhaps the one that should be of most concern, is that Catholics are notoriously low givers to their church. Survey after survey has established that Catholics contribute about half as much to their parish as Protestants contribute to their congregations (1.1 to 1.2 percent of household income for Catholics, 2.2 to 2.5 percent for Protestants). To put this in context, if the typical Catholic household contributed at the same rate as the typical Protestant household (not necessarily tithing, just the same 2.2 percent of their income) U.S. Catholic parishes would receive an additional $8 billion in contributions annually. Or to put it another way, each parish would see its annual contributions double. Low Catholic giving inhibits each parish’s ability to provide the whole array of services that we have come to expect. In terms of the parochial schools, this limits the ability of parishes to continue to subsidize their parochial schools at the level at which they have become dependent.

Demand-Side Factors

The demand-side factors center around the fact that there are simply fewer school-age children who might reasonably be expected to attend parochial schools. According to data in the Official Catholic Directory, the U.S. Catholic population has grown by 44 percent since the year 1965. In spite of this growth, Catholic marriages have decreased by 52 percent over that same period. Fewer couples are choosing to marry in the church. A couple that does not choose to have a Catholic wedding is not as inclined to send their children to a parochial school. This is compounded by the fact that despite the growth in the U.S. Catholic population, infant baptisms have decreased by 46 percent since 1965. This is probably in part because Catholic families are having fewer children. But it is also consistent with the trend toward fewer Catholic marriages. Millennial Catholics who are not getting married in the church are also not having their children baptized. This decreases the potential market for parochial schools.

What to Do About It: Three Approaches

Unless these supply and demand trends are reversed (not likely), we need to develop a new model for providing Catholic elementary school education. What will this new model look like? There are three primary approaches that have been tried nationwide to preserve the parochial school system.

The most frequently used policy is simply to merge parochial schools into regional schools. Combining the student population of multiple schools can result in one stronger school. But, of course, this approach is not without its problems. Those stakeholders whose school was shut down as part of the merger can be expected to be upset and often fail to support the new school. And even the stakeholders in the school that “won” by becoming the home campus may be resentful of the need to share facilities with students from other parishes. This could influence parishioners’ decision to send their children to the school and their desire to support the merged school financially, either through fundraising or a parish subsidy. When everyone owns the school, no one owns the school.

A second approach, often used in conjunction with the creation of regional schools, has been to promote public funding for private—including parochial—schools. These efforts have been opposed on the basis that they violate the establishment clause found in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Some states have had success in getting variations of public funding programs passed by their legislatures in the form of voucher or tax-credit plans. But even where they have been approved, all of these programs suffer from two shortcomings. One is that they tend to restrict the number of eligible students. The other is that the value of the assistance provided typically falls far short of the cost of the child’s education. The possibility of expanding these programs to more states and making them more accessible is limited. Besides the Constitution’s establishment clause, public school teacher unions can be very powerful lobbyists against state funding.

Those states that have been successful in getting some form of public funding for private schools enacted have typically relied on the 2002 Supreme Court case Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.

A third and more recent tactic has been tried in the Washington, D.C., Indianapolis and Miami archdioceses, among others. They have converted some parochial schools to public charter schools. The benefit of this approach is that it makes these schools eligible for public funding, and therefore they are tuition free. These schools must eliminate any vestiges of Catholic identity during the school day, although some offer after-school religious education.

It does not take a major leap to envision a situation where all parochial schools are converted to a system of public charter schools offering the rigorous and values-based education that have always been the hallmark of parochial schools while providing religious education as a voluntary after-school activity, separate from the regular curriculum. The combination would provide the holistic education that parochial school advocates value. And it would also enable the church to continue its ministry to the underserved in the nation’s inner cities.

This process is not without its complications. There can be significant up-front costs and legal hoops to jump through. Studies have shown that converted schools draw not only a larger student body but also more students who are behind academically and more students with special needs. To pass constitutional muster, daily classroom activities must be neutral with respect to religion. The establishment of Catholic charter schools would no doubt face the same type of opposition that other public funding options have faced. But this arrangement clearly meets the standards set forth in Chief Justice Rehnquist’s majority opinion in Zelman.

The Options

While some parochial schools are thriving, the system as we have come to know it is in decline. The U.S. Catholic school establishment has two options to address this situation. On the one hand, they can continue down the worn path of trying to buck the economic factors that are behind the decline by merging schools while lobbying for incremental advances against the establishment clause. Or they can recognize that the current system is a dinosaur. The economic factors behind the decline are not going to be reversed. It is time to think outside the box by searching for new models for delivering the kind of education that Catholics have come to know and treasure. In the near future that model revolves around replacing parochial schools with a system of charter schools.

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Joseph J Dunn
1 year 3 months ago
Charles Zech points to an important truth: the 1960s parish-centered model for Catholic schools needs rethinking. Fortunately, there are new models that are working well: enrollments increasing in both urban and suburban areas, solid support from parents, and, importantly, professional approaches to faculty professional development, enrollment, fund-raising and endowment, facilities management, etc. Links here are to Philadelphia successes, which have the full support of Archbishop Chaput. Worth considering, especially since Pennsylvania's charter school act is restrictive enough to be unworkable for any school recognizable as 'Catholic', however scrubbed the curriculum. Faith in the Future Foundation http://faithinthefuture.com/about/. Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) http://blocs.org/history-mission/.
William Curtis
1 year 3 months ago
also enabled by Archbishop Chaput https://independencemissionschools.org
C CRINO MS
1 year 3 months ago
I have worked in parishes and schools for almost 40 years, and I've seen the decline mentioned, as well as how the will to hang on has drained coffers and energy. We might still have schools operating in some of these urban buildings, if the local charter regulations apply. (In fact, I live across the street from a thriving charter that replaced a struggling school.) What we have paid almost no attention to is religious formation and education of children and families. We used to talk about a 'lost generation.' I see in front of me the third such 'lost generation' since I began to work in catechesis. We keep disinvesting in adequate preparation for leaders, lowering the standards for their preparation and competence, and expect them to train and manage volunteers. I have worked in a number of parishes where religious education has been expected to pay its own way with tuition, while the school is subsidized by a huge percentage of the parish budget. I just have never understood this. I continue working and doing what I do, hoping to have a small effect in my own corner of the world. But, as I survey the wider picture, I am just perplexed that we ignore our essential mission to pass on the Gospel to the next generation while trying to sustain a system that is on its last legs.
Barry Fitzpatrick
1 year 3 months ago
In his superb collection of essays "Wood, Waterfalls, and Stars" Fred Herron points out: "The experiences, fears, and desires which students bring to their counselors, coaches, (teachers), and to administrators need to be placed within a context which enables them to interpret and make sense of these realities. Parents send their children to Catholic schools, in large part, because they expect us (Catholic schools) to create this frame for their children." Zech is so right to point out that the model is broken. I might even add that in the larger context, so is the parish model to which we cling so firmly. The numbers have been there for a long while to examine. The solutions tried have mostly been stymied by nostalgia, a fear of upsetting a significant minority of moneyed donors, and a lack of dynamic and creative leadership. What is the new bishop to do when he inherits a staggering debt with no school re-structuring plan in place when he arrives new on the scene? How many good men and women have lost sleep, energy, and jobs trying to tackle the impossible task of "saving" schools that are well beyond that point when the problems begin to be adddressed? And surely we have parishes in that situation as well. Zech is also so right when he cites the stingy nature of Catholic giving. We older ones have been brought up on a diet of absurdly cheap labor and the good will of so many willing to devote their lives to our welfare without counting the cost. We are tight with a buck. I would add a possible road to travel to Zech's suggestion, and that is to seek ways of cooperation (beyond the charter model) with the local public educational jurisdictions to allow for a presence (for which we no doubt will pay) within their curricula that does not jeopardize the public nature of the institution and that does not compromise the faith-based nature of the Catholic education at stake. I have only a sketchy idea of what this might look like, but it cannot hurt to begin the discussion and stop the culture of "competition" that exists when we compare systems. In his essay, Herron goes on to say that Catholic parents "are attempting to pass on the rich Catholic symbolic frame of which Anna Quindlen wrote: 'I think perhaps those families are people like us, people who believe in something, although they are not sure what, people who feel that in a world of precious little history or tradition, this is theirs. We will pass down the story to our children: There was a woman named Mary who was visited by an angel. And the angel said, "Do not be afraid" and told her that though she was a virgin, she would have a child. And He was named Jesus and was the Son of God and He rose from the dead. Everything else our children learn in America . . . will make this sound like a fairy tale, like tales of the potato famine in Ireland and the little ramshackle houses with grape arbors on hillsides in Italy. But these are our fairy tales, and so, whether or not they are fact, they are true.'" We must find ways to provide this context and not only to those who can presently afford it! Exclusive education for the well-off is not who we are nor should it be whom we become. Zech does a real service in starting the discussion in a different voice. It is time we helped to change the conversation.
Mike Evans
1 year 3 months ago
Sorry, the public schools (in California at least) will never let us in. They are fiercely secular and even oppose uniforms, retreats and any religious discussion or even history in their curriculum. They also do not model Christian citizenship.
Mike Evans
1 year 3 months ago
We closed our local parish school just 4 years ago. It was financially a flop, unable to raise even 25% of its costs from tuition. We are a rural town parish with none of the well paid jobs of the lumber industry and only low pay service jobs left, for the most part. Our neighboring parish is still barely viable due to a much higher number of executive and professional jobs in its area. However, even now 75% of Catholic children are served only by Faith Formation (CCD) classes. After first communion, more than half the children never continue to Confirmation. We are then losing not only the children as parents for the future, but their children too.
BILL HOBBS
1 year 3 months ago
I am a product of Catholic education from elementary school through graduate school. I am old enough to have had a number of women religious as educators as well as some excellent lay faculty who worked for near (if not actual) poverty wages. My entire professional career has also been in Catholic (mostly Jesuit) education as a counselor and teacher, an administrator, and now on the organizational level. It is certainly true that the model that existed in the middle part of the last century is rapidly passing away - and to a large extent, long gone. But it is also important to remember that the model was a uniquely American solution to an American problem (the "Protestant" public schools) and was possible only because of the anomaly of the huge number of religious (particular women) that existed in the last century. The "crisis" on how to educate American Catholics goes back to the debates of Bishop Ireland of St. Paul, MN and Bishop Bernard McQuaid of Rochester. Bishop Ireland pushed for a system like that suggested above in the charter school model - teaching Catholic school students in public schools after school. It was rejected by the American bishops. Today, I would suggest that most public school systems would reject it as well. The charter schools have not been a friend to Catholic schools as in many cities, they draw away students and families who have been enrolling in Catholic schools. I am not sure that either options one or two are more significantly sustainable if we think broadly about a system of education. Catholic schools today, for the most part, survive and even thrive (or don't) on a local level. The bishops have and have had their priorities elsewhere for quite some time. Enrollment in Catholic schools is half what is was 50 years ago - but even then the mandate of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore - that there was a Catholic school in every parish and a seat for every Catholic student was never close to reality. That being said, "Catholic Schools" broadly speaking, are the largest single body of independent schools in the nation. The future of Catholic education depends on the local church (be it parish or diocese) to discover the viable solution that works for them. There are creative options out there - Nativity Schools, the Cristo Rey Network, and the work of the Alliance for Catholic Education out of the University of Notre Dame. But none of them are in a position to address the broad future of Catholic education in the United States. Finances plays a huge part in this discussion, but the looming question is actually do American Catholics want Catholic education?
Martin Scanlan
1 year 3 months ago
Two helpful visions for reinventing Catholic schools: 1) Schools creatively and boldly embracing students with special needs (see http://fullinclusionforcatholicschools.org/) 2) Schools creatively and boldly embracing culturally and linguistically diverse students (see http://www.twin-cs.org/) These examples point to practical ways that Catholic schools can make real progress in truly reinventing themselves and growing more vibrant and vital in serving both Catholics and the common good.
Tom Poelker
1 year 3 months ago
An alternative approach is to separate the Catholic school systems from the parishes. Instead of consolidating parish schools at an existing parish, turn that central parish's property entirely over to a lay-trustee Catholic school system independent of the parishes, leaving no parish-based or co-located schools. Do this throughout the diocese while likewise transferring all diocesan education administrators and buildings to the new school system. This is also a contribution to reducing the burden on the diminishing number of priests, by getting all of them out of the administration of schools and school properties. Similarly, Catholic sports associations and their buildings and grounds can be associated with the new Catholic school system instead of being part of the responsibilities of pastors. As another commentator noted, the entire parish system is based on a different social structure than exists in the modern, multi-cultural, pluralistic United States. Other massive, historically unique changes in demographics over the past century do not fit the expectations of school-focused parishes. Many people do not marry or have children in their early adult lives. Empty-nesters live several decades past the time of having kids in the parish school. Both of these groups tend to get marginalized in parishes working hard to support a school. These adults need life-long religious education instead of elementary schools. One little-mentioned demographic change that has had an impact on Catholic institutions are the effects of World War II and the GI Bill on integrating Catholics into American society. Although pools of anti-Catholicism remain, those now in their 80s and 90s penetrated many previously existing barriers. Catholics now compete for professional and managerial careers. [This also affects the number of priestly vocations as American Catholics no longer see the priesthood as a particularly good way for their sons to gain social status.] The expectations for their children now require relatively expensive schools and school related programs. Social expectations call for participation in the same activities, including good schools, as their non-Catholic peers. Catholic families no longer live in ghettoes where their neighbors go to the same Catholic schools as their children and they choose their homes the same way as others with children, in the best public school district they can afford. Meanwhile, the Catholic schools are no longer able to compete based simply on stronger discipline, which is often no longer the case nor sufficient in the broader modern school curriculum. Immigrant Catholics to Protestant America prior to any Ecumenical Movement had particular needs and a low place in the social and economic orders which no longer are generally true. What is needed is a clear national understanding and statement of the present purposes for having Catholic schools below the level of universities supporting Catholic schools of Theology and training for both ordained and lay ministries, especially for teachers of life-long religious education. From a contemporary definition of the mission of Catholic education should come the structure and funding principles. Catholic schools as a ministry to educationally deprived children need accompanying funding programs unrelated to local parishes.
Tom Poelker
1 year 3 months ago
An alternative approach is to separate the Catholic school systems from the parishes. Instead of consolidating parish schools at an existing parish, turn that central parish's property entirely over to a lay-trustee Catholic school system independent of the parishes, leaving no parish-based or co-located schools. Do this throughout the diocese while likewise transferring all diocesan education administrators and buildings to the new school system. This is also a contribution to reducing the burden on the diminishing number of priests, by getting all of them out of the administration of schools and school properties. Similarly, Catholic sports associations and their buildings and grounds can be associated with the new Catholic school system instead of being part of the responsibilities of pastors. As another commentator noted, the entire parish system is based on a different social structure than exists in the modern, multi-cultural, pluralistic United States. Other massive, historically unique changes in demographics over the past century do not fit the expectations of school-focused parishes. Many people do not marry or have children in their early adult lives. Empty-nesters live several decades past the time of having kids in the parish school. Both of these groups tend to get marginalized in parishes working hard to support a school. These adults need life-long religious education instead of elementary schools. One little-mentioned demographic change that has had an impact on Catholic institutions are the effects of World War II and the GI Bill on integrating Catholics into American society. Although pools of anti-Catholicism remain, those now in their 80s and 90s penetrated many previously existing barriers. Catholics now compete for professional and managerial careers. [This also affects the number of priestly vocations as American Catholics no longer see the priesthood as a particularly good way for their sons to gain social status.] The expectations for their children now require relatively expensive schools and school related programs. Social expectations call for participation in the same activities, including good schools, as their non-Catholic peers. Catholic families no longer live in ghettoes where their neighbors go to the same Catholic schools as their children and they choose their homes the same way as others with children, in the best public school district they can afford. Meanwhile, the Catholic schools are no longer able to compete based simply on stronger discipline, which is often no longer the case nor sufficient in the broader modern school curriculum. Immigrant Catholics to Protestant America prior to any Ecumenical Movement had particular needs and a low place in the social and economic orders which no longer are generally true. What is needed is a clear national understanding and statement of the present purposes for having Catholic schools below the level of universities supporting Catholic schools of Theology and training for both ordained and lay ministries, especially for teachers of life-long religious education. From a contemporary definition of the mission of Catholic education should come the structure and funding principles. Catholic schools as a ministry to educationally deprived children need accompanying funding programs unrelated to local parishes.
Vincent Gaglione
1 year 3 months ago
I am of a very mixed mind about Catholic schools, though I am a product of them. I have written elsewhere questioning their necessity since so many former students have fallen away from the Catholic Church. What purpose is there to them other than creating educated practicing Catholics? Yet I help pay the tuitions of my niece’s two children in a suburban NY Catholic school. Of two things I am sure, Catholic schools are unsustainable and the “Catholic” charter school model is not the solution to the problem. Catholic schools began in reaction to Protestant hegemony, control, and homogenization of the public school systems in the United States. That problem no longer exists. Public schools are about as secular as you can get in the modern USA. (Unfortunately, in some communities where particular religious sects prevail, some parochial intrusions prevail but few and far between.) There is no longer an anti-Catholic bias in public education. And charter schools, paid by public funds, of necessity must also be secular schools as well. What is it that Catholic schools have and do that make them uniquely Catholic? To my mind, it is a moral education and world view based on Catholic beliefs and practices, ultimately to form and produce an educated practicing Catholic. Unfortunately that’s not why many parents, especially in urban areas, have sent their children to Catholic schools. From the time I was an urban parochial school student until this day, DISCIPLINE and SAFETY were and are the prevailing reasons many parents sent their children to Catholic schools. In some urban communities it also used to be prejudices and racism, though that has evaporated in the face of so many minority children in Catholic schools. Urban and some rural public schools are grossly underfunded. Taxpayers may not believe that but it is true. Specifically, school discipline and safety rules do not reflect what parents expect and want. Long ago, when the NYC Catholic schools started their population decline, I had suggested in writing that Cardinal O’Connor close the schools, have them all go to local public schools, and have Catholic school parents run for seats on NYC local school boards. If you want public schools that have DISCIPLINE and SAFETY, then public action and majorities can insure that government delivers. The resources-rich school systems of many suburban communities prove that. I do not mean, however, that children with behavioral disabilities should be tossed out as they were and are in most of the Catholic and private schools. I do mean that politically involved and activist parents would insist upon government funding to create educational situations that meet the needs of such students. That doesn’t happen and will never happen until parochial, private and charter schools no longer exist. These schools are the “resistance absorbers” of education. The parents not happy with public schools don’t express their dissent at a ballot box but by enrolling their children elsewhere. In New York City, a comparison over time of the decline of Catholic schools and the increase in charter schools is almost proportionally parallel. Ironically in New York City, Cardinal Dolan supported the “school choice” movement underwritten by hedge fund operators investing in charter schools, only to have Catholic schools depopulate into the charters! For parents who want safe and disciplined environments for their children, the charter schools became the free and equally efficient substitute for Catholic schools. Regrettably, charter schools in many instances are notorious for “creaming” students, selecting those children whose parents are involved enough to pursue a safe and disciplined environment, and for “counseling out” those children who don’t measure up to the discipline codes of the schools. So a Catholic charter school is a solution, but only for the discipline and safety issues. But to go back to my original position, what purpose is there for a Catholic school except to produce an educated practicing Catholic? By definition a Catholic charter school, publicly funded, cannot be a place where explicit Catholic values inform instruction, behavior, and world view. Then, let’s be honest, it’s not a Catholic school! I do not subscribe to public funding of any parochial or private schools. There are Catholic values that contradict USA law. That’s our right in a pluralistic democratic society. I don’t believe that we should insist that the nation’s citizens of opposing viewpoints should be made to fund our values. Nor do I want my tax money used to fund any other groups’ unique values – some contrary to mine - either! We are a nation of so many different cultures, religions, beliefs, nationalities, etc., that we do need publicly funded school systems to provide a common education of shared secular civic values. Of one position I am certain, the Catholic charter school model is NOT the solution. Which then begs the question, if Catholic schools are unsustainable, what are we doing to instruct Catholic children in the faith? I have thoughts about that but for another time.
Joseph J Dunn
1 year 3 months ago
One of the most interesting aspects of the Philadelphia initiatives highlighted below is that they occurred at a time when the Philadelphia archdiocese and many of its parishes faced the same problems discussed in these comments--parishes could not afford their schools, in some cases even with diocesan support. Parents were moving their kids to more attractive, better equipped schools, especially in suburbs, etc. But groups of business leaders came together. Some were CEOs or upper management of large corporations, others leaders of mid-sized, little-known companies. Not all were Catholic, but they all saw a big community value in Catholic schools. They saw a need that was increasingly unmet by traditional methods. By forming non-profit 501(c)3s and conferring with leaders at the diocesan and parish levels, giving generously, assuming responsibility for financial and facilities management as well as improved marketing, development, professional advancement, etc., they established an entirely new method, believing that 'if we build (or maintain and improve it) together, people will come'. And people (students) have come. While many had given up on the century-old model, leaders came forward and have collaboratively built a new, thriving model. Could that, or something similar, happen elsewhere?
Epifanio Castillo
1 year 3 months ago

In September 2013, the Partnership School Network launched a historic collaborative effort with the Archdiocese of New York. This agreement granted the Partnership broad authority to offer educational, administrative and operational services on behalf of six inner-city pre-K through eighth grade Catholic schools. The archdiocese retains governance control of the six schools and owns the six buildings. In addition, it implements the religious curriculum at these schools. The six schools include two geographical areas and serve more than 2,000 students, nearly all of whom receive free lunch: (Harlem: Mount Carmel-Holy Rosary, Our Lady Queen of Angels, St. Mark; South Bronx: St. Athanasius, Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart).

This year the six Partnership schools posted impressive gains on statewide English and math proficiency exams. Their students posted a 16-point increase over last year to reach a 43 percent pass rate on the English exam; and a 13-point gain on the math test, with 45 percent of students passing. In short, the partnership has produced a template that could be used to transform parochial education—a huge plus for Catholic education in the city.

Vincent Gaglione
1 year 3 months ago
I am happy to see that the children are doing much better academically. That's a good and worthwhile thing. If the motive is to prove that the schools are better than public education, then I think that the motives are suspect and wrong. I go back to my main concern about Catholic education. Are we producing educated PRACTICING CATHOLICS? "Well educated" isn't enough for Catholic schools. PRACTICING CATHOLICS should be our end goal, no?
John McGlynn
1 year 3 months ago
Is the model broken? Yes. For both parishes and schools. The numbers don't lie, and the history lesson from both the article and these comments clearly show how, historically, we got to where we are. They also indicate to me, however, that there is no single solution. The inner city, the suburbs, and the rural areas all have issues that are unique that no single model is going to resolve, not to mention the challenges between the developed nations and the developing nations. I do believe there are more than just the three options Mr. Zech has outlined. Further, and of greatest concern, is this push toward seeking public funding or charter schools. We Catholics have always been able to take care of ourselves, thank you very much. The moment you take something from the State is the moment you owe something to the State. This is a dangerous precedent, both for the State and the Church. All of us Catholics need to step up and give more to support the independence we need to teach and to worship freely. We live in a new age, and the medieval model of our Church governance is long past the need for change. We can't solve the problem of our schools without also addressing the problem of our parishes and our overall administrative structure. Our priests, whose numbers continue to dwindle, increasingly find themselves having to serve as business managers and school administrators instead of serving as pastors. Simply put, the job they signed up for and the job they're trained for has little to do with the job they end up with. Further, in the developed world, we have a lay population that is the most experienced and educated in history of the world, one that needs more than a fear of Hell to see the glory of a relationship with God. This requires a whole new ministerial approach for a large portion of the population. Bottom line, we need an Ecumenical Council to address these long standing issues... it's time for Vatican III.
Vincent Gaglione
1 year 3 months ago
I agree with a lot of what you say here. Educated lay Catholics could very well do more to make the Church viable in this modern secular diverse world. I am not totally sure that we need a Vatican Council III. I'd like to see Bishops who emphasize the teachings of Vatican Council II. That would probably go a long way to implementing some of your ideas. The clericalism that runs the Church today is seemingly no different than when I was a child, maybe worse in some instances. They want to be managers, administrators, and bureaucrats to preserve some semblance of authority for themselves it seems. That authority penchant is their fatal flaw. Most educated Catholics don't buy it or want it.
Joe Mcmahon
1 year 2 months ago
Writes Professor Zech, "Catholics are notoriously low givers to their church." Pastors and bishops, likewise, gave scant reporting of how they spend the money they get from the faithful. Each pastor should often give complete accounting of the money the bishop receives from the parish, and the bishop ought report the amounts received from each. In the annual report of a nearby parish, the pastor lumps "Assessment by the bishop" with "purchase of liturgical books." When the bishop makes friendly donations to the "charities" of curial officials, he should report it to the faithful of his diocese. Instead, biographies of famous U.S. bishops merely describe that they delivered moneybags to higher-ups, presumably winning esteem or some other blessing. Back at the local level, nobody explains what happens to the money gathered through Novenas for Mother's Day cards or through parish Purgatorial Societies. Fifty years ago, there was a diocesan campaign to build diocesan high schools. Years later, the schools were, in places, transferred to religious Congregations and they apparently prosper. Neither group explained the terms of those transactions; the original donors received no financial explanation. If "Catholics are notorious low-givers," those to whom they give are more notoriously mum.
Ernie Sherretta
1 year 2 months ago

Before the Second Vatican Council,Mary Perkins Ryan, one of the American liturgical movement leaders foresaw a pastoral orientation to the religious education of the laity. It was a renewal focused on the full and active participation of the laity in the liturgical life of the church. In 1963 she wrote Are Parochial Schools The Answer ? and in it she addressed the very issues presented in this article and more. Her points to consider: The Church managed to form active members of its community for almost 2000 years by means of liturgical celebrations, devotions, homilies, example and rituals in the home and in the parish as well as the writings of its theologians and spiritual writers; such schools seem to imply the completion of formation at graduation whether at the elementary or high school level, as many students infer from this that they have learned all there is to know about “being Catholic”; many such schools are a discreet way of encouraging segregation from minorities or members of other religions, an issue that Vatican II tried to overcome by its ecumenical document, Decree on Ecumenism; Ryan concluded that such schools actually keep us from being “fishers of men” due to the isolation of students and parents from the general population of school students and their families attending our public schools.
Finally, as a 68 year old Catholic who served the Church as a DRE for 40 years, I am grateful for the education I received from elementary to post graduate but I have come to realize that despite the efforts and amount of financial requirements for personnel and brick and mortar, most of the Catholic adult population I served or know is less than or equally prepared, compared to our fellow Christians, to carry out the mandate to be “a light to the world”. Our fellow Christians accomplished this mandate with far less material effort which can therefore be evidence that parochial schools are not necessary to form Christian disciples.

David Wither
1 year 2 months ago
I was excited when I started reading Charles Zech’s article “Reinventing Catholic Schools,” but was disappointed at the end. His final words, “replacing parochial schools with a system of charter schools” would only perpetrate our old paradigm of teaching that was developed as part of the last century’s Industrial Revolution. I certainly do not mean to disparage Mr. Zech, but his article points to a broader leadership issue. Most everyone agrees that we have problems, but there is little real vision, blueprint or transformational leadership offered to implement necessary change. Further, to reestablish a true Catholic identity and the teaching of Catholic truth in our schools, we need to abandon any financial dependency that includes secular control. The way to accomplish this is to evolve to a technology-centric teaching model. It is my opinion that our current Baby Boomer leadership - who were raised in an “atom-based” world of physical buildings, books and pencils - cannot let go of their old paradigms and move into the “virtual bit-based” world of apps, data, networks and AI of our upcoming generations. The reality is that in most cases, our current political and organizational structures are making decisions based on old paradigms; they are not making investments which are in the best interest of our children’s futures. We are not planning to use the digital gifts God has given us. However, God has blessed the world with visionaries who have genuinely forward-thinking plans. For example, Peter Diamandison’s June 20, 2016 article and video “This Is the Tech That Will Make Learning as Addictive as Video Games” (http://singularityhub.com/2016/06/20/this-is-the-tech-that-will-make-learning-as-addictive-as-video-games/?utm_source=Singularity+Hub+Newsletter&utm_campaign=16db4dfedf-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_Daily&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f0cf60cdae-16db4dfedf-57870493) goes to the heart of the matter regarding the paradigm-level changes that are needed in our educational system. Moving to a technology-based, individualized education system can achieve benefits impossible in the old model. Once we shift focus from teaching at a classroom-level to teaching at an individual-student level, outcomes improve: student success, student and teacher motivation, and exponentially lower cost structures. Within a personalized education model, the overall lower cost per student allows the system to invest more in the human components (i.e. teachers who do teach social interaction, problem solving, the humanities, etc.) Unfortunately, it is difficult for the older “atom-based” generations to see the new model and evolution. This type of vision and evolution could close the gap regarding the quality of education. Every student from every neighborhood could have a customized learning program. Which school building the student is assigned to, or what their social or economic reality is, would no longer be an obstacle to a quality education. I don’t expect everyone to agree, and I am sure the educational concept presented in the article/video will outright anger some people. The fundamental problem is that we are not having the right conversations; the reason: most Baby Boomers are just not comfortable with letting go of the old methods. In my opinion, the way to begin breaking out of our current void of leadership is for current Baby Boomer leaders to become mentors of the Millennials as they transition the real work of leading, planning and building a new education system over to them. The young people see the future in a very different way; they have little affinity or attachment to the old institutions, which will enable them to build a new educational system that is best for their children. I know abandoning our traditional educational system may seem radical to many, so I am more than willing to peacefully dialogue with anyone interested. Dave Wither catholic32@gmail.com
James Schwarzwalder
1 year 2 months ago
If the crucifix has to be taken down from the wall behind the teacher at the front of the room, its time to shut down. After school religion classes cannot be restricted to Catholicism only if it is a charter school.

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