The closing of Catholic schools in New York City is a tragedy, writes Sol Stern on City Journal. The Street Stops Here by Patrick J. McCloskey explains why. McCloskey writes about Rice High School, which educates black boys in central Harlem.
No security guards or metal detectors greet them at the doors. But the boys remove their do-rags and hooded sweatshirts and presto, they become Rice men, with pressed slacks, oxford shirts and ties, and green Rice jackets. “The ritual is almost sacramental,” McCloskey writes. “The young men lose their street swagger and transform into students not much different than their peers at suburban, predominantly white Catholic schools.”
Rice’s teachers and administrators work hard to create “a counterculture of middle-class values and an ethos of hard work,” Stern writes. That’s the “Catholic-school advantage,” which the successful charter schools have learned from.
Though most ninth graders start out two years behind in reading and math, they gradually catch up to grade level.
Rice’s graduation rate is a legitimate 90 percent, compared with the public schools’ rate of 50 to 60 percent—despite per-pupil spending in the city’s public high schools triple that of Rice’s. Most Rice graduates go on to some form of higher education.
There are plans to convert some Brooklyn’s Catholic schools into publicly funded charter schools, as was done in D.C. If it works, other boroughs may follow suit.
My book, Our School, is about a public, secular charter school that also has the Catholic-school advantage. The bishop once called it “the best Catholic school in San Jose.”