Catholic schools struggle to survive

For every charter school that opens in Harlem, two Catholic schools have closed, write Patrick J. McCloskey and Sol Stern in City Journal. That means fewer good schools for inner-city students.

St. Aloysius School, a pre-K through eighth-grade school in central Harlem, was built for working-class Catholic immigrants but now serves low- and moderate-income black children, few of whom are Catholic.

A reading class at St. Aloysius taught by Lauren Carfora, part of the school's back-to-basics curriculum

St. Aloysius students outperform Harlem’s public school students by a large margin.

The school expects to spend $9,000 per student next year, “less than half of what Gotham’s traditional public schools spend and lower, too, than the $13,000 or so that charter schools get in taxpayer funds.”

But St. Aloysius has trouble filling its seats, though the school expects to take in students from Catholic schools that are closing. Tuition tops out at $2,600 per student and needy families pay less, but neighborhood charters are free. The school is leaving the archdiocese to make it easier to raise donations to keep the doors open.

Why do St. Aloysius students do so well?

Recognizing that inner-city children need extra time on task, the school offers after-school tutoring for the early grades, and it extends the school day for students in grades six through eight until 5 pm. Middle school students must attend a four-week summer session followed by a two-week summer camp.

. . . Another reason for St. Aloysius’s success, school officials say, is that it educates boys and girls separately beginning in the sixth grade, with the boys’ classes held in a few rooms at another Catholic school a few blocks away. This requires hiring three or four extra teachers and thus adds to costs, but the educators believe that it helps maintain discipline and a focus on academics during the risky preteen years and the transition to high school.

St. Aloysius “exemplifies the old-fashioned notion that school is a place where children learn about our civilization’s shared knowledge and values and where teachers remain the undisputed authorities in the classroom, imparting that knowledge and those values through a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum,” they write.

In a third-grade reading class, teacher Lauren Carfora spends 45 minutes on decoding skills and phonetic exercises and another 45 minutes discussing “a literary text to build comprehension and content knowledge.”

She guided the students through the narrative structure of the assigned story, the relationship of the characters, and the author’s use of literary technique, simultaneously expanding the students’ vocabulary and background knowledge.

Here’s the kicker: “Barely a moment of distraction occurred during those 90 minutes of teacher-centered instruction. The classroom calm allowed Carfora to cover a great amount of substantive material efficiently.”

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  1. CarolineSF says:

    Public school critics constantly claim that Catholic schools do “more with less,” educating students on a low budget.

    Catholic schools can’t be fairly and honestly compared to non-selective public schools, of course, because they select their students and are celebrated for expelling any kid who causes them trouble. (They are less celebrated for expelling any kid who has a disability, including the dying kindergartner who was dumped into my kids’ elementary school by one of San Francisco’s prestige parochial schools. It prompts howls of outrage when I mention this — well, it should, but not at me — I’m the messenger.)

    It’s not sound or valid to compare Catholic school students to public school students. And isn’t a little contradictory for people who frequently praise Catholic schools for “doing more with less” to also point out that they’re struggling to survive?

  2. J. D. Salinger says:

    Caroline: Do the SF public schools still use Everyday Math in the lower grades? Just curious.

  3. Catholic schools can’t be fairly and honestly compared to non-selective public schools, of course, because they select their students and are celebrated for expelling any kid who causes them trouble

    If you want to trade anecdotes, a friend of mine taught in a Catholic school in Alabama, and said that it was well-known that his school took in lots of kids that the nearby public school kicked out (under zero tolerance policies and the like). In his experience, Catholic schools are less likely than public schools to expel kids, because they need tuition money.

  4. When I taught Catholic school, we also took in a lot of expelled kids… we were their last chance–and we were unlikely to kick kids out, not because of the tuition $$, but because the principal (a nun) firmly believed that all children deserved an education and that with firmness and discipline and love, any child could make it through high school.