Despite a track record of success, inner-city Catholic schools are closing, writes Samuel Freedman in the New York Times. The list includes Rice High School in Harlem, acclaimed in Patrick McCloskey’s The Street Stops Here for turning young black and Hispanic males into college-bound “Rice men.”
Over the last half-century, the number of Catholic schools has fallen to 7,000 from about 13,000, and their enrollment to barely two million children from more than five million. A disproportionate share of the damage has come in big cities.
So when a landmark topples as Rice did — and as Cardinal Dougherty High School did in Philadelphia last year, and as Daniel Murphy High School did in Los Angeles two years before that — it ought to provoke more than sentimentality or tears. It ought to sound an alarm about a slow-motion crisis in American education.
With a diminishing supply of low-cost teachers with religious vocations, Catholic schools have raised tuition just as charter schools are providing a no-cost alternatives. Pedophilia scandals have drained church coffers.
The Christian Brothers religious order, which founded and operated Rice, filed for bankruptcy in late April, collapsing under the weight of payments to victims of sexual abuse by the order’s members, particularly in the Seattle area.
The Nativity Miguel and Cristo Rey networks are opening small, academically intensive middle and high schools, but the new Catholic schools are much smaller than the big schools that are closing, Freedman writes.
Catholic philanthropists aren’t filling the funding gap.
“Given all the money that’s been raised for charter schools — from the Gates Foundation, from Eli Broad, from hedge fund managers — I find it perplexing that Catholics can’t raise money for their own schools that have a track record of success,” says Michael Gecan, a national organizer for the Industrial Areas Foundation. “I don’t think they’ve tried hard enough. They’ve lost focus on their core mission.”
My husband is grateful for the education (and the partial scholarship) he received at Brother Rice High in Chicago. He’s a donor. He also gives to the Cristo Rey schools in Chicago.