Catholic schools learn to compete with charters

Tuition-free charter schools now enroll more students than Catholic schools, writes Sean Kennedy in City Journal. But Catholic schools are learning to compete in order to survive.

These days, expenditures on lay teacher salaries and repair of dilapidated buildings have blown up the price tag at Catholic schools to three times the rate of inflation. In nominal dollars, per-pupil costs nearly doubled between 1998 and 2010, from $5,600 to $10,800; average tuition for incoming ninth-graders at Catholic schools more than doubled, from $4,300 to $8,800.

Innovative educators and philanthropists are “developing a path forward for Catholic education . . . by borrowing ideas from the best charters, just as charters once borrowed from Catholic schools,” Kennedy writes.

In San Francisco, innovators launched Mission Dolores Academy, which uses “blended learning”— a mix of classroom and online instruction — to individualize instruction while controlling costs.

Students’ specific skills are assessed every day as they do their schoolwork on interactive computers, and lessons are tailored to fit their progress. . . .  the curriculum is mastery-based—students only move on when they master the material. Teachers spend more time in direct interaction with each student or in small group lessons. Online tools collect real-time data on student performance and allow teachers to intervene with students or accelerate the pace of instruction.

The Seattle Archdiocese’s Fulcrum Foundation has opened St. Therese Academy, an elementary with an overwhelmingly African-American student body, using the blended learning model.

About Joanne


  1. All eyes will be on what happens in Philadelphia, where Archbishop Chaput has very recently turned 21 Catholic high schools over to a private foundation. If it works, it will be much-copied.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    I like the progressing based on mastery…sure hope this model works…traditional schools can do this…nothing stopping them but parental demand and total lack of innovation…

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    The story says, “students only move on when they master the material.” Mastery is a wonderful idea, but I strongly suspect that students really move on when they answer a certain number of questions correctly. With the right combination of talent, practice, and follow-up, they may achieve mastery. Without it, this so-called mastery may be forgotten in months or weeks–or even sooner.