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.

Ontario: Anti-abortion speech is ‘bullying’

Politicians are trying to suppress political speech by calling it “bullying,” charges Hans Bader. He’s got a doozy of an example from Canada: Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten says Catholic schools can’t tell students abortion is wrong because anti-abortion speech is “misogyny,” which is banned by Bill 13, the anti-bullying law.

Religious schools are subject to censorship, Broten said.

“We do not allow and we’re very clear with the passage of Bill 13 that Catholic teachings cannot be taught in our schools that violates human rights and which brings a lack of acceptance to participation in schools,” she said. …

. . . “Bill 13 is about tackling misogyny, taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.”

U.S. protections for free speech are much stronger than in Canada, but some school administrators have tried to bully students who disapprove of homosexuality, Bader writes.

When a Wisconsin high school newspaper ran dueling student opinion pieces on whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt children, the student who took the “no” side was accused of bullying – which can lead to expulsion – by the superintendent.

However, a conservative Christian student successfully challenged a school “harassment” code that punished students who oppose homosexuality, Bader writes. In Saxe v. State College Area School District (2001), a federal appeals court ruled there is no “harassment” exception to the First Amendment for speech which offends members of minority groups.

Vouchers spike Catholic school enrollment

Catholic schools are attracting voucher students in Indiana, AP reports. Nearly 70 percent of students using the vouchers are choosing Catholic schools.

Our Lady of Hungary Catholic School in South Bend was at risk of closure because few parents could afford tuition.  Voucher students have increased enrollment by 60 percent.

The enrollment boom has forced the school to hire three more teachers. It’s also allowed all but the seventh and eighth grades to be separated into single classes. In years past, the school has combined grade levels because of low enrollment.

Catholic schools attract about 70 percent of voucher students in Ohio, which  gives vouchers to children who’d otherwise attend low-performing public schools.

Urban Catholic schools have a long history of educating children from tough neighborhoods.

 

Inner-city Catholic schools close

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.

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.”

Catholic schools add 20 days in LA

Catholic K-8 schools in Los Angeles will add 20 days to the school year for a total of 200 days of instruction. Los Angeles’ public school year has been cut to 175 days to save money, notes the LA Times.

With 210 elementary schools spread across Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the archdiocese runs one of the largest school systems in California, larger than the public school districts in San Francisco or Sacramento. It has earned accolades for operating well-run, academically rigorous schools that serve many low-income students.

Parents will pay an extra month’s tuition.  Charges range from $200 a month in low-income areas to $800 a month in affluent areas.  The archdiocese will try to offer aid to parents who can’t afford the extra cost.

Teachers will receive a 10 percent raise for the extra month of work.

Catholic high schools set their own schedules.

New hope for D.C. vouchers?

Speaker John Boehner’s guests for the State of the Union speech tonight — he gets a box — will be students, parents and teachers, reports National Review Online. Three of the four children will be students who are using  “opportunity scholarships” to attend Catholic schools. Another guest will be Virginia Walden Ford, who runs D.C. Parents for School Choice. This is National School Choice Week.

Boehner and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, will introduce legislation tomorrow morning to reauthorize the District’s scholarship program, which was killed by the president and congressional Democrats.

A strong supporter of Catholic schools, Boehner invited teachers associated with the Consortium of Catholic Schools and Catholic-school parents.

What Philadelphia parents want

What do parents want from schools? The Philadelphia Daily News looks at the results of a Pew study of Philadelphia school parents, which included a poll and focus groups.

* Parents like charter schools. They really like them. A whopping 90 percent of parents who had chosen charter schools for their children – and an even higher 92 percent of Catholic school parents – approve of the choices they made.

* Parents don’t like district public schools. They really don’t like them. In the Pew poll, 58 percent of parents with kids in district schools said the overall job they were doing was “only fair” or poor. Nearly two-thirds of district school parents – 63 percent – said they had considered leaving the district for charter or parochial schools.

* Parents want safety and discipline in school. They really want it. Parents in focus groups rarely mentioned academics unless they were prompted to do so. Their positive evaluations of charter and Catholic schools – and their highly negative assessment of district schools – were based mostly on the perceived availability of safety, discipline and a caring environment.

* Parents want choices. They really want them. Most parents ( 72 percent) said they don’t have enough choices in schools, and increasing parental choice is the best way to improve education.

The Daily News worries that parents who are satisfied with their own school choices won’t care whether other children are getting a good education.

Maybe not. But would it better if nobody was happy?

District schools are improving to compete with charter schools, which have grown rapidly, the Daily News opines.  “But Father and Mother may not always know best – and educators need to know how to deal with that, too.”

I think this means:  Close low-scoring charter schools, even if parents are happy for safety reasons.  If students can move to higher-scoring, equally safe schools, sure. But remember that inner-city parents have very good reasons to value safety and discipline.

Via Flypaper.

Vouchers for disabled students

Special education vouchers would enable parents of disabled students to shop for the services their child needs, writes Jay P. Greene in City Journal. Currently, parents have to deal with a system that promises services but often fails to deliver.  Some become aggressive advocates for their children; most accept what they get.

Every student identified as disabled could get a voucher worth no more money than the public schools would spend to educate that child (with more severely disabled students receiving more generous vouchers). Students could then use the vouchers to attend private school if they wanted. No one would have to use the vouchers, and students choosing to remain in public schools would retain all the rights they already have there. Disabled students would simply gain a mechanism — a market mechanism — to help them make their rights a reality.

Vouchers could save money, since private schools tend to be cheaper than public schools.

In Florida, for instance, where a special-ed voucher program is already operating, the average cost of a voucher for disabled students is $7,206—far below what taxpayers spend for the average special-ed student in public school.

Second, vouchers reduce the public schools’ tendency to move ever more students into special education, including many who aren’t in fact disabled but are disruptive or just struggling academically. . . .  schools may think twice about overidentifying disabilities for financial reasons if, every time they do so, they risk losing students and all their funding to private schools.

“Florida public schools have indeed become somewhat more reluctant to classify students as disabled with the increased availability of vouchers,” writes Greene, who studied the Florida system with Marcus Winters. The found Florida students are more likely to receive appropriate services in private schools and are less likely to be bullied.

The voucher program serves a representative distribution of disabled students, so that students with more severe disabilities, as well as students from low-income or minority backgrounds, can find what they need in private schools, just as their more advantaged counterparts can. . . . Finally, the public schools feel some competitive pressure to improve their own services for disabled students, even as they become more restrained in categorizing students as disabled. In fact, Winters and I found that achievement levels for disabled students remaining in the public schools improved significantly when those students had more options to leave.

Georgia, Ohio and Utah are using special-ed vouchers as well.

Vouchers for low-income students also could save inner-city Catholic schools, which offer an alternative to black and Hispanic students, writes Patrick J. McCloskey, author of The Street Stops Here. These schools have been closing, unable to cover their costs with donations or tuition.

(Vouchers) save money, too, since the public school system spends about $20,000 annually on each student, while the Catholic schools achieve their superior results for about $5,500 per urban elementary school student and $8,500 per high schooler. (An adequate voucher would cost slightly more, say $6,500 for elementary school and $9,500 for high school students, to include funding for remedial education for many current public schoolers.)

Of course,  teachers’ unions would fight hard against vouchers.

Tragedy: NYC loses Catholic schools

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.”