Why my Catholic schools are opting in to testing

As superintendent of Partnership Schools, a network of six urban Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx, Kathleen Porter-Magee is opting in to state testing.  Results are used to “benchmark . . .  our students’ academic growth, and to ensure we are keeping expectations high,” she writes on The 74.

At St. Mark the Evangelist in Harlem, students take New York state tests, but don't do test prep.

At St. Mark the Evangelist in Harlem, a Partnership school, students take New York state tests, but don’t do test prep.

Union-backed organizations are trying to persuade parents to reject testing, she writes. One letter claims that “excessive standardized testing is consuming a child’s academic year” and that it “forces [teachers] to ‘teach to test’ and takes the joy out of learning”

New York state’s English and math tests take up less than one percent of the school year, writes Porter-Magee.

The test doesn’t “force” anything, she adds. “Decisions to scrap core content instruction in favor of test prep are leadership decisions, not policy decisions.”

“Independent measures” are needed to “ensure all students are being held to the same bar regardless of race or socioeconomic status,” writes Porter-Magee.

Recently, a Johns Hopkins University study found that “when evaluating a black student, white teachers expect significantly less academic success than black teachers,” and that “this is especially true for black boys.”

Moreover, “for black students, particularly black boys, having a non-black teacher in a 10th grade subject made them much less likely to pursue that subject by enrolling in similar classes. This suggests biased expectations by teachers have long-term effects on student outcomes.”

Relying only on “teacher-created tests and teacher-conferred grades” risks “systematizing the kind of unconscious bias that holds our most vulnerable children back,” she concludes. Standardized testing is “the best tool we have to expose” inequality.

Catholic schools change to survive

Hard hit by demographic changes and competition from charter schools, Catholic schools are trying new strategies to survive, while remaining true to their religious mission, write Kelly Robson and Andy Smarick in Education Next.

A Cristo Rey student works at a medical center in Baltimore. Photo: Cristo Rey

A Cristo Rey student works at a medical center in Baltimore. Photo: Cristo Rey

Urban Catholic school students – especially those from low-income, minority families — “are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, earn higher wages, and engage in pro-social behaviors like voting and volunteerism,” they write.

At its mid-1960s peak, Catholic schools educated 5.6 million students in approximately 13,000 schools, they write. That’s down to  fewer than 2 million students in 6,500 Catholic schools. Many urban schools have closed.

Now, school consortia are helping Catholic schools tackle common problems and achieve economies of scale.

Private school management organizations, nonprofits that manage a set of schools, also provide economies of scale and educational expertise.

Girls at Lourdes Academy, a Notre Dame ACE Academy . Photo: University of Notre Dame

Girls at Lourdes Academy, a Notre Dame ACE Academy . Photo: University of Notre Dame

Technology is helping boost engagement — and achievement — while reducing costs. Seton Education Partners is helping Catholic schools use blended learning effectively.

Another cost-saving model known as “micro-schooling” splits “students’ time between classroom, home, and online learning,” write Robson and Smarick.

In addition, voucher programs, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts are helping lower-income parents afford a Catholic education for their children.

Pope visits a reborn Catholic school

Children from four Catholic schools practice a song for the pope’s visit at Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote, Newsday

At Our Lady Queen of Angels, a K-8 school in East Harlem, students from the area’s Catholic schools spent days preparing for Pope Francis’ visit, reports Newsday.

Students rehearsed the song, St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace.

LaSalle Duke-Sample, 9, a fourth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo, will show the pope his diorama — a grassy meadow and crystal blue stream that is surrounded by trees and a farmer’s fruit and vegetable stand.

“We are thanking God for the gifts of the Earth: water, trees that give us oxygen, animals that give us food. My favorite is the fruit,” LaSalle said.

Eight years ago, Our Lady Queen of Angel’s parish closed, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee. But the school was reborn as one of six campuses in “a first-of-its-kind Catholic schools network, to be governed by the archdiocese and operated and financed by a nonprofit school management organization, which I oversee.”

Charles B. Durkin Jr., a Wall Street financier, with Principal Joanne Walsh, has donated to Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo: Ruby Washington, New York Times

Charles B. Durkin Jr., a Wall Street financier, with Principal Joanne Walsh, has donated to Our Lady Queen of Angels School. Photo: Ruby Washington, New York Times

Ahead of the Heard has more on the “redemptive” private school management organizations (PSMOs) that are saving urban Catholic schools.

After a 50-year retreat for Catholic schools, there’s hope for a renaissance in Catholic education thanks to social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, write Andy Smarick and Kelly Robson.

However tuition-free charter schools are tough competition for Catholic schools that don’t have philanthropic support.

New York City Catholic schools have received $125 million to fund scholarships for inner-city children. That includes a $40 million gift from Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO at Blackstone, who are Jewish.

Pope Francis greets the crowd outside Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem.

NOLA’s new public schools lure middle class

Stephanie and Ben McLeish walk their children Micah, 5, ila, 7, and Silas, 9, right, to their local charter school, while their youngest Levi, 2, is pushed in the stroller.

The first signs of gentrification can be seen in New Orleans public schools, writes Danielle Deilinger in the Times-Picayune.

St. Rita’s Catholic School is struggling to compete for students. Photo: Cheryl Gerber, Hechinger Report

Despite a record of excellence, St. Rita’s Catholic School is struggling to compete for students. Photo: Cheryl Gerber, Hechinger Report

Before Hurricane Katrina, “few people with financial resources, regardless of race, put their kids in a New Orleans public school,” she writes.

Most public students were overwhelmingly poor and black, except for those who attended a handful of schools with entrance requirements. Private schools enrolled a quarter of school-age children.

New Orleans’ public students are as poor as ever: Three quarters qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. However, white enrollment has doubled — to 7 percent.

“Several new schools are attracting families who could afford private or parochial school, the same type of families who started leaving the school system 45 years ago,” writes Dreilinger.

. . . Morris Jeff Community School and Bricolage Academy are among the city’s new hot schools, according to enrollment numbers. So is Lycée Français, a language-immersion charter. They join pre–Hurricane Katrina favorites: Lusher Charter, Ben Franklin High, Edward Hynes Charter, Audubon Charter, the International School.

Before the storm, Morris Jeff was a low-performing school for low-income black students. Reinvented as a charter school, it’s now 40 percent white and non-poor. Eighty-four percent of fifth graders test as proficient in reading and math.

New Orleans’ Catholic schools are losing students, reports Jon Marcus. “Parents know they have a lot of choice,” said Karen Henderson, principal at St. Rita, which offers pre-kindergarten through Grade 7.

When urban Catholic schools close …

When urban Catholic schools close, their communities become more dangerous, argues a new book, Lost Classrooms, Lost Community. Crime rates go up. “Neighborhood health” deteriorates.

The vital role of urban Catholic schools is clear, writes Fordham’s Andy Smarick

There is an extensive and convincing academic literature on the positive influence of urban Catholic schools on disadvantaged kids. They significantly improve reading scoreshigh school graduation rateshigher-education matriculation and graduation, and more.

We also know that they can promote civic virtues, that the U.S. Supreme Court found voucher programs constitutional, that they can be held accountable, that district reform has not led to the improvements needed, and that chartering hasn’t created enough high-quality seats yet.

When a Catholic school closes, a charter school may take over the building and fill the educational void, the authors write. But new charters do not yet “generate the same positive community benefits.”

Communities matter, concludes Smarick. “Social capital is invaluable,” and it “depends on longstanding relationships.” Just as urban renewal — clearing the slums “to make room for shiny, new public housing high-rises” — destroyed communities, clearing away old urban Catholic schools hurts at-risk neighborhoods, he writes. Reformers should “be mindful of social capital, longevity, and the value of preservation.”

Cincinnati’s Catholic teachers are ‘ministers’

“Thou shalt not” do — or publicly support — premarital sex, extramarital sex, unmarried cohabitation, in-vitro fertilization, a gay “lifestyle” or a host of other issues, if you want to teach in Cincinnati Catholic schools. All teachers must sign a new “morality” contract that focuses on “pelvic issues,” reports CNN.  All teachers are now “ministers” to make it easier to fire them.

It stems from a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, in which the justices cite a “ministerial exemption” that gives religious institutions greater latitude when hiring and firing employees.

Molly Shumate, a first-grade teacher, plans to quit her job rather than pledge not to publicly support her gay son, she told CNN. “If in five or 10 years he finds a partner and he wants to be with that person, I’m going to be in the front row with the biggest bouquet.”

The Cincinnati Archdiocese has lost several lawsuits for firing teachers who didn’t abide by Catholic doctrine.

Computer teacher Christa Dias, who was single, used in-vitro fertilization to become pregnant and was then fired. She sued the archdiocese for discrimination and a jury awarded her more than $170,000.

. . . Also last year, a dean of students at a Cincinnati Catholic high school was let go after supporting same-sex marriage on his private blog.

And a female gym teacher at a high school in the Columbus, Ohio, diocese was fired after publishing the name of her partner in an obituary column announcing her mother’s death. She sued and the diocese settled.

I think the archdiocese will find it significantly harder to hire teachers.

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.