You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2010.

This story caught my eye because my wife is originally from Toledo, Ohio and my mother was born there too.  The trials facing Catholic schools there – Toledo’s area Catholic schools have lost roughly 7,000 students over the last 10 years – therefore hit especially close to home.

It is good that the Bishop Blair has a clear and direct multi-media campaign to clearly communicate the situation and begin to address it.  I especially appreciated these words: “People can only face challenges and work on solutions when they know early on what the challenge or problem is.”

You can watch this two part video at the bottom of the page, worth a view as Toledo’s challenges are typical of northeastern and midwestern dioceses.

Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis also had a compelling message that is worth highlighting.

He articulated three priorities, which are right on the money (here in abbreviated form):

“1. The school must have a vibrant Catholic identity. It must be clearly and unquestionably a Catholic school, and everything about the school’s academic and formation programs must be grounded in the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church.

2. The school must be growing. Proactive recruitment and enrollment management strategies are an essential sign of life for Catholic schools. All Catholic schools in our archdiocese should either have a commitment to increase their enrollments or, if a school is filled to capacity, to refer families to nearby Catholic schools and assist them in enrolling there. We cannot be content with the status quo or, worse, with declining enrollments in our schools. Promoting growth is not optional — no matter how difficult the challenges. Every school should have a student recruitment plan and every member of the school community should have a part to play in growing the school’s enrollment.

3. The school must be financially healthy and, at the same time, provide assistance to those who otherwise could not afford to attend a Catholic school. This is perhaps our greatest challenge. The cost of a Catholic school education threatens the continued existence of too many schools in our archdiocese. That’s precisely why this must be a top priority for all of us.”

This last priority is the million dollar question, if you will. The bishops should act aggressively to move forward on two strategic approaches:

1. Build a major, separately incorporated, scholarship fund and fund-raising organization like the Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago.  Catholic school graduates are very successful, but schools don’t have the capacity or knowledge to do this kind of major fund-raising on their own.  Private scholarships need to be a major part of the equation, and there is a need to effectively facilitate the involvement of the business community.  Far too many dioceses, including the two discussed here, do not have an organization of this kind.

2. Get serious and aggressive about school choice legislation advocacy.  Catholics have traditionally been timid on this front, and we need to become far more active in this political issue.  Over the long run, private philanthropy will only take us so far.  For the sake of justice for low-income children to have equal access to quality schools, and for the sake of preserving the wonderful gift of Catholic schools for the Church and for our civic communities, we ALL need to become advocates and start flexing some Catholic muscle on this issue.

Democrats in Congress have successfully killed the federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allowed 1,700 low-income children to attend a private school of their choice. covered the strong opposition from black community leaders, reflecting a majority of D.C. residence who wanted to maintain the program: Obama, Democrats Put Politics Above Educating D.C.’s Disadvantaged Youth, Black Leaders Say. Letters have also been sent by leading Congressman urging the President to save the program.
Though the 1,700 children already in the program were grand-fathered in, the damage from killing the program is already starting to register.  The Archdiocese of Washington announced today that it would be closing or consolidating 4 more Catholic schools.  This after 7 were closed and converted to charter schools only 2 years ago.  This will cause the loss of a quality Catholic education for nearly 300 students, and the permanent loss of 2 urban faith-based schools, a life-line for so many children in one of the nations worst public school distracts.

This is truly disheartening news, and a sad day when political elites in Washington close down a popular program that has been proven to work under incredible public scrutiny, significantly improving reading levels for students in the program and showing rave reviews from parents.

Though its no surprise, there was a nice blog on ISTA Exposed documenting how the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) is dumping lots of money to support their special interests and fight meaningful education reform in Indiana.

Exploring what could become an exciting new model for Catholic schools, the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame announced today a new partnership with the Diocese of Tucson and three Tucson catholic schools called Notre Dame ACE Academies (NDAA).

The really interesting parts of this model are two fold:

1. The partnership will take advantage of the Arizona scholarship tax credit programs, allowing greater access from low-income children to Catholic schools and therefore greater demand.  This should do much to ameliorate the biggest challenge facing many Catholic schools today, financial burdens.

2. The partnership will take advantage of economies of scale by putting the schools together in a school cluster or consortium.  This should allow better academic support, fund raising and marketing/recruiting capacity, and other efficiencies in administration.

“The NDAA model is oriented around the three pillars of ACE: educational excellence, the experience of community, and faith formation in the Catholic tradition.

By designating St. Ambrose, St. John the Evangelist, and Santa Cruz as NDAA schools, ACE and the diocese seek to achieve comprehensive excellence in these three schools by implementing a unique model of Catholic schooling.

ACE faculty and staff will work closely with NDAA schools and diocesan leaders to boost enrollment and enhance school leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional development, financial management, marketing and Catholic identity.”

Read the full ND press release here.

For more information about the Notre Dame ACE Academies.

Quick update, see this position paper from the Indiana Catholic Conference.  A good time to call your State reps if you are an IN resident.

There has been a lot of commentary about the sea-change that appears to be occurring in the political landscape right now, with a lot of attention on the election of Senator Scott Brown in MA.  But the two other big elections were for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey, going to Republicans Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie respectively.

This is likely to be good news for Catholic schools and low-income children seeking educational options in Virginia and New Jersey.  Both Governors are strong school choice supporters, which increases options for low-income families to choose the school that they think is best for their kids.  This allows many who would choose a Catholic school if cost wasn’t prohibitive to enroll their children in a private or a faith-based school.

Despite the misleading messages of teachers unions, this also actually saves States and tax-payers money, because the per-child expenditure in a choice program is consistently much lower than average public school per-child expenditures.  In other words, each kid in the program saves tax-payers money, while providing them with access to higher quality education.

Good for low-income kids, good for States and tax-payers, good for Catholic schools…

Here is another article covering the implications of the election of the new Governors…

The program has been supporting 1,700 low-income children in Washington D.C. to attend a private school of there choice, but has recently been attacked and is being phased out by Congressional Democrats, beholden to the special interests of the powerful teachers unions.

Washington, Jan 27 –

WASHINGTON, DC – House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) sent President Obama a letter today strongly urging him to act to save the embattled Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, D.C.

“This program has helped thousands of young people escape from some of the worst schools in the nation,” Boehner said. “It is a model of reform that should be expanded, not ended.”

Senator Lieberman said, “I appeal to President Obama to save this effective program that provides a valued opportunity to disadvantaged students in the District of Columbia. We must not allow the twilight to fall on this vital program that serves those in the dawn of life.”

Text of the letter:

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to you to urge you to save the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (D.C. OSP).

The 111th Congress considered language before the end of the first legislative session that restricted D.C. OSP funding only to students already participating in the scholarship program, calling into question the future of the program. The D.C. OSP has been an effective educational alternative for more than 3,000 low-income students in the District of Columbia. Terminating the program will be devastating for many low-income families who are zoned for underachieving and often unsafe schools, most of whom will not be selected to attend one of the area’s charter schools. D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government that terminating the program will be a substantial burden for the D.C. public schools as they will need to absorb these opportunity scholarship recipients.

We ask for your leadership to prevent the termination of the program by including support for a reauthorization of the program, including allowing new students into the program as spaces become available, in your fiscal year 2010 budget.

In an education speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 10, 2009, you said you would direct Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to “use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.” Mr. President, this program works. According to Patrick Wolf, the principal investigator for the study conducted under the auspices of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, this program has met a tough standard for efficacy.

Dr. Wolf found that “the D.C. voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the federal government’s official education research arm so far.” Using your stated criteria, this program should be reauthorized and additional students should be allowed to participate.

We agree that opportunity scholarships alone are not the sole solution to the problems that have long beset the troubled public school system in the District of Columbia. We fully support the efforts of Chancellor
Rhee to turn around the public schools, and Congress has appropriated extra funding to the District to complement her efforts. However, as she has indicated, it will take many more years to turn around underachieving public schools in the District. In the meantime, young lives are at stake and young lives are being lost. We should not sacrifice these students to politics as we work to improve the public school system. At $7,500 per student, this program provides a quality education at less than half the cost of the per pupil expenditure for students in the D.C. public school system. And it is getting better results.

The D.C. OSP has the overwhelming support of D.C. residents, parents, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Rhee, former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and a majority of the D.C. City Council. As efforts are made to turn-around D.C.’s underachieving public schools we must reauthorize the D.C. OSP to ensure that low-income D.C. students have access to quality education today, and we need to ensure that the same number of students is able to participate as in recent years. We hope you will agree that there is no justifiable reason to end this program and that you will work with us to guarantee the future of the D.C. OSP program.


John A. Boehner, House Republican Leader

Joseph I. Lieberman,  Chairman Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs

There was an interesting article in today’s Washington Post titled Former D.C. Catholic schools seeking identity as charter school. Aware of high emotions around the closing of 7 D.C. Catholic schools and re-opening them promptly as Charter schools, and the broader implications of this “Charter issue” on Catholic schools nationally, I found this article to be sensitive and nuanced.  Having coordinated a conference on this issue at Notre Dame in the last year and thought deeply about it, I will only say that it is extraordinarily complicated.

I think the article pointed out a few really helpful facts:

First, there are major funding implications.

“At the Trinidad campus, Principal Monica Evans said she had about $2,500 per student to spend each year when she ran a Catholic school. As a charter, the school receives $8,800 to $11,400 per student from the city.”

Secondly, initial academic performance in the “converted” charter schools is quite poor, which I found surprising.

“Initial test scores at the schools were unimpressive, something school leaders acknowledge. They blame the results on the turmoil of the conversion.”

“Unimpressive” is an understatement.  These schools are currently scoring well below D.C. Public School averages, which have notoriously terrible academic performance.  Though it certainly may be explained by a tumultuous transition.  We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out.

Finally, Faith has been stripped out and been replaced by a “values” curriculum, which I find hollow and trite.  I just don’t think think values can be transmitted through pep talks and cheesy examples, in a vacuum without a framing context of meaning, which is what a religious tradition offers.

The closing words profiled the fate of a lone Catholic sister still teaching in one of the Charter schools.

“For at least one Center City teacher, Catholicism is a guide even when it’s not part of the classroom. Sister Patricia Ralph spent 14 years at Holy Name, five as principal. She stayed on at Center City. Her impeccable handwriting covers the chalkboards of her fifth-grade classroom. A small crucifix dangles around her neck.

“The conversion was hard in the beginning, but children are children, and I made sure that I was focused on that,” she said. “It’s been a challenge.” ”

Anyways, its worth a read.

The first State of the Union Address by President Obama was tonight, what did it mean for Catholic schools?  Here are the President’s words addressing education:

“Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people. (Applause.)

Now, this year, we’ve broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. And the idea here is simple: Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform — reform that raises student achievement; inspires students to excel in math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city. In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. (Applause.) And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all 50 states.”

True, the Obama administration has made progress and has been more reform oriented than most Democratic leaders with Race to the Top, increased teacher quality measures (like performance pay), and pushing for the expansion of Charter schools.  His last words about the geographically determined injustice in the Public school system hinted towards school choice (though based on his past policies, this is exclusively public school choice).  So what does this all mean for Catholic schools?  Very little.  The Administration has done nothing to support the plight of urban faith-based schools and has silently stood by while the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship dies a slow death.  Not much new to hope for in this speech.

But the theme of school choice and the educational injustices in the public system were echoed by a rising star in the Republican party, a Notre Dame graduate, moderate and newly elected Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell.  On education, Governor McDonnell said:

“The President and I agree on expanding the number of high-quality charter schools, and rewarding teachers for excellent performance. More school choices for parents and students mean more accountability and greater achievement.

A child’s educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her zip code.”

Again, an emphasis on school choice.  But unlike the the exclusive attention to public schools demonstrated by the Obama Administration, Gov. McDonnell is talking about full school choice, that includes all schools – private, faith-based, Charter and public. This authentic school choice does not rob poor families of the option of an education in faith for their children, “which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

It was great to see Bob McDonnell do so well in his response and it is hopeful for school choice prospects and Catholic schools in Virginia.

I hope and believe his stock will continue to rise in the Republican party.

All Americans agree, that a young person needs a world-class education to compete in the global economy. As a kid my dad told me, “Son, to get a good job, you need a good education.” That’s even more true today.

The President and I agree on expanding the number of high-quality charter schools, and rewarding teachers for excellent performance. More school choices for parents and students mean more accountability and greater achievement.

A child’s educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her zip code.

Last year Indiana passed a new scholarship tax credit program, which would benefit low-income children allowing them to chose the private or faith-based school of their choice.  In addition to providing educational opportunity to thousands of low-income children (an issue of justice, plain and simple), these programs have been proven to save millions of dollars for the states – educating each child at a fraction of the cost that public schools spend per child, thus saving tax-payers millions.

But as a believer in the unique benefits of Catholic schools, this program is particularly important because it provides access to Catholic schools for the poor.  This is good for Catholic schools, good for poor kids, good for the state, good for tax-payers.

Self preserving Teachers Unions – at the expense of kids – oppose such programs and are trying to attack this one before it can even get started.

See some great coverage of this issue  in the Indiana Chamber of Commerce blog posted by Tom Schuman.

Here is a bit of what he said:

“…The Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) hopes to drive its suggested school budget cuts through the House Education Committee (via 1367) on Monday.

The ISTA plan: gut the progress made last year (scholarship tax credit and virtual charter school pilot programs), eliminate some testing (really ?), spend rainy day funds and any reserves above 8%, and allow more money to be transferred from capital funds to general operating funds.”