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Finally, Faith has been stripped out and been replaced by a “values” curriculum, which I find hollow and trite.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.