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A great article today in the Washington Post highlights the movement in Catholic schools to reach out to students with special learning needs.

Financial constraints have historically made it difficult for them to offer similar specialized services.

That is starting to change.

Forty-two percent of Catholic elementary schools in the United States had a resource teacher to help students with special needs in 2008-09, up from 28 percent in 2001-02, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. The Arlington County-based group hosts conferences to help schools establish relevant programs and offers scholarships to teachers pursuing special-education degrees.

Expect this trend to continue and to see more Catholic schools and dioceses improving their capacity to effectively serve all children.  The University of Notre Dame’s ACE program is launching a new certification program in the summer of 2010, Teaching Exceptional Children, to meet the demand.

These are signs of Grace and an important development for Catholic schools.

Today marks the First Sunday of Lent, bringing the Church more deeply into the season of preparation, prayer, fasting and alms-giving.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archbishop of Los Angeles, offers an inspiring Lenten Message for 2010 on his blog – yes the Cardinal has a blog, one of three blogging bishops that I’m aware of (Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg and Archbishop Dolan of New York are the other two).  His message, framed around the burden many are feeling because of the economy, centered on a strong call to alms for Catholic schools:

As we enter our annual Lenten journey, I would strongly recommend that all of us continue our traditional Lenten practices: increased prayer, appropriate fasting, and continued almsgiving. But this year, I would suggest that you consider making a donation during Lent to your parish school to enable a family unable to pay the tuition to have their son or daughter continue forward in that Catholic school. If your own parish school does not have this need, then there are many parish schools in each sector of our Archdiocese who could benefit from your Lenten charity.

I can think of no finer way to direct this year’s Lenten charitable giving than to those families who truly desire a sound Catholic education for their children but simply cannot afford it.

The second half of his message encourages the Church to be mindful of the “immigrants living in our midst.”

This reminds me of an incredible fact.  LA is home to over 1,000,000 Latino children, by far the largest number in any major metropolitan area, and LA’s Catholic Schools have 10’s of thousands of empty seats.  The Cardinal’s two apparently independent themes are actually quite related.

If the Church is going to succeed in serving the Hispanic and immigrant communities, it must increase Latino participation in Catholic schools, so effective in providing faith formation and bridging the Latino achievement gap.  A big part of accomplishing this will require making Catholic schools more accessible and affordable to low income families.  For more on this read the outstanding report from Notre Dame on increasing Latino participation in Catholic schools, and the efforts of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign.

This Lent, may we all grow in charity and commitment to serving God’s children, especially by supporting the gift of Catholic schools and their accessibility to all.

On my google reader – which aggregates news stories about Catholic schools – most of the headlines I read look like this:

“Catholic school in x consolidates”

“Catholic school in the diocese of x closes”

“Parents express sadness and protest at the closing of x Catholic school”

It can get pretty disheartening.

So I’m happy when I stumble across a story like this, about Seton Catholic High School in Chandler, AZ that is dramatically expanding to meet demand.

Seton Catholic High School

Arizona has a lot going for it, as I’ve written about on earlier posts.  Here are a couple of factors:

– perhaps the biggest and best per capita scholarship tax credit program in the country

– growing demographics and investment in the State

– a large Hispanic Catholic population

Expect to see Catholic education in Arizona continue to grow in the years ahead.

As he did in April of ’08 in the U.S., Pope Benedict XVI praised the contribution of Catholic schools in Scotland while addressing the Scottish Bishops’ Conference.

I think its fair to say that we have a strong Catholic school advocate in Benedict XVI.

If you have not seen the text of his Address to Catholic Educators in the United States, I recommend it.  It is, among other things, the inspiration for this blog’s title.

Notably – and counter-intuitive to some – the Pope praised Catholic schools for overcoming sectarianism.

You can be proud of the contribution made by Scotland’s Catholic schools in overcoming sectarianism and building good relations between communities.  Faith schools are a powerful force for social cohesion…

Secularists are confounded by such a comment.  As far as they are concerned, Catholic schools ARE sectarian.  But the data, at least in the U.S., supports the Pope’s remarks.

  • Catholic schools tend to produce graduates who are more civically engaged, more tolerant of diverse views, and more committed to service as adults (Campbell, 2001; Greeley & Rossi, 1966; Greene, 1998; Wolf, Greene, Kleitz, & Thalhammer, 2001).
  • Graduates of Catholic high schools are more likely to vote than public school graduates (Dee, 2005).

A second point of special emphasis, the Pope urged strong religious education:

As you encourage Catholic teachers in their work, place special emphasis on the quality and depth of religious education, so as to prepare an articulate and well-informed Catholic laity, able and willing to carry out its mission  “by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (Christifideles Laici, 15).  A strong Catholic presence in the media, local and national politics, the judiciary, the professions and the universities can only serve to enrich Scotland’s national life, as people of faith bear witness to the truth, especially when that truth is called into question.

Some, again, see contradiction in these words.  But the point is an important one.  The formation of authentically Catholic men and women will be leaven for the world and bring a vitality to civic life born of the wisdom, hope and love of Christian tradition.  Aware of this gap between perception and meaning, the Pope offers these rather beautiful words:

The Church offers the world a positive and inspiring vision of human life…  It is rooted in God’s infinite, transforming and ennobling love for all of us, which opens our eyes to recognize and love his image in our neighbour (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 10-11 et passim).  Be sure to present this teaching in such a way that it is recognized for the message of hope that it is.  All too often the Church’s doctrine is perceived as a series of prohibitions and retrograde positions, whereas the reality, as we know, is that it is creative and life-giving, and it is directed towards the fullest possible realization of the great potential for good and for happiness that God has implanted within every one of us.

For a full-text of the speech, see here: Address by Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland

Leadership from the Univeristy of Notre Dame have written a letter to Education Secretary, Arne Duncan and Senator Durbin deploring the termination of the of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The authors include Rev. John Jenkins CSC, President of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh CSC, President Emeritus of Notre Dame and legendary Civil Rights advocate, and Rev. Timothy Scully  CSC, Director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives and Founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education.  As Matt Ladner commented on Jay P. Greene’s blog, “they don’t pull their punches.”

Dear Senator Durbin and Secretary Duncan,

Warmest greetings from the University of Notre Dame.  We hope this letter finds both of you well, and that the new year has been filled with grace and blessings for you and your families.

We write today because we are all deeply disappointed by the turn of events that has led to the imminent demise of the Washington DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), and we are gravely concerned about the effects that the unprecedented gestures that have jeopardized this program will have on some of the most at-risk children in our nation’s capital.

For the past decade, the University of Notre Dame, through its Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), has served as the nation’s largest provider of teachers and principals for inner-city Catholic schools.  Since 1993, we have prepared more than 1,000 teachers and hundreds of principals to work in some of the poorest Catholic schools in the nation.  That experience, along with the research that we have sponsored through our Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, leads us to an unqualified conclusion: the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program provides an educational lifeline to at-risk children, standing unequivocally as one of the greatest signs of hope for K-12 educational reform.  To allow its demise, to effectively force more than 1,700 poor children from what is probably the only good school they’ve ever attended, strikes us as an unconscionable affront to the ideal of equal opportunity for all.

Three decades of research tell us that Catholic schools are often the best providers of educational opportunity to poor and minority children.  Students who attend Catholic schools are 42 percent more likely to graduate from high school and are two and a half times more likely to graduate from college than their peers in public schools.  Recent scholarship on high school graduation rates in Milwaukee confirms that programs like the OSP can, over time, create remarkable opportunities for at-risk children.  And after only three years, the research commissioned by the Department of Education is clear and strong with regard to the success of the OSP, as you both well know.  This program empowers parents to become more involved in their children’s education.  Parents of OSP students argue that their children are doing better in school, and they report that these scholarships have given their families an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.  If this program ends, these parents will be forced to send their children back to a school system that is ranked among the worst in the nation, into schools they fought desperately to leave just a few years ago.

At Notre Dame, we have recently witnessed the painful but logical outcomes of your failure to save the OSP.  For the past three years, the University of Notre Dame has worked in close partnership with Holy Redeemer School, a preK-8 Catholic school community located just a few blocks from Senator Durbin’s office on the Hill.  In fact, Senator Durbin visited the school and expressed his deeply favorable impression.  We too have witnessed the transformative capacity of Holy Redeemer, a place where parents report feeling a sincere sense of ownership in their children’s education for the first time in their lives.  Indeed, over the past three years strong leadership, excellent academics, low teacher turnover, and committed parents have all contributed to truly outstanding gains in student achievement.  The children at Holy Redeemer were, unlike so many of their peers, on the path to college.

So we were deeply saddened to learn that the impending termination of the OSP has put the school in an untenable situation, leading the pastor to conclude that the school must be closed.  Families are presently being notified that their children will have to find a new school next year.  The end of the OSP represents more than the demise of a relatively small federal program; it spells the end of more than a half-century of quality Catholic education for some of the most at-risk African American children in the District.  That this program is being allowed to end is both unnecessary and unjust.

We—and many others in the Notre Dame community—are wholeheartedly committed to protecting the educational opportunity of these children.  We encourage you to reconsider protecting the OSP and the children it serves from this grave and historic injustice.  You are joined by Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, by the faculty and students on Notre Dame’s campus, by tens of thousands of Notre Dame alumni nationwide, and by millions of Catholic school families across the country in a steadfast commitment to ensure that these children continue to receive the educational opportunity that is their birthright.

Please know of our deepest appreciation for your consideration of this request.  We hope and pray that we can work together with you to save this program.

Yours, in Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC

President, University of Notre Dame

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC

President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

Rev. Timothy R. Scully, CSC

Director, Institute for Educational Initiatives

University of Notre Dame

A project near and dear to my heart, The Catholic School Advantage Campaign out of the University of Notre Dame, is teaming up with the Archdiocese of Chicago to increase Latino participation in Catholic schools.

The Chicago Tribune reports on the new partnership:

Despite Latinos being 40 percent of the Archdiocese of Chicago‘s membership, only about 1 percent of the school-age Latinos in Cook and Lake counties attend Catholic schools.

The initiative, called the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, will bring together educators and community members from 40 schools to develop strategies for making Catholic school education more accessible for Latino children. The goal is to double the number of Latino children in Catholic schools within 5 years.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has the largest number of Catholic schools in the country at 258.  Chicago is also home to a struggling public school system,  with high school graduation rates around 50% and recent cases of disturbing violence.  Wouldn’t it be exciting if low income kids in Chicago could go to high quality private schools of their choice?  Wouldn’t it be great for this juggernaut of an Archdiocesan Catholic School system?

Well, here’s an important step in the right direction.

Sen. James Meeks, chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, Democrat, Baptist minister and Chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, is calling for an Illinois School Choice Program in Senate Bill 2494.

Here are two articles in the Southtown Star covering this development.

Meeks open to school vouchers

Meeks backs vouchers for worst schools

Its too bad Mayor Daley is passing on the opportunity to get behind this reform, when, as the Sun Times reports, he once advocated for vouchers as part of the solution.

In 1991, the mayor used his second inaugural address as a platform to push the idea of school vouchers to “break the stranglehold of bureaucracy and politics” at a Board of Education standing “in the way of change.”

We’ll see if the Democratic sponsorship on this will be enough to get it through the Democratically controlled House and Senate.

No baby yet.  Just a quick update on new action in Florida.

Florida is one of the best places for parental choice opportunities for low income families with a sizable parental choice set of programs.  It looks like things may be about to get better.

Legislature to consider dramatic expansion of vouchers – in the St. Petersburg times.  The gist, a new bill was proposed on Wednesday with a good chance of passing with bipartisan support that would raise the per pupil tax-credit voucher from $3,950 to $5,492, much closer to the average tuition cost in private schools.  This means good things for low-income families.

I’ve had to take a break from the regular pace of blogging as my wife is due to have a baby any day.  I’ve been rushing around to finish up work and get things in order.  Her due date is TODAY, but no sign of the baby yet.  I’ll try to get back into a normal pace once things settle down just a bit with the home life.

It is hopeful to see a dogged fight over the unjust killing of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.  These families are fighters and thanks to a few brave political leaders, their voices are continuing to be heard.

Washington Post Editorial today – Lieberman is set to announce plans Thursday to offer the reauthorization as an amendment to legislation moving in the Senate, and he’s hoping for help from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), majority whip and chairman of the subcommittee that funds the program.

Washington Times Editorial from Tuesday – summarizing the letter from Lieberman and Boehner to the President, it basically suggests Obama has been dishonest, saying that he would support programs that work and then helping to pull the plug on this successful program.

DC Vouchers Will Not Go Quietly – Jay P. Greene – which basically says that this issue won’t die, much to the President Obama’s, Secretary Arne Duncan’s and Senator Dick Durban’s chagrin…

It is a political liability to take scholarships away from poor kids that allow them to attend good schools and send them back to D.C.’s public schools, which 86% of the students in the Scholarship Program will be forced to do.

Andy Smarick at Flypaper Points to the hypocrisy of this administration’s treatment of the D.C. Scholarships, calling it “a black mark on the administration’s education record,” referring to Obama sending his two girls to an expensive private school but denying poor families this same opportunity, and the administration spending billions on an untested Race to the Top program while shutting down a program that has been proven to work by a gold standard evaluation.

Heritage Foundation Blog“This morning, families, students and community members gathered at the Capitol to show their support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is currently being phased-out by the Obama administration. Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Susan Collins hosted a press conference to discuss the impact of the successful program…” “During today’s press conference, Senator Collins reported that 86 percent of children in the Opportunity Scholarship program will have to return to District schools that are failing.” This is scandalous.

And they added in this nice clip from the Film “Let Me Rise”