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No big surprise here, but especially newsworthy given the recent changes proposed in New York.  Private and Catholic schools in Staten Island save tax-payers 4.1 billion dollars.  Wow.

Archbishop Dolan of New York (the newly-elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) recently wrote in Catholic New York on the decision to end subsidies to thirty-one schools, effectively forcing them to close.  In his standard take-neither-prisoners-nor-guff style, he sums up the challenges facing Catholic schools and expounds on possible solutions – which, if you ask him, include closing some schools:

Simply put, if we do not close, consolidate, and merge some of them, all will eventually be at risk. To do nothing is actually to do something: accept the decline and eventual demise of our schools. That we will not do.

Amen.  Specifically, he presents “4 R’s” Catholic schools need to adopt in order to continue: realism, resignation, respect, and resolve.  It’s a straight-forward, unblinking, and unapologetic assertion of the reasoning in Pathways to Excellence.  Whatever concerns or praise there is for the plan, the man in charge intends to follow through with every bit of his integrity.

While Archbishop Dolan is assertive, I am picky.  I appreciate the archbishop’s alliterative efforts in the tradition of “Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmatic”, but his choice of “resigned” makes me about as uncomfortable as “’rithmatic” (though for different reasons).  I’m sure he meant something akin to realism, something like “acceptance”, and in that was referring specifically to the practical necessity of discontinuing the archdiocesan subsidy to those thirty-one schools.  In other words, it is what it is.  Still, “resigned” connotes giving up, the exact opposite of the commitment he’s trying to encourage.  In context with realism and resolve, there’s not much danger, but likewise in that context, it might have been left out.  Resolve and realism are the keys to the argument.  Just me?

Meanwhile, most attention-grabbing was this brief throwaway line:

We want to avoid the “blame game.” Yes, some blame those Catholic parents who do not send their children to our excellent schools. (If only 10% more of them did, by the way, our schools would be filled)

Pardon my stating the obvious, but considering the current national enrollment of Catholic schools, if just 10% more would fill our schools, that means a really small portion of Catholic parents are sending their kids to Catholic school now.  We know that, of course, which is why we’re seeing more efforts like the campaign Archbishop Dolan summarizes:

  • aggressive marketing;
  • intense improvement of test scores in math and science;
  • reinforcing vigorous Catholic identity;
  • recruitment, training, and retention of first-rate principals and faculty;
  • robust regional collaboration;
  • higher enrollments, especially among our Latino students;
  • development of pre-and after-care programs in our schools;
  • looking into longer school days and a more extended school year;
  • expanding availability of scholarships.

Whatever misgivings there may be about the Pathways to Excellence plan, it’s encouraging to see a leader take an unmistakable stand and force his Catholic schools out of the status quo.  What might happen if more bishops followed suit?


To view the whole film, which is awesome, visit

A promising outcome of the landslide victory of the Republicans in the House and significant gains in the Senate, is the likelihood that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program will rise again.  Phased out by the Obama Administration and an antagonistic Democratic Congress, the D.C. OSP offered scholarships for some 1,700 low-income children in D.C., a place with notoriously bad urban public schools, to attend private schools of choice.  For many, this was a ticket out of a failing and potentially unsafe public school into a nurturing school that provided hope for a better life.  It was a tragedy when it was canceled, and helped cause the closing of up to four D.C. Catholic Schools.

With Speaker Boehner, a Catholic school advocate and a D.C. OSP supporter, at the helm, and Rep. Kline likely to take the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, it looks likely that the OSP will see a new day. I am hopeful, and think it is likely, that it will rise up bigger and better protected than before.

The Washington Times reported on Nov. 9

A spokeswoman for Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and likely chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said her boss and other House leaders continue to support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program and intend to pursue its revival.

“Congressman Kline is very focused on restoring the program,” spokeswoman Alexa Marrero said.

She added that presumptive House Speaker-to-be John A. Boehner and Rep. Darrell Issa, incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees D.C. affairs, also “remain strong supporters” of the D.C. voucher program.

The National Review published this article online on Nov. 4

An overlooked group of winners from Tuesday’s landslide election is low-income children living in Washington, D.C.  Speaker Boehner is likely to make reviving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program a priority in the next Congress, setting the stage for an interesting confrontation with President Obama.

Since the 1990s, Boehner has championed policies to expand school choice options for kids trapped in low-performing schools. As the chairman of the Education Committee in 2004, he supported the Bush administration’s successful effort to create a pilot school voucher program in Washington, D.C. He also successfully pressed for school vouchers in the emergency federal aid package to help the many kids who were displaced by the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005.

Beyond his work as a legislator, Boehner has been a tireless advocate for inner-city parochial schools. For years, Boehner has co-sponsored annual charity events with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (and other Democratic leaders), raising millions to help struggling parochial schools in Washington, D.C. The events also have provided a preview into the Republican’s softer side (which the country saw first-hand Tuesday night). He’s known for his tendency to choke up when talking about the need to give poor children a chance to attend better schools, and presides over these charity events with a box of tissues close at hand.

I offered a lot of posts on this issue during the drama over the OSP re-authorization, but here is a favorite, the letter from leaders from the University of Notre Dame to Secretary of Education Duncan and Senator Durbin.

Op-Ed By: Robert J. Birdsell

I am encouraged by the recent amount of media and public interest in urban education in this country.  From the media excitement surrounding “Waiting for Superman” to the news this week of Joel Klein’s departure from the New York  school system, we as a nation are beginning to realize the crisis facing our inner cities and we are finally beginning to pay attention.

Today, a black male growing up in most cities in America has a better chance of being incarcerated at the age of 25 than of having a four-year college degree.  For Hispanics ages 25-29, less than 10% who go on to college complete a degree.  These facts are a national disgrace that is beginning to be understood, and it is no wonder many experts are thinking that we need Superman to fix this crisis.

However, Superman did arrive fifteen years ago, and his name is Fr. John Foley, a Jesuit priest who spent 34 years teaching and running schools in Peru.  In 1995, he was called back to America to open a new school on the southwest side of Chicago.  This school was to serve only low income students with limited educational options.  The uniqueness of the school was that the students were to work one day a week in some of the best companies in Chicago – McKinsey & Co., Deloitte, DePaul University and Winston and Strawn, to name just a few of the firms that signed on to the program.  They worked in real jobs and their earnings paid for over half of the expenses of their education.

Fifteen years later, Fr. Foley’s original school, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, has resulted in a national movement.  The Cristo Rey Network was formed to replicate the school and ensure the quality of the new schools.  Thanks to the generosity of the Cassin Education Initiative Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, today there are 24 Cristo Rey Network schools serving over 6,500 students and working with over 1,500 corporate partners.  There are also nine other communities in various stages of starting a Cristo Rey Network school.

Even more impressive than this rapid growth are the results that Cristo Rey schools are achieving.  For the class of 2008, 100% of the graduates were accepted to college and, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, over 84% of those graduates have enrolled in college – more than twice the average for the population these schools serve.

Cristo Rey is a new innovation based on an old idea – that Catholic schools should provide students from low-income urban families with a high-quality education that develops their talent for success in college and beyond.  Furthermore, Cristo Rey is a new educational model – whereby we finance urban private schools through an innovative corporate work study program in which teams of students job-share full-time positions in professional settings, and thus develop skills, habits, experiences and dispositions necessary for long-term success.

Fr. Foley’s work over the past fifteen years has allowed thousands of young people to receive the quality education they and their parents dreamed of.  He has been fighting this crisis – just like Superman – for over 50 years, first in Peru and now in America.  So instead of waiting for Superman, those interested in true education reform have no further to turn than the local Cristo Rey Network school in their city.

Robert J. Birdsell is the President & CEO of the Cristo Rey Network

Thanks to Nick Senger at the Catholic School Chronicle for catching this nice response of Pope Benedict when asked what it means to be a teacher today.

Being an educator means having joy in one’s heart and communicating it to everyone so as to make life good and beautiful; it means providing reasons and goals for life’s journey, presenting the beauty of the person of Jesus and making people love Him, His lifestyle, His freedom. … Above all it means holding up the goal of … that ‘extra’ that comes to us from God. This requires personal knowledge of Jesus, a personal, daily and loving contact with Him in prayer, meditation on the Word of God, faithfulness to the Sacraments, the Eucharist, Confession; it means communicating the joy of being part of the Church, of having friends with whom to share, not only the difficulties but also the beauties and surprises of a life of faith.

You will be good educators if you are able to involve everyone in the good of the young. You cannot be self-sufficient but must make the vital importance of educating the young generations felt at all levels. Without the presence of the family, for example, you risk building on sand; without a collaboration with schools it is not possible to create a profound knowledge of the faith; without the involvement of the those who work in the sector of leisure and communication your patient efforts risk being unproductive and ineffective in daily life.

Dr. Timothy McNiff and Archbishop Timothy Dolan have a tough road ahead in the Archdiocese of New York. They are tasked with bringing a network of 185 independently managed, mostly urban, private Catholic schools that have been losing enrollment (= no cash flow) into solvency, sustainability and health.

Though there could hardly be two more capable and ardent supporters of Catholic education than Archbishop Dolan and Dr. McNiff, though they have formulated an ambitious plan to try to establish a foundation upon which to build and sustain the future of Catholic education in New York, this remains a very difficult task, and one that will get much harder before it gets easier.

There are 32 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York assessed to be at risk and that are likely to lose their archdiocesan subsidy.  For many, this will mean inevitable closure in the coming months.  Catholic school closures are always extremely emotional, especially for the parents and children at the schools, the parishioners, alumni and local residents. As difficult as it is to say, this is the right decision.  Archdiocesan leaders need to  use limited resources wisely to continue to serve sustainable and viable Catholic schools.  Unfortunately, too often this means closing some schools that simply are no longer viable.

“These under-enrolled schools require significant financial support from the archdiocese, which cannot be sustained indefinitely,” said Dr. Timothy McNiff, schools superintendent for the archdiocese, which yesterday released its list of “at risk” schools.

“We need to allocate our resources where they can do the most good, and support schools that can sustain themselves over time,” said McNiff, whose 185-school system is in the midst of a massive reconfiguration.”

Here is a helpful summary from the AP.

NEW YORK (AP) — The Archdiocese of New York has released a list of 32 struggling Catholic schools that could be forced to close under a plan that would strip them of financial subsidies.

The list of “at-risk” schools released Tuesday, includes 15 schools in New York City and 17 schools in Westchester and upstate counties. All but one are elementary schools.

The Archdiocese says the schools, which contain 4,561 students, have seen a decline in enrollment of 34 percent over the past five years.

Under the plan, principals and pastors at the “at-risk” schools will be allowed to argue that their schools should continue receiving subsidies. Archbishop Timothy Dolan will then make a final decision in January, 2011.

Ultimately, this is not a solution, even if it is a necessary strategy towards a healthy Catholic school system in New York.  A leader in Catholic education once said, “Downsizing is not a vision.”  Ultimately, we need to push the solutions that will change the dire conditions in which Catholic schools are struggling to survive.  The plan of the Archdiocese of New York (Pathways to Excellence) is guided by a strong vision and strong leaders, and it will be an important case to watch and to learn from in the months and years ahead.  But over the long term, I continue to be affirmed in the conviction that little can replace good public policy that makes Catholic schools accessible to all families through vouchers and tax-credits and that levels the playing field for schools to compete and for  families to chose the best school options for their kids.

An interesting article from the Catholic News Agency on the case before the Supreme Court challenging the Arizona tax credit program.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that a school voucher program in Ohio which gives parents a tuition grant to be used toward a range of secular or religious schools did not violate the establishment clause. In April 2009, however, a panel of judges on the 9th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Arizona tax credit program might still amount to an establishment of religion.

The Obama administration disagreed—noting that the Arizona statute does not privilege religious education, and maintaining that it passes the constitutional test at least as easily as the Ohio vouchers. As the high court heard oral arguments in the case on November 3, Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to agree with the White House’s position.

In a strong gesture of support for the Christian tuition organization, acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kaytal said opponents of the tax credit had no case. “Not a cent” of taxpayers’ money was even indirectly funding religious schools, the solicitor general observed. “Not a fraction of a cent … As you track the taxpayers’ dollars, it doesn’t actually fund any religious program.”

Thus, the Obama-appointed solicitor general said, challengers of the Arizona law could not bring a complaint as taxpayers, nor could they claim an establishment of religion.

Expect to hear more about this…

Did you know that there was a flying Saint?  Saint Joseph of Cupertino was said to have levitated and even fly (on as many as 70 occasions) apparently creating quite the spectacle for the 17th century Franciscans.  So here is a silly question: Could St. Joseph of Cupertino be the Superman our nation’s urban students have been waiting for?  I think he might be.  Here’s why.

St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of astronauts, which is the closest I could find to Rocketships.  Rocketship is the name of a charter school network that is doing some really interesting things with technology, and could offer a great model for urban Catholic schools.  This is the idea of a thoughtful new group of Catholic education supporters called Seton Education Partners, and may be a solution for some of the urgent problems facing urban Catholic schools.

Rocketship is a California based model of charter schools with an innovative use of technology that both saves  operating costs and improves educational quality.  Here is a description from the Rocketship website explaining their “unique hybrid education model.”

Rocketship Education is reinventing the elementary school education model. Each student attends one block of Math/Science, one block of Learning Lab, and two blocks of Literacy/Social Studies each day. In Learning Lab, students work on computers to focus on individual learning needs. Learning Lab does not require certified teachers and allows Rocketship to reduce staffing by five teachers and five classrooms per school, saving $500,000 per year.

Rocketship reinvests these savings into building better schools.

This reinvestment goes to a variety of strategic areas from leadership formation to higher teacher salaries.

The basic idea of our friends at Seton Partners is this, maybe the Rocketship approach can be used to open or sustain urban Catholic schools and cut down on operating costs while still providing a high quality Catholic education for urban youth.  Who knows, some day soon we might see a flock of St. Joseph of Cupertino Catholic Schools in our urban neighborhoods?  Or maybe they will be Saint Isidore of Seville Catholic Schools, after the patron saint of technology, computers and the internet?  Either way, this is a strategy worth exploring.

It is worth adding that a lot of attention has recently been drawn to the emerging role of technology in education.  From Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class, which predicts something of a revolution in the education industry due to computer based learning, to the considerable growth of virtual schools in states throughout the country, it is increasingly clear that technology will play a prominent role in the future of education. How will Catholic education respond to this disruptive innovation?  With a more adaptable education model, the lack of pressure from teacher’s unions to maintain the status quo, and maybe a little intercession from St. Joseph of Cupertino, urban Catholic schools could catch the wave of technological innovation and be better suited to continue their educational mission into the future.


Very quick post.  I share this video for two reasons:

1) The animation is fun to watch, and,

2) While I won’t get into the details of his remarks and where they are and aren’t spot-on, all the issues he raises are important and things people who care about education should be thinking about.

I’d be interested to know where he got some of his information from.

(And, as I mentioned briefly in my last offering and Mike discusses more eloquently in his most recent post, Catholic schools have not only been thinking about these things for a long time, they’ve been responding to a lot of it.)