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The past few years have seen the birth of a number of new organizations and initiatives in support of k-12 Catholic schools, largely in response to the onslaught of closings and the deep awareness of the vital contribution that Catholic schools make to our communities, our nation and our Church.  When so much of the news is dire for Catholic education, it’s worth stepping back a bit to see the rebirth that is taking place around us.  If necessity is the mother of invention, then a sustained 50 year crisis must be worth something!  And there has been a notable amount of invention recently that offers  hope for the future of Catholic education in the U.S.

Here is a list of major new initiatives emerging over the past couple of years that could make a meaningful contribution to Catholic schools nationally or regionally.  This list is not exhaustive nor does it pretend to be, and hits heavily on activities at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, with which I am most familiar.  But its a good start and I’m happy to add activities that I’ve missed if folks will share the good news!

ACE Consulting

Catholic Alumni Partnership

Catholic Education SIG at AERA

Catholic School Advantage Campaign

Center for Catholic Education at LMU

CHEC

Program for k-12 Educational Access

ND ACE Academies

Seton Education Partners

In the days ahead I’ll offer a little profile of each of these exciting new initiatives in support of Catholic education.

Yes Yes Ya’ll.

A project that’s been occupying much of my time lately… The Institute for Educational Initiatives Supporting Recovery of Schooling in Haiti.

The University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI) and Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) are making major contributions to support Haiti’s recovery from the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. One initiative to rebuild educational infrastructure is placing shovels in the ground this week.

That work is underway at the Basil Moreau School, a distinguished primary and secondary school complex in Port-au-Prince that was hit hard by the earthquake. At the school, administered by the Congregation of Holy Cross and serving an impoverished community, the secondary education section was destroyed and the primary school suffered major structural damage.

In another relief project in that country, a partnership including Notre Dame and ACE is establishing a Teacher Institute that will educate the next generation of Haitian schoolteachers. With help from Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency, a network of partners has been coming together to develop administrative structures and consider sites that would enable an innovative, ambitious approach to teacher education.

Many of the country’s primary and secondary schoolteachers today have little or no formal training. The priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the same order that founded Notre Dame in Indiana, have earned a reputation of educational excellence while serving in Haiti since 1944. They plan to lead the new program of teacher education with help from ACE, which is recognized as a major force in the United States forming tomorrow’s Catholic school leaders. Other partners in the project include Haiti’s Ministry of Education and universities in Quebec, Canada.

“Quality education is the sine qua non for rebuilding a better Haiti,” Father Scully said. “That is why ACE and the IEI are committed to supporting educational rebuilding and renewal in Haiti with our partners in the Congregation of Holy Cross. We believe that, together, through efforts like rebuilding Basil Moreau School and supporting the development of a new Teacher Institute, we can offer a brighter future for the children of Haiti.

It’s worth noting that Catholic schools represent over 40% of the schools in Haiti and most of the quality educational establishments.  With 80% private education, the vast majority of which is faith-based, Haiti must build upon the existing strengths of the private education system while reducing school fees to make schools more accessible for all children.  For this reason Haiti’s national education rebuilding plan is essentially a large voucher plan.  Perhaps the U.S. could learn a thing or two from Haiti no this one!!!

Given the size of the private school sector, this will be an incredible experiment for the power of choice in education.  Haiti has a lot of work to do to realize its plans… rebuilding thousands of schools, training tens of thousands of teachers, improving the curriculum, standards and assessment systems, raising the proportion of government spending for education, improving taxation, and effectively managing a complex financial system for school funding with appropriate accountability and performance incentives… all amidst political uncertainty, cholera, mountains of rubble and crippling poverty.

May God bless Haiti’s rebuilding efforts and give her children hope for a new day.

From Port-au-Prince, signing off…

As national school choice week begins, here is a little round-up of some promising legislative and advocacy action going on around the country.

Check out the National School Choice Week website for various activities being planned in your state.

A promising scholarship tax-credit bill gets out of committee in New Jersey, where it was previously stalled for months.

There would be a limit of 3,900 scholarships in the first year, which would expand to 40,000 by the fifth year. The scholarships are expected to be about $8,000 for each elementary school student and $11,000 for each high school student.

Pennsylvania has bi-partisan support to expand school choice in the state.

Greater school choice is being proposed by a bipartisan group of state senators. Among them is Philadelphia’s own Democratic senator, Anthony Hardy Williams, who made school choice a focal point of his platform in his run for governor last year.

Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia announced a push for school choice in this legislative session, and things look promising there to move forward.

The Governor also announced legislation which will establish a tax credit for companies donating to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to help lower income students attend nonpublic schools.

The Department of Taxation would be responsible for issuing the tax credits. The Department would be allowed to issue up to $25 million in tax credits in each fiscal year of the Commonwealth.

Mitch Daniels in Indiana is putting forward one of the most aggressive parental choice legislative packages anywhere, with both a non-capped voucher program and a much more robust corporate tax-credit program.  He went to bat for it big time during his State of the State Address, and a recent poll suggest that Indiana voters have his back.

South Carolina has tax-credit legislation in play.

Milwaukee has the possibility of expanding their already very large voucher program.  Messmer Catholic School, the oldest in Milwaukee, continues to grow steadily.  This should be the story of all Catholic schools in Milwaukee benefiting from a more even playing field through the large voucher program.

Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada attacks the historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments as he pushes for a constitutional amendment in the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature to allow for tax dollars to be used in a school voucher program that would include faith-based schools.

And a major national add campaign coincides to bring the issue more national prominence.

There is a lot more going on out there, I am sure, but that’s a wrap for tonight! Read the rest of this entry »

I wanted to offer a bit more about Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, the driving force behind the Catholic School Advantage (CSA): The campaign to increase Latino participation in Catholic schools sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education.

Specifically, he offers a beautiful reflection about his Christmas in a small town in Mexico.  A key message of the CSA campaign is to foster greater cultural responsiveness in our Catholic schools.  Reading about Fr. Joe’s reflection and spiritual journey in Mexico is a great place to start your cultural education.

A great article in the U.S. Catholic called an Unexcusable Absence: Catholic Schools Recruit Hispanic Students.  As I was very involved with the Latino Task Force at Notre Dame and worked closely with Fr. Corpora to help launch the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, I can say with confidence that this article hits the nail on the head.

At the forefront of this new outreach effort, the University of Notre Dame in December 2008 commissioned a Task Force on the Participation of Latinos in Catholic Schools. The ambitious goal of this project, which reflects complementary desires to close the Latino academic achievement gap and to reverse enrollment declines in urban Catholic schools, is to double the percentage of Latinos attending Catholic schools, from 3 to 6 percent by 2020. Given population growth estimates, this goal means increasing the national enrollment of Latino children in Catholic schools from 290,000 to more than 1 million students over the next decade, according to the university.

Just more than a year into the campaign, Notre Dame’s Father Joe Corpora, the task force’s co-chair, says it’s too soon to see significant growth in Hispanic Catholic school enrollment, but he can tell that awareness already has heightened.

“This has been met with more interest and enthusiasm than anything we’ve tried to do,” Corpora says. “Every pastor and principal has asked us the question, ‘How can we get more Latinos in the Catholic schools?’”

Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education so far is consulting with schools in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Brooklyn, and San Antonio. It has received inquiries from schools in at least 50 more cities but lacks the resources to partner with all of them, Corpora says, noting he has logged 80 trips to those five cities over the past 14 months.

Lost in immigration

While acknowledging that Bonesz’ predicament is very real, the task force has discovered that it’s more than financial constraints keeping most Hispanic families away from Catholic schools, Corpora says. Two other factors are at play: First, in most Latin American countries there is no such thing as a parish school, so the entire concept is new to many Latino immigrants. Used to Catholic “academies” serving only the most affluent families, families do not even check out local Catholic schools. “They have no idea there are scholarships and aid available,” Corpora says.

Also, Catholic schools in the United States have been slow to realize the differences between Latino immigrants and the descendants of Western European immigrants who founded the schools.

“They’re not culturally responsive to Latinos, which means the culture of the school looks nothing like the culture of their homes,” Corpora says. Because many Latino immigrants work hourly wage jobs, for example, they lack flexibility in their schedules to meet with school staff as needed. Also, many schools’ printed marketing materials never reach them, especially those only in English.

“Our schools for years and years served immigrants. When the immigrants stopped looking like immigrants, we’ve never re-invented our schools to serve today’s immigrants,” Corpora says. “The church has not gotten smart enough to adapt to the local clientele.”

In an 18-month pilot project aided by consulting from Notre Dame’s ACE program, the Diocese of Brooklyn is targeting 30 of its schools situated in areas with large Hispanic population growth in recent years. The goal is to boost Hispanic enrollment 10 to 15 percent by this fall, says Brooklyn diocesan schools superintendent Thomas Chadzutko.

Among the most critical elements is a plan to implement a more personal outreach to Latino parents and adopting a more culturally sensitive outlook, Chadzutko says.

“It’s getting involved with Latino celebrations at the parish level, being a part of Latino prayer groups, and just providing them information on what Catholic education is in the United States,” he says.

An interesting post about the revitalization of St. Jerome’s Catholic Classical School in Hyattsville, Maryland.  The post expresses the opinion that Catholic schools have adopted an essentially public school model, and done so to their detriment.  I’d be curious to hear what folks think about this…

The parish had the sense to abandon the sterile and futile public school framework for their school, and go back to the future to adopt a classical model of education for K-8. The apparent result has been a vibrant, successful school which incorporates the reality of God in Christ into the fabric of life, overcoming the bizarre dissociation modernity imposes between creation and Creator by treating “religion” as if it were one among several more interesting “subjects” occupying compartments in the life of the analyzed self.

Truth be told, I’ve been disappointed with my experience with my local parochial school, Saint Paul’s in Wellesley, because it has long struck me as being not a whole lot more than a public school with a Catholic veneer – such as First Friday Masses, and “religion” classes daily, instead of weekly CCD fiascos – errr, classes. I know there are other important differences – mostly things that one happily won’t find at Saint Paul’s, plus an overall vastly higher level of behavior from the children – but there’s still so many arrows left in the quiver. What Saint Jerome’s is doing, I truly hope represents the beginnings of a broad revitalization of Catholic education in the US:

The curriculum emphasizes the conviction that human culture expresses the natural desire for God, and that Christianity is therefore historically and culturally decisive. Curriculum committee member Rebecca Teti says, “Jesus Christ is the Lord of history, and God is the author of truth, beauty, and goodness. We wanted kids to see their unity, their connectedness to all people, and the goodness [Catholic] culture has brought to history.”

Hanby adds, “Christ cannot ultimately be the center of students’ lives if He is not at the center of history and existence and if He does not satisfy the longings implanted in them. The public-school-education-plus-religion-class model ends up reinforcing the impression that religion has little to do with real life. We wanted to overcome the separation of faith and life by showing how profoundly Christ and the Church have affected history and culture — and by giving students something better to love.”

New Superintendent of Catholic Schools job opening for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, WV posted Jan. 6.

The national education reform organization, Democrats for Education Reform, are opening a chapter in Indiana and are likely to have an outspoken role in the upcoming debate in Indiana.

As the Indystar.com reported:

Every Wednesday morning for several months, a group of local Democrats has gathered for breakfast to address a tremendous problem for their party in Indiana: the idea that Democrats are obstinate roadblocks standing in the way of education reform.

The group has spent hours talking about hot-button education issues such as charter schools, teacher evaluation measures and school turnaround efforts.

But the power of the state teachers union, and the piles of cash it provides to candidates, has led many Statehouse Democrats to block changes that would significantly help students and families in areas represented by many of those same legislators.

…the early-morning group has spent months preparing for the upcoming launch of the Indiana chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, joining a national effort that has spread to several states. They will announce the formation of their group in coming days and plan to start a political action committee that will raise money for reform-minded Democratic candidates for local and state offices.

Though Democrats for Education Reform support school choice, it will be interesting to see how this particular debate plays out in Indiana.  It is likely to be the most contentious of the issues on the table.

 

The first National School Choice Week is coming up and leading politicians are being asked whether they are “in.”

Speaker Boehner is.