You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2011.

(Guest Post by Shannon Stackhouse Flores)

As a graduate of a doctoral program at a large public university, to even say the words “school choice” or “Catholic education” causes me to cringe in fear of retribution from many of my colleagues. For this reason, I have hesitated in the past to identify myself with the school choice movement, at least as a political concept.

In order to expand the reach of my passion, however, I think it is very important to define for myself and for others my convictions at this moment, as a fairly young researcher. It is impossible to deny that my viewpoint has been very much formed by my own schooling experiences (Catholic K-8, magnet high school, private undergraduate institution, Catholic graduate school and public graduate school) as well as by the foundational fact that I am black and Catholic, the latter largely a result of my elementary experience.

That out of the way, one of my hesitations in joining this debate has been that despite a great fondness for Catholic education, I chose to enter the field of education policy NOT primarily in order to further the aims and viability of Catholic schools, but rather to be part of the contingent of people really pushing for greater justice within the educational system at large. My general passion is for children, particularly poor and minority (be they Catholic or non-Catholic) who daily suffer the injustice of low quality education. My concern is for kids who attend schools that are at best places to go to get off the streets and at worst just as dangerous as the neighborhoods from which they come. I have recently been researching some Chicago public school data (not to point fingers; this just happens to be the data I have been researching) and while I am fully aware of all of the difficulties inherent in using testing data – particularly as a snapshot and in the aggregate – to measure performance, I ran across some such data that was truly horrifying. More or less randomly, I encountered multiple public high schools in which only 15% or 20% of students met state testing standards in reading and math. Regardless of what the specific standards are, this means that a majority of those students will leave school not knowing how to read or perform calculations at even the most basic of levels. It literally turns my stomach that there are hundreds of youth, still children really, who are going to leave school unequipped with even the basic level of skills with which to survive in our society, much less having the opportunity to thrive in our knowledge economy. For those schools to even be called schools is to me a crime against humanity, specifically that of the children they purport to serve. (Note: I understand/believe that in many places, schools are called upon to do far too much; essentially to function in dysfunctional communities. That is a topic for another post. For now, let us just consider it at the very least a crime of our society against a portion of itself that we allow schools like this to exist.)

The fact is that there are schools that do succeed with poor and minority kids: some charter, some private, some Catholic, some public. I believe that schools that do succeed in this area MUST be rewarded. Perhaps any school that meets certain academic standards and brings poor and minority children up to grade level (or beyond) could receive some amount of funding… and those schools, of all kinds, that are serving their student populations the worst, can be closed and their funding redirected.

I know that the issue of church/state separation is not trivial, do not consider it so myself. But there must be a way to create standards by which as long as certain ideals are upheld (and others explicitly not proffered), and as long as all publicly funded schools share some common ways of measuring success, we can begin to better sustain schools like those inner-city Catholic schools that have historically maintained that poor immigrant and brown children CAN learn, and have a system already in place for ensuring that they do.

At the end of the day, we really need to increase the urgency of this issue. I do not know or really care to know what political label to place upon my viewpoints, but I do know that as a new mother, my little family’s near limitless freedom of educational opportunity is very clear and extremely valuable to me. Also crystal clear is the fact that nothing is as important to me as ensuring that my daughter will be safe, happy, and loved by all to whose care she is entrusted; and that every possible opportunity be available to her. Every child deserves all of those things. I know that “my people” as a whole still fail to secure these very basic human necessities at far too great a rate. We know how important education is in improving quality of life along every dimension. We just need to work harder, more quickly, and with greater passion to extend access to quality schools to those who need it the most.

(Guest Post by Daniel Bowen)

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say, “school choice?”  For me, it’s spaghetti sauce.  Now, before you begin psychoanalyzing my mental association of education and Italian cuisine, let me explain.

The evolution of spaghetti sauce exemplifies the importance of variability in a marketplace.  Back in the 1980s, Prego hired Dr. Howard Moskowitz to find a sauce better than that of the sauce champion of the day, Ragu.  However, after extensive field research on consumer preferences, Moskowitz would ultimately fail to find the “Holy Grail of Sauces.”  Instead, he concluded that there was no perfect sauce.  Rather, diversity in tastes and preferences of consumers dictated the need for several “perfect sauces.”  (Malcolm Gladwell gives an extensive overview of Moskowitz’s research – found here).

While you would be hard-pressed to find an adversary to an increase in spaghetti sauce options (except maybe Ragu at the time), increasing school choice is much more contested.  Moskowitz’s research and arguments may focus on spaghetti sauce, but these can be applied to school options too.  Let’s look at three of the central arguments Moskowitz makes for spaghetti sauce variability and apply them to school choice:

1. Informing Consumers

Spaghetti Sauce: Moskowitz discovered that consumers liked variety if given proper information.  The majority of consumers aren’t product innovators or experts.  So, when Prego initially surveyed the public about what they wanted, they either didn’t know or simply reiterated the qualities of sauces they already consumed.  However, after experimenting with recipes and making people aware of different types of sauces, one in three consumers would ultimately prefer chunkier sauce. They just didn’t know this preference until they were made aware of and offered such a sauce.

Schools: Schools work the same way.  One of the great obstacles to an effective system of choice is providing information for choosers.  A parent may be familiar with the schools they went through, but they may not be aware of other options.  As a case and point, many first year D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) parents admit that they sent their children to schools without even making a visit to the school.  They just heard or presumed the school was good based on reputation.  Parents may unknowingly prefer single-sex education or greater emphasis on the fine arts.  They might just be unaware that such options exist.

2. Horizontal Segmentation

Spaghetti Sauce: Once the notion that other options exist, it becomes clear that consumers have a wide range of preferences.  Some consumers prefer a “garden fresh” sauce.  Others long for something spicier.  The key to satisfying a given consumer is not found in a singular, magical recipe.  Moskowitz found that a plurality of those surveyed preferred a chunkier sauce, but he warned Prego to not be simply satisfied with altering their main sauce.  Instead, he advocated that Prego would benefit more from casting a wider net to meet the needs of more consumers.

Schools: Once again, the same goes for schools. Some parents want religious instruction.  Others long for something spicier.  Different students have different needs.  Different parents have different preferences.  Simply tweaking one “recipe” does not suit the needs of the entire market.  Variability in both cases is the key to satisfying a diverse group of consumers.

3. Challenging the “Platonic Dish”

Spaghetti Sauce: The initial resistance to trying different sauce recipes stemmed from producers deferring to “experts.”  Spaghetti sauce chefs and their recipes, prior to Moskowitz, mostly stuck with tradition.  It was believed that there was a singular, best way to mass produce sauce and no one challenged the “experts.”  Moskowitz warned that this mentality would deter innovation and its byproducts.

Schools: Just like sauce producers, parents often defer to the “experts.”  Traditionally, with the exceptions of homeschoolers and private school attendees, parents would enroll their children in the neighborhood public school and this was held as the best way to mass educate students.  However, like sauce, strictly adhering to the “Platonic Dish” restricts our ability to innovate new and better ways to educate our nation’s students.

Moskowitz’s research would ultimately make Prego hundreds of millions of dollars from just their line of extra-chunky sauces.  And, if you need further evidence of Moskowitz’s impact, just spend a little extra time in the pasta aisle next time you frequent the grocery store.  Catholic schools have certainly demonstrated how catering to new tastes can spark innovation through the creation of new school formats found in Cristo Rey, the Notre Dame ACE Academies, Catholic School K-12 Virtual, the numerous single-sex schools provided, etc.  Hopefully, we will see the number of schooling options made available to parents become as expansive as our spaghetti sauce options.

This morning, the Senate committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, headed by Senator Joe Lieberman, heard testimony regarding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. (The video and text of the speakers’ testimony can be found here).

I’d like to give a shout out to Dr. Patrick Wolf (who starts at 94:32) from here at the School Choice Demonstration Project in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, who testified about the IES-sponsored evaluation of the program.

Some of the facts from his testimony that anyone talking about the OSP needs to know:

1. The DC OSP “serves a highly disadvantaged group of students”.  How disadvantaged?  The average family income of scholarship recipients was less than $20,000.

2.  OSP students graduated from High School at signifigantly higher rates than the control group (those that applied but lost the scholarship lottery). Students that were offered a voucher graduated at a rate 12 percentage points higher than those that were not, and students that used that scholarship graduated at a rate 21 percentage points higher.  Those students that came from SINI schools (the lowest performing D.C. schools) graduated at a 13 percentage point higher rate if offered a scholarship and a 20 percentage point (from 66% to 86%) higher rate if they used that scholarship.

3. We can believe, with 94% confidence, that the OSP had a positive effect on student reading scores.  These reading gains roughly equate to 2.8 additional months of schooling for the entire treatment group (those offered scholarships) and 3.4 additional months of schooling for those that used their scholarship.

4.  All of these great things were accomplished with only $7500 per student in a city whose public schools spend, per-student,  $28,000+ dollars per year.


Let’s hope the truth will set the students of D.C. free.


De – mol – ish (Verb):

1. Pull or knock down (a building).
2. Comprehensively refute (an argument or its proponent).

Derrell Bradford (from E3, school choice champions of New Jersey) vs. apologist for the status quo. There is nothing I can add, and if you know me, that’s saying something.

It is the second video on the link.

Two Quick Links for ya’ll this beautiful Monday morning:

1.  Cory Booker’s Testimony before the New Jersey Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee regarding the Opportunity Scholarship Act– Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Cory Booker, especially when he gets revved up about the 4:30 mark, and his comments about the “infantilization” of the poor are right on.  However, I might have to disagree with his belief in voucher or tax-credit scholarships simply as an “escape hatch” for kids in failing schools.   Even if schools are not failing, it is still not OK that some folks get to pick where their kids go to school and some folks don’t because they don’t have as much money.


2.  Big ups to St. Joseph’s University’s new teacher training program.  Who knows, maybe getting compared to Teach for America might get ya’ll  some of that cash.


This post by Fr. Tim Scully, CSC, and a reprinted excerpt from an original post at Spes Unica, a vocations and discernment blog of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Fr. Nate Wills, C.S.C., teaching high school

In Holy Cross, we recognize the value of this providential legacy. But we also recognize that our goal isn’t just to keep the legacy alive – we’re not interested in life support or, worse, hospice! Instead, we need to bring this vision of hope boldly into the 21st century. And we need courageous witnesses to continue to take up the challenge – men like the Holy Cross pastors, priests, seminarians, and lay collaborators that you will hear from on this blog throughout Catholic Schools Week.

The central educational problem our Catholic Schools face today is captured by a dynamic that can best be summarized in three statements of fact. First: poor kids are in deep trouble. Second: there is an intervention that works. And finally: this intervention is not reaching the kids that need it.

An ACE-trained teacher in the classroom

 Poor Kids are in Trouble

First: Poor kids are in deep trouble. The most disturbing problem we face today is the gap in achievement between poor and minority children and everyone else. The stats on achievement reveal a grave injustice, which we see clearly in the circumstances of our nation’s most recently arrived—and largest—immigrant group, Latino families. While many call it an achievement gap, it’s really an opportunity gap. Many of these kids are assigned to schools that doom them to lives of poverty.

The data are well known to us:
• Black and Latino 12th graders read at the same level as White 8th graders.
• Only 52 percent of Latino children and 51 percent of Black children graduate high school in four years, compared to 72 percent of White children.
• Only 16 percent of Hispanic children and 20 percent of Black children are considered college-ready –meaning they have a high school degree, have taken the bare minimum courses required for college, and meet basic literacy standards on national tests.
But we believe there’s an intervention that works to close the achievement gap.

Catholic Schools Work
Decades of research tell us that no system of schools – charter, private, or public – has demonstrated such proven effectiveness for the children most vulnerable to unsatisfactory schooling as Catholic schools. There is no other educational intervention with a track record like ours. We know that children who attend our schools are 42% more likely to graduate from high school, and 250% more likely to graduate from college.

We know that the achievement gap among Black and Hispanic 12th graders is typically reduced or even closed when these students attend Catholic schools. We know that Catholic school graduates are likely to earn higher wages than their public school peers, more likely to vote, more civically engaged, and more committed to service when they are adults. But …

Fr. John DeRiso, C.S.C.,
at St. Joseph Grade School

This Intervention Is Not Reaching Most Kids Who Need It
Why, for example, do only 3% of United States school-age Hispanic children attend Catholic schools, when the research has demonstrated convincingly that Catholic schools are especially effective at closing the achievement gap of minority students? From the disappearance of Catholic schools in urban areas, to financial barriers, both real and perceived, to the need for pastors who will make the courageous decisions needed to run and support an excellent school, the obstacles for poor families to send their children to affordable Catholic schools are real. But, as our ancestors in the faith and predecessors in Holy Cross have demonstrated, these obstacles are surmountable with the gifts of hope, hard work, creativity, prayer, and dedication.

An ACE-trained teacher
in the classroom

The challenges stared down by past generations must serve as inspiration and a prophetic call that Catholic schools can continue to thrive in their mission to bring an excellent, faith-filled education to all who seek it, including the poorest among us. True to the charism of Holy Cross, signs of hope are present in abundance, though none are available without great effort and single-minded dedication, inspired and sealed by the grace of the Spirit. You will see many of signs and pathways to hope in this blog this week. The Congregation of Holy Cross, especially in our K-12 schools and in our universities’ commitment to providing continued talent and leadership for Catholic schools, remain “men with hope to bring” as we confront the challenges of the 21st century.

(The Following is a guest post from Bill Schmitt, Communications and Media Specialist for the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame)

Why do you support Catholic schools? The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a nationally recognized initiative at the University of Notre Dame,  has been asking people that question—and providing answers—as part of a celebration of Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 30-Feb. 5.

Several commentators are posting their answers at the “ACE Advocates” website that is officially debuting during the week. The comments will also be appearing at the Advocates’ Facebook and Twitter sites. The website contains a related feature called “Why Catholic Schools?” and also summarizes decades of rigorous educational research on school effectiveness, all of which points toward what scholars call “the Catholic school advantage.”

The “why” and the “how” of supporting Catholic schools was also addressed by ACE on more than 100 Catholic radio stations on Monday, Jan. 31. ACE’s John Schoenig spoke about Catholic schools and school choice on the Son-Rise Morning Show, broadcast nationally. Schoenig is director of the Program for K-12 Educational Access within ACE Consulting.

ACE has participated in a number of media discussions about Catholic schools, from Our Sunday Visitor to US Catholic. Go to and click on the links in the “News” section of the homepage to see the articles. Follow the new ACE Advocates website to find the latest news plus opportunities to put one’s support for Catholic schools into action.

ACE Advocates is a national movement under the ACE umbrella, uniting Catholic school supporters to foster greater commitment to, support of, and innovation for Catholic schools. Other ACE initiatives at Notre Dame include a long-standing formation program for new Catholic school teachers that sends its participants to work in under-resourced schools around the country. A related initiative, the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, prepares its participants to become Catholic school principals and leaders in diocesan school systems.

ACE co-founder Rev. Timothy Scully, CSC, reflected on challenges and hope in Catholic schooling in a piece published Jan. 30.  His comments are posted at Spes Unica, a blog of the Congregation of Holy Cross vocations office.  Father Scully is director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, an academic unit that includes ACE’s master’s degree programs and interdisciplinary research endeavors such as the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, directed by distinguished sociologist Mark Berends.

Please feel free to spread the word about ACE’s activities. We welcome mutual linking. Comments or questions for any ACE people? Bill Schmitt can be your first step at and 574-631-3893.

In today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, James Shuls and I have an article arguing for school choice in the Show-Me State. In in we synthesize an argument started by Milton Friedman and clarified by Howard Fuller (amongst many others), explaining what the “public” in public education means.

“But more broadly, as eloquently described by former Milwaukee Public School Superintendent and lifelong civil rights crusader Howard Fuller, public schooling is an idea. It is the idea that we have an obligation to provide for the education of our children. People too often confuse the idea of public schooling with the mechanism that brings about that idea. If a school is educating children successfully, it is serving the public interest and accomplishing the goal of the idea of public education. There is a leap between the government providing for (that is, funding) public education and managing public education (that is, running its set of schools).”


There has been talk in Jefferson City about several Ed Reform initiatives for this legislative session.  We’ll see what develops….

Catholic schools observe a whole litany of holidays that secular schools pass over, or at least we celebrate them with a greatly amplified level of enthusiasm.  The religious holidays, at least, we share with other Christian schools, but there comes a week in the bleakest stretch of winter that is, as far as I know, unique to America’s Catholic schools.

Yes, friends, that’s right.  It’s Catholic Schools Week!

What that means depends largely on your community (and your feelings about it probably depend largely on just how enthusiastic the kids in your life get about it).  It probably includes pajama day, crazy sock day, sport day, twin day, and maybe an open house or a dance.  If you’re part of a really savvy school community, there may even be a press release in the mix.  In whatever way each community has deemed most fitting, Catholic schools across the country are celebrating their community, their existence, and their sheer awesomeness.  It’s a beautiful and often sugar-fueled thing.

That is the point of CSW – to celebrate all that we are, and all our children, families and parishes gain from being part of these institutions.  More recently, some Catholic schools have taken advantage of the opportunity not just to gather and rejoice, but to shout it from various rooftops: community events, media outlets, and social networking platforms, for example.  Check out the goings-on at your school – there will almost certainly be something happening.

Meanwhile, on a national level, the ACE Advocates for Catholic Schools are running a beautiful and incisive series highlighting the myriad of ways Catholic schools are vital to our Catholic community and our American society, centered around this year’s CSW theme – Catholic Schools: A+ for America.  Today’s post from Nick Senger, For Our Students, for instance, poignantly illustrates how a Catholic educational philosophy benefits and forms “whole kids” – not just their brains, which, while critically important, are far from the end of the story.  It and the other posts in the series are well worth your time.