Several months ago, I came across a magazine article titled “ 25 Things You Just Don’t See Anymore.” I’m sure we’ve all seen this sort of thing before. As you might expect, it listed items, ideas, and experiences that were – as recently as 10 years ago – considered everyday, but which seem to have disappeared. At the very least, they seem (according to the author) to be trending toward extinction. Lunch pails were one item. Drive-in movies were another. Vinyl LPs, soda jerks, and neighborhood-wide games of capture the flag were on the list. So were Catholic schools.
I sure hope that last one isn’t true. That would be very, very bad. It would be bad for everyone, regardless of their color or creed, regardless of whether they had ever stepped foot in a Catholic school or even had the slightest sense of what makes them distinct. Catholic schools matter a great deal. They matter to our entire K-12 education sector, and they matter to the vibrancy of American civic life. We all have a stake in ensuring a vibrant, authentic, and culturally responsive system of K-12 Catholic education.
Perhaps no one else has more at stake in the movement to support Catholic schools than low-income families. Research on the racial achievement gap is expansive, and the picture it paints is troubling. To put it mildly, low-income children are at an extraordinary disadvantage in comparison to their more affluent peers with regard to their ability to access high quality K-12 educational options.
This crisis is exacerbated to an almost incomprehensible level if the author of that magazine article was right about Catholic schools. Historically, Catholic schools have represented the most successful educational enterprise for fostering achievement among predominantly urban low-income children. This phenomenon, often referred to as the Catholic School Advantage has been well studied, and we see attempts to replicate these effects in many of the more innovative reform measures of recent years.
Catholic schools are indeed threatened. Some believe that if radical steps aren’t taken immediately, urban Catholic schools will be virtually extinct within 10 years. At the same time, the last decade has seen a proliferation of new Catholic school models that represent some of the most promising signs of educational innovation in the last half century.
To summarize, the achievement gap that plagues our nation has created a situation in which the children of low-income families are at enormous risk. And the one institution that is proven to boost their odds of successfully facing that risk—Catholic schools—are fast disappearing. So this is a conversation worth having. We need to think critically and speak openly about the legacy and future of this vital national treasure. We look forward to hearing from you.