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Michelle Rhee announced this morning that she has resigned as Chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools, effective at the end of the month.  Over the course of the past three and a half years, Rhee has been an extraordinary witness to hope for education reformers across the country, and she has done more than almost anyone else to draw attention to the unprecedented crisis facing our nation’s inner city schools.

I’m sure that a lively debate will now begin about how history will remember her time as Chancellor, as well as what her next step will be.  In the midst of that clamor, its important to remember that it was Michelle Rhee, the appointed administrator of one the most under-performing and mismanaged urban school districts in the country, who had the courage to defend the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded voucher program in the United States – a program which benefits hundreds of Catholic school families in the District, and which is sadly now slated for termination.  In the face of serious pressure from her opposition, Rhee had the courage to defend a program that benefited the children of her district, regardless of its political risk.

Archbishop Dolan is in the news, yet again.  And so is Waiting for Superman.

In a timely and thoughtful Daily News article, Archbishop Dolan offers a great insight on the importance of  K-12 Catholic education as ed reformers search desperately for a superhero.

Consider the following:

Superman is already here – and he’s waiting in the classrooms of New York’s Catholic schools.

If only the film had focused some of its attention on what is happening in our inner-city Catholic schools. I can’t help but be proud of what we have accomplished here in New York. Last June, 99% of our high school seniors graduated, and 96% pursued college.

These results are even more impressive considering Catholic schools serve the same demographic as public schools. Nearly 70% of children attending our inner-city Catholic schools come from families living at or below the federal poverty level, and 94% of our students are minorities. As reformers debate whether high-quality charter schools or traditional public schools better serve low-income children, Catholic schools should not be left shouting on the sidelines.

While the students in our schools have become more diverse over the years, the purpose of Catholic education remains the same. We provide a values-based, academically excellent and nurturing school to our children. Yes, we proudly teach our students about the Catholic faith, yet we also serve children of all faiths, or none at all, respect each of their backgrounds and care equally about their future.

Our schools still do a remarkable job with children – and they desperately need support from wider society.

To quote the Archbishop, Superman is indeed waiting.  And he could definitely use our help.

In other news, the Archdiocese of New York’s Office of the Superintendent of Schools just released the strategic plan discussed in an earlier post.  To download the plan, follow the link off this page. Might this bold vision for centralized financing represent the future of K-12 Catholic education in other urban areas?

McKinsey & Company recently released a thought provoking report (the link takes you to the summary; a full report can be downloaded from the site) examining the degree to which it may benefit American education to adopt a strategy for fostering teacher effectiveness by focusing less on the barrel, and more on the tree: that is, to place a systemic emphasis on attracting young people with the strongest academic background into the profession.

This is a strategy employed by most of the U.S.’s “aspirational peers” when it comes to primary and secondary education, including Singapore, South Korea, and Finland. These systems have adopted a systemic commitment to recruiting, attracting and retaining a critical mass of the top academic talent from their universities into teaching. By comparison, less than 25% of new teachers in the U.S. come from the top third.

The report examines the American public sector, but it stands to reason that at least some of it can be translated to K-12 Catholic schools.  That is, while ventures such as Notre Dame’s ACE Program, Boston College’s Urban Catholic Teacher’s Corp, Loyola Marymount’s PLACE Corps, and the rest of the community of Catholic higher education programs known as the University Consortium for Catholic Education have done extraordinary work to place top tier talent into our Catholic school classrooms, should we make a broader systemic effort to attract the very best and brightest to staff these schools? In some ways, that’s the easy question.  The hard one is, how?

In the latest installment of his distinctively informative and provocative school reform email updates, Whitney Tilson calls attention to the recent NY Times article outlining some of the steps that Archbishop Dolan has begun to take to act on his charge – discussed in yesterday’s post “Hitting the Nail on the Head” to “dare and dream” a new generation of Catholic schools.

For those of you unfamiliar with Whitney Tilson, here’s a brief wiki-style bio. In addition to his great work in the financial sector, Whitney is an absolutely tireless advocate for K-12 education reform.  He serves on the leadership team of KIPP, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), and a number of other reform oriented ventures. In his spare time, he somehow manages to run a school reform blog and author a regular school reform email series.  I encourage you to join the list to receive these emails; its a great way to stay in the loop on the happenings in K-12 ed reform.  To do so, simply email Whitney at WTilson@tilsonfunds.com.

The NYT article discusses Archbishop Dolan’s plan to revitalize Catholic education within the Archdiocese by restructuring the Church/school relationship: that is, to institute a form of cost-sharing, whereby the costs of educating all of the Archdiocese’s children are shared by all of the Archdiocese’s members, rather than being the responsibility of each local parish.  The details of the Archbishop’s plan, titled “Pathways to Excellence” will be released soon.

In yesterday’s email update, Whitney Tilson discusses the article, pointing out the utter tragedy of Catholic school closure, as well as the absurdity of not supporting low-income families who are prohibited from sending their children to these institutions because of financial concerns:

Too bad the article doesn’t deal with the much bigger issue: the utter INSANITY, from a societal perspective, of allowing inner-city Catholic schools – which are often oases of safety, discipline and rigor – to close, while throwing massively more money at catastrophically failing public schools nearby.  Why not give parents a choice: we’ll spend $16-17,000 on your child at a public school (the average in NYC), but if you don’t think it’s right for your child, we’ll give you a voucher (perhaps funded by a tax credit) for only HALF the amount that you can use to pay for a private school?  This would empower parents, be another source of pressure on failing public schools to improve, likely result in better outcomes for students (including those “left behind”), AND save taxpayers money!

There will surely be more to come as “Pathways to Excellence” is released.  Stay tuned.

Anyone even remotely interested in K-12 Catholic education should read the following piece from New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.  In an extraordinarily insightful and well informed acclamation reminiscent of Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes himself, Archbishop Dolan asserts that these schools are the responsibility of the entire Catholic community, and asserts that we must all quicken our resolve to ensure the long-term viability of this apostolate of hope.

Consider the following passage:

It is both heartening and challenging to remember that Catholic churches and schools were originally built on the small donations of immigrants who sacrificed nickels, dimes and dollars to make their children Catholics who are both well educated and fully American. Have we Catholics lost our nerve, the dare and dream that drove our ancestors in the faith, who built a Catholic school system that is the envy of the world?

So, how best to respond to this charge? Several ed reform advocates and Catholic school leaders have already made their case. What think you?