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ACE and generous Notre Dame Benefactors advance the mission of Haitian education
Article originally published through the Alliance for Catholic Education News Feed.
In April 23, 1879, a massive fire destroyed the Main Building of the University of Notre Dame and destroyed virtually the entire fledgling university. In what would become an iconic moment of Notre Dame’s history, Father Sorin addressed the stunned survivors: “Tomorrow, as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild, bigger and better than ever.”
It is this same spirit of zeal and hope – especially in the face of adversity – that has characterized the Congregation of Holy Cross and the University of Notre Dame throughout their histories. This same spirit enlivens the work of the Holy Cross community and Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in their efforts to rebuild and renew education in Haiti.
Advancing Basile Moreau’s mission to serve the poorest children and families in this community, one third of the students receive major tuition assistance, and another third attend the school at no cost. ACE, working with generous Notre Dame benefactors, has provided 100 scholarships for each of the next five years to increase access for the poorest students. ACE has also partnered with benefactors to beautify the campus, with landscaping and the addition of a soccer field.
Holy Cross and ACE leaders are now adding new computer labs, strengthening the English language curriculum and instruction, and developing a health clinic to serve the students, many of whom lack access to regular medical care, eyeglasses, and adequate nutrition. This summer, Basile Moreau hosted more than a dozen Notre Dame faculty, staff, students, and alumni, including ACE graduates leading English language camps and a medical team to coordinate a health screening of nearly 1,000 students and teachers.
“The transformation at Basile Moreau School is simply breathtaking,” said Rev. Tim Scully, C.S.C., founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education. “From the rubble, a beautiful school has emerged and is now bustling with activity and exciting and innovative programs. Basile Moreau is a beacon of hope and a testament to the power of the Gospel in service to our most vulnerable children.”
But knowing the needs of their country, the Holy Cross leaders in Haiti and their partners in ACE have not stopped at rebuilding Basile Moreau School. They are making great strides in constructing a new school in a growing neighborhood of Port au Prince called Tabarre, located near the international airport, with funding and construction management from the Digicel Foundation. The new school will have an innovative English focus and will open its doors this September, eventually growing to serve an estimated 1,000 students. This school will become the 16th that Holy Cross priests and brothers operate in the country, serving over 5,000 students, with a reputation for excellence.
ACE’s work in support of Holy Cross schools is only a small portion of the powerful impact ACE is making in Haiti. ACE’s initiatives include working with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Haitian Catholic Church to train thousands of teachers, as well as transforming educational outcomes through an innovative literacy program that benefits over 7,500 students in impoverished Catholic schools. Notre Dame’s ACE Haiti effort and the work of its partners represent perhaps the largest, most impactful, and most promising set of projects currently under way in Haitian education.
The ACE in Haiti website illustrates the breadth of initiatives transforming this hard-hit country’s future through quality education for its next generations. Notre Dame’s Committed to Haiti website describes the University’s even broader efforts, integrating education, health care, and overall sustainability to support human development in Haiti.
Catholic schools in the United States are at a crossroads.
The challenges facing many Catholic schools–low enrollment and threats to financial sustainability–put them in a position where they must close their doors unless something dramatic changes. And many have.
There are 500,000 fewer students enrolled in Catholic schools in the U.S. than there were 10 years ago. Over the last fifty years, closures have shrunk the system by more than half, from 5 million to less than 2 million students. Recent research suggests there are dire consequences for entire communities when a Catholic school closes, and there are very few signs that these trends are abating.
Some have suggested that Catholic schools need to reinvent themselves for a new era if they are to survive. This need to adapt may make Catholic schools increasingly open to becoming early adopters of blended learning in an effort to ensure their future vitality. However, Catholic schools will need to overcome significant hurdles if blended learning is to become a key driver of their renewal.
Catholic school systems face many hurdles that could impede the effective adoption of blended learning. Being aware of these challenges is critical to successfully implementing blended learning transitions.
First and most apparent are financial constraints. Tight budgets limit the capacity of many Catholic schools to innovate. An effective deployment of blended learning requires an investment of time, resources, and training, but Catholic schools with small administrative teams struggle to research blended learning best practices and plan an effective implementation.
The blended learning world can be bewildering when trying to get started, and schools either need to devote sufficient human resources to the task or to identify a partner organization (company, non-profit, university, etc.) to help. Both require money that the neediest Catholic schools just don’t have.
Additionally, outdated technology infrastructure and physical plants require significant upfront investments. This is especially true in K-8 schools, where computers still sit in labs and a precious few devices are re-deployed to classrooms. Catholic schools are behind the times on this front.
But there are some promising bright spots that augur well for the future. If Catholic schools can leverage their strengths and early successes, they will be an important player in the years ahead.
The Strengths and Successes
1. Catholic schools need a game change–and are well-positioned for it
Though Catholic schools in the U.S. face many challenges, as noted above, technology can represent a key variable to increase efficiency and effectiveness, and provide just the sort of change and edge that Catholic schools need to reinvent themselves.
Without the influence of district regulations, Catholic schools have local governance and a great deal of independence, allowing them to be nimble and adaptive. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that a great many Catholic schools are hungry for solutions. From many conversations with superintendents and national leaders of Catholic education, there appears to be a growing awareness that Catholic schools need to innovate or slowly fade away. Leaders need to be increasingly on the lookout for innovations and models that can lead to renewed vitality and long-term sustainability.
2. Emerging models are showing success and poised for growth
What is actually happening out there in Catholic schools with regard to blended learning? There are a few notable points of light.
Seton Education Partners, a non-profit and innovator in the Catholic ed sector, has launched the Phaedrus Initiative, helping K-8 Catholic schools transition to a blended learning model. Started in 2011, Phaedrus is now in five schools nationally, and so far, has seen promising results.
The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a provider of talent and services to Catholic schools nationally, has a blended learning and school improvement model that has shown promise in its first year, 2013-2014. The ACE blended learning efforts will now support six schools in three cities in its second year.
Over in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the WINGS model of schooling–now Divine Providence Academy–is an example of how blended learning can facilitate effective multi-age classrooms, allowing schools to right-size staff and become sustainable as much smaller operations, akin to one-room schoolhouses of old. A handful of schools have tried to replicate the WINGS model as an approach that offers a more sustainable business model.
3. Catholic schools possess a unique vision
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Catholic schools can have a unique voice regarding the role of technology in education. Some fear that technology will be a dehumanizing force in education, replacing teachers with computers and reducing human interaction. The inadequacies of many virtual schools and blended learning implementations that rely too heavily on technology seem to reinforce these concerns.
But Catholic schools can have a distinctive voice on this matter. The goal of a Catholic education is to form the whole child towards completeness. Catholic educators can demonstrate how technology, if properly integrated, can be a tool for enhancing the holistic development of the child and the quality of student-teacher interactions. Armed with better data, teachers can do more one-on-one coaching than in traditional teacher-centered classrooms. By working at their own pace and level, students are treated with more respect and dignity.
Technology is a tool and does not replace the witness of the teacher and the essential community of faith and learning fostered within Catholic school classrooms, but if thoughtfully used, it can enhance teaching and learning.
Why Go Blended At All?
In the end, blended learning and the emerging role of technology can offer a lot to Catholic school systems and their long term vitality. For early adopters, blended learning can provide an edge and help brand schools as innovative models offering a personalized approach. This cachet can help drive up enrollment, which in turn stabilizes finances.
For small schools with limited markets, blended learning can support effective multi-age classes, allowing schools to right-size staff and become sustainable small-schools.
But, ultimately, to really help Catholic schools, blended learning needs to be more than a marketing strategy or a financial fix. It must strengthen the quality of the product.
If we can judge from the initial successes of some early Catholic blended models, blended learning holds much promise for a marketing boost, enhanced financial flexibility, and improved educational outcomes. And if these new models continue to show strong results, look out for many more blended Catholic schools in the years to come.
I’ve taken a long reprieve from blogging. Since my last post my wife and I had our second baby girl (Ruthie), I’ve started a new initiative at Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) for blended learning and whole school improvement, and our outreach work in Haiti continues to be incredibly successful and growing (more on that soon). Things have been busy.
My last post was arguing for the merits of blended learning. But the proof is in the pudding. Last year I worked along side of an ACE graduate in Seattle, Kelly Surapaneni, to lead ACE’s first foray into blended learning. We worked with St. Paul School in Seattle, WA, and conceptualized the project as a whole-school strengthening effort, including things like leadership development, instructional coaching, PLCs, data driven instruction, and efforts to strengthen school culture. We thought that these best practices, combined with the personalized attention and differentiation allowed by blended learning, could result in significant gains in student learning and help renew a struggling school.
The early results are in… and it was an impressive success. We are now working in six Catholic schools in three cities, Seattle, the Twin Cities, and Toledo, and continuing plans to expand the model for next academic year.
See below for a summary from the ACE news release.
Seattle students achieved 147% of growth targets in math and 122% in reading during the first year of the program
Students at St. Paul School in Seattle, a school that serves lower income Asian Pacific Islander and African-American students, are achieving impressive academic gains using an innovative blended learning and school improvement model developed by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame.
As measured by the Northwest Evaluation Association Measurement of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP), students achieved 147% of growth targets in math and 122% in reading during the first year of the program, similar to a school wide average of a year and a half of growth in math and a year and a quarter in reading. The average eighth grade student achieved 233% of growth targets in math—akin to two and one-third years of growth—over the past academic year.
“The initial results are particularly promising,” Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C, the founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education, said. “St. Paul students are performing remarkably well—we are thrilled by the promise this model shows, and believe it can be a powerful tool that more schools like St. Paul can deploy to continue the Catholic school legacy of providing students with an excellent education.”
TJ D’Agostino, who directs the project at Notre Dame, said the success St. Paul students are experiencing is due to teachers more effectively meeting the needs of each child with the benefit of powerful blended learning software, and school leaders continuously strengthening teachers with targeted professional growth in high yield areas like the use of data and deepening a culture of high expectations, key areas of focus for the training and support that ACE provides.
“Blended learning can be a powerful driver for schools to provide a customized education for every child,” D’Agostino said, “though it is most impactful when paired with other best-practices, like data driven instruction, professional learning communities for teachers, and ongoing instructional coaching. We work closely with the principal and a team of lead teachers to implement these comprehensive strategies. The results have been transformative.”
Thanks, Andrew, for pointing out some great questions and proposals. If I can try to summarize the thesis of your post it is this: technology is perhaps better used or best used as a creative tool that fully engages student interest and more open-ended learning, rather than mere rote learning.
First, I think we agree more than we disagree! Creative and open ended learning that maximizes student interest is the pinnacle, it is the ultimate goal, and we need more of it. Technology can help here, but it need not be the focus. Good old fashioned Socratic discussion, group work and hands on or other project based learning opportunities are at least as beneficial and should exist alongside meaningful uses of technology to create, synthesize and explore.
This form of teaching and learning, if done well, can do a great deal to respond to one of the major challenges in education, student motivation. Unleashing student creativity and curiosity in open-ended, creative, self-directed learning situations that requires the use and integration of multiple skills nourishes student intrinsic motivation. Too much of what happens in modern classrooms kills natural curiosity and creativity ( Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk And here). Furthermore, such learning opportunities tend to be deeper and more lasting and more conducive to complex and higher level thinking.
But what about the other great question of modern education: How do we ensure an adequate education for all children? We are failing too many of our students in achieving even basic mastery or proficiency. The achievement gap for minority and low-income students, who are pushed through the system despite major learning deficiencies, is well documented. What about the students who need more time to get the basic concepts, and for whom the cohort model of education is not working well?
Deepening their creativity is important, absolutely, but so is ensuring that they can read on grade level, write effectively, and possess basic mathematical competency. These are the foundations of learning and their mastery is more important than learning to use Prezi (I know this is not really what you are saying, but you know what I mean).
That is why – though interested in using technology to create and foster open-ended and social learning – I have focussed on blended learning, which I think is the strategy in the Ed Tech arena for addressing the problem of mastery for all.
And also, I disagree heartily with Gary Stager’s article, contrasting standards-based curriculum and assessment, which he caricatures as the interests of “the system”, with open-ended and creative uses of technology as the ideal. Standards that tell us the skills that all children should know are extremely important to ensuring that we are not leaving major gaps in learning for large portions of our students. And rigorous assessments, aligned to those standards, allow us to differentiate instruction appropriately and come far closer to mastery for all students.
Far from being dehumanizing, I think blended learning is actually more human. It addresses the reality that not all children learn at the same time, in the same way, or struggle with or excel at the same concepts and skills. It does not treat all children with the same approach and hope that all “get it,” but allows space for those that need more time, more attention, more review, more practice, and it gives teachers a means of monitoring this and intervening in a customized and targeted manner.
But here is where we really agree. We can’t stop with mastery of the basics or this will be a dumbing down of education, which is a serious risk. Blended learning must use the creative and open ended. See Sal Khan discussing this point. This is the very virtue of blended learning as opposed to virtual learning. It allows the continued and vital role of the teacher and community of learners to provide the critically important opportunities for deeper, richer, more creative and complex learning experiences, while also supporting mastery of the basics for all students, and better data for teachers on the results. Thus the “blend.”
I’ve got a question which I’ll pick up on another post: is Khan Academy getting unnecessarily harsh treatment from its critics? More to come…
Now I’m eager to take a stab at the broader, substantive question that Andrew posed in this post, he wrote:
How can schools use blended learning and technology to improve curricula and enhance pedagogy in meaningful ways? In other words, how can we use technology not to “fill the pail” but to “light the fire?” One of the primary concerns with some examples of blended learning is the learning theory that undergirds some models. Instead of transferring the inadequacies of outdated pedagogies and textbooks to computer based delivery-mechanisms, why not use blended learning to get rid of rote tasks like homework, lectures, and busy-work? …Certainly some technologies liberate the teacher from homework, grading, lectures, and worksheets: Should they be liberating the students from these burdens as well?
I would be eager to have Andrew unpack the possible concerns about “the learning theory that undergirds some models.” I would also like to understand more fully what role he envisions for practice, assessment, and mastery of conceptual and procedural knowledge (i.e. lower level bloom verbs – the ability to identify, explain, summarize, and apply procedures or concepts to novel situations). If we liberate students from assessments, practice and means of acquiring the building blocks of knowledge, are we really liberating all of them?
Constructivist pedegogies are great tools to have in a teacher’s tool belt, but can they effectively ensure that all children have adequate knowledge of the basics without a mix of other methods (like practice and assessment)? Do constructivist pedegogies – used exclusively – risk leaving some students behind or with major gaps in their learning? Do they adequately scaffold?
It is my understanding that basic chunks of knowledge (concepts, etc.) provide an important foundation for more complex and inter-related skills and competencies. For example, the complex skill of analysis requires the capacity to explain particular units and describe their relationships, which requires basic conceptual understanding. To analyze Plato’s treatment of “writing” in The Phaedrus, for example, one needs to have a broad vocabulary, be able to interpret a complex, non-narrative text, have some familiarity with logic and be able to follow complex, nuanced, reasoned arguments. There needs to be subtle attention to context and voice. In short, there are a number of discrete skills that need to be mastered and integrated to allow effective analysis of a text of this sophistication. Some students can pick this up in more organic, complex, and student-centered forms of learning, others may need more scaffolding to get to mastery. I’m all for complex, rich and rigorous content and questions that stretch students to go beyond basic conceptual skills. But if basic skills are lacking, rigorous and dynamic questions may be unrealistic for some students. There is a place for practice, repetition, and procedural and conceptual knowledge, if we intend to aid all students in reaching mastery. So that would be my first and main point, the basics aren’t bad teaching, it’s just bad of we never get beyond them. Ensuring that all have mastered the basics prevents us from leaving some children behind and with “Swiss cheese learning.”
Constructivist pedegogies are wonderful and valuable, great for motivation and fostering wonder, yet there is a place for smaller units of knowledge that can be delivered effectively, and practiced effectively, in a variety of forms. There is a place for drill work and recall! This is, after-all, the major criticism with writing in the Phaedrus! The Egyptian Pharoe claims it will kill memory, and there is some truth to his argument (think for a moment that epic Greek poems like the Iliad and Odessy were memorized and sung by an oral culture!
All this to say that I’m OK with blended learning with various pedagogical styles, ranging from project based learning, to solid reinforcement of the basics through more “drill” like methods.
It is the role of the teacher to ensure that the learning is rich and complex, that question rigor is high, and that learning tasks cultivate 21st century skills, the capacity to reason and ultimately, cultivate wisdom. That is why technology does not and cannot replace the teacher, that is why it is “blended.” Dialectic is still alive and well! Blended learning can help ensure that all have the needed foundation to participate effectively in the dialectic, and to allow the teacher to know the strengths and challenges of the student to engage them in a more personal and effective manner.
In many ways I think I can accept Andrew’s broader observation, that many blended learning technologies tend to address lower level skills, and if these are not taught elsewhere , if the technology-based curriculum is the only content provided, it would result in an impoverished form of education. But, I believe these emerging online curricula will increasingly improve their use of integrative and rich pedagogical styles. This seems to be what Andrew is hoping for. I would like to hear more about what he thinks this might look like.
I’m grateful to Andrew for clarifying some definitions, raising some questions, and stirring the pot a bit. I’d like to get to Andrew’s question around the pedagogy implicit in blended learning models, and his desire to dig into whether they liberate students through learning or shackle children to computer screens, merely drilling them with ostensibly rote learning.
But I’ll need to wait until the next post to get to this great question, because I’d first like to respond to a few particular points:
- Rocketship Schools: We should be careful about interpreting the quote from the PBS interview with too much liberty. Andrew suggests that “one high-profile charter school, Rocketship, for instance, does not receive such feedback from their much-discussed learning labs.” I hear the Rocketship principal recognizing that there are challenges with gathering and optimizing this data as fully and efficiently as they would like, not that they are failing to receive it at all. This post by Charlie Bufalino, a former Online Learning Specialist at Rocketship, addresses this point, suggesting that the problem involves integrating multiple sources of data from different online curriculum programs, and having them aligned and synchronized for efficient teacher use. In other words, there are inefficiencies, as with any new technology, and opportunities for improvement. But this does not mean that teachers are not getting the information at all, nor that a blended learning environment is not far more data rich than a traditional classroom environment.
- In defense of Batman: Despite Andrew’s deconstruction of the Batman metaphor, I will try to defend its relevance (though I need to admit I stole it from Jeff Kerscher, an ACE grad working with Seton Partners’ on their blended learning “Phaedrus Initiative” out in Seattle, and I thought it very clever!). I assume Andrew’s zeal was, in part, for the chance to evoke an image of Donald Trump driving the bat-mobile with his hair blowing in the wind. I’m OK with the hero language in reference to teachers and the travails of education, though I can appreciate Andrew’s points. Yes, it is Batman’s courage, character and karate skills that make him heroic, but the technology brings his game to the next level. The makings of a hero are already there, but the technology optimizes and leverages his skills, virtue and commitment. That’s the point. Blended learning can take a strong teacher’s game to the next level.
Here’s an anecdote to make this point more concrete. An exceptionally talented teacher in L.A. working with Alliance charter schools had been recognized on multiple occasions as teacher of the year for the city and had achieved heroic academic results for low-income children. When Alliance switched to blended learning, she transitioned to the new approach to teaching. When my friend Joe Womac talked to her about the transition, her eyes welled up with tears while saying: “If only I had blended learning earlier there are so many more children I could have reached.” This woman is a hero. She was before and regardless of any technology. But why not give her a Bat-mobile and bulletproof body-armor and see what she can do with it!? According to her own testimony, blended learning was a game changer for optimizing her skills and commitment.
It is my pleasure to introduce a new author and friend, Andrew Hoyt, to the Soul of a Nation Blog! Andrew is a former teacher and educational leader who helped start the Cristo Rey School in Houston, Texas. He and I have been talking about the implications of blended learning and what this emerging trend means and should mean, for education in general and for Catholic schools in particular. We decided, in accordance with the spirit of this blog, to “surface this conversation,” and conduct our dialogue in a virtual and public forum. I hope others will join in!
“Where do you hail from, Phaedrus, and where are you bound?” (Plato).
By way of context, we will try to introduce our perspective, the starting point from which we stand, then jump right in, and see where the dialogue takes us.
The first post is TJ’s:
Some are technology enthusiasts. I do not count myself among these ranks. I like my iPhone and wish I had an iPad, but technology doesn’t light my fire the way it does for some educators. The enthusiast covets the novelty of technology – at least in part – for the sake of novelty. Technology is seen as an end in itself. I am enamored with a different question: How to unlock human potential? To Educate: Latin root, “educare” – to ‘draw out from within’ or to ‘lead forth’. Education is liberation, freeing of the mind and human spirit, realizing the human capacity for the heights of reason, of wisdom, that which is divine in us – man in the image and likeness of God. But we are earthen vessels. We are constrained by our environments, our upbringing, by social conditions and structural evils like poverty, racism, violence, addiction, criminality, abuse, neglect and on and on. We have a problem: To liberate all young people through education in the face of desperate challenges for many. This raises many questions. Questions of quality and equality, of cost and efficiency, of politics and policy, of innovation and stagnation. How do we unlock the potential of all?
When I was younger and an idealistic liberal arts major at Notre Dame, I thought the answer was: “Socratic dialogue and classical texts for all! Liberation through Plato and rich discussion!” Then, I became a high school teacher in a real school. The fall was hard. There were tests to take and standards to master. There were challenges of motivation and comprehension, of bright and curious minds mixed in with detached and frustrated youth. It was messy and tough and wonderful. I still think there is a place for Socratic dialogue and Plato, but I hardly ever got there because I was drowning in worksheets and homework and accountability, and trying to ensure mastery for every student. My role was as much and perhaps more “enforcer of work” as it was “liberator of minds.”
So here is my fascination with blended learning. I believe it holds the potential to liberate the teacher from much of the menial labor of education, so the teacher might better liberate the student. The computer does the worksheets, the grading and helps teach the “basics” (i.e. Low-level bloom verbs). It personalizes learning by allowing children to work at their own pace. The factory model of education punishes the students who need more time, or those who master learning more quickly. It sometimes seems more about control and compliance with behavioral norms than it does about liberation. For those students that are frustrated and convinced that they are “dumb” because they’ve been left in the dust by the pace of the class, blended learning offers renewed hope. For those exceptional minds that are bored, stunted, and for whom school is a drag but life and learning are fascinating and full of wonder, this is freedom.
For teachers, blended learning stops the guessing and provides them with real-time data about how their students are learning, struggling, or failing, in the moment. Diagnosing learning gaps and challenges can now become a science, with real-time interventions, instead of a postmortem after the year-end test results come in. Blended learning also increases efficiency. It takes certain tasks off the teachers’ plate and enhances their role to that of guide, facilitator, and orchestrator. With good planning and effective remediation far more student mastery is possible. But perhaps most importantly, this efficiency frees up time for the truest and deepest forms of learning. Socratic dialogue can finally have its day! As can project based learning and inquiry based learning, rich meta-cognitive discussion and one-to-one tutoring and coaching. In a traditional model, to do these things, you needed to be Superman. Can blended learning make every teacher a super-hero? Has the long-awaited Superman finally arrived? Maybe not Superman, but perhaps Batman, a normal person of virtue and courage with tools that make a hero.
I’ve become increasingly fascinated with the idea of venture philanthropy, applying the strategies of venture capitalism to charitable giving, and convinced that this can play a greater role in Catholic education. Venture philanthropy seeks promising start-ups and innovative models and helps provide funding to bring them to scale. This implies a shift in thinking, from giving as charity to giving as investment, where the expected return is transformative social impact.
I like this idea for a few reasons. First, it looks for leverage. It bets on winners with the potential to scale. This is a smart strategy for effecting change. Secondly, by treating giving as an investment – with an expectation for specific outcomes – it helps bring greater accountability to the social sector. In sum, it is a more strategic use of funds that seeks the greatest possible impact or return on investment for charitable giving. It combines charity with strategy with powerful effects.
A specific example of venture philanthropy in the education sector is the Charter School Growth Fund.
The Charter School Growth Fund is a non-profit that invests philanthropic capital in the nation’s highest performing charter school operators to dramatically expand their impact on underserved students.
So here is the big idea. Why not a Catholic School Growth Fund? It would do the following:
- Invest in and scale what’s working in Catholic education
- Replicate successful Catholic school models
- Drive and spread innovation in Catholic schools
A quick note on each point.
First, Catholic schools need to do more to invest in what’s working. We’ve spent too much time focusing on the problems in Catholic schools and not enough time focusing on the bright spots. A Catholic School Venture Fund would begin to change this.
Secondly, there is a need for new school models and effective turnaround models. This is already the norm for public school reform in the U.S., and Catholic schools are behind the curve. We need a diversification of approaches to Catholic schooling in America. The vanilla Catholic school is quickly becoming an endangered species. The explosion of new school options, from charter schools to virtual schools and everything in between, is creating an increasingly diverse educational market. This is good for parents and children, with more options and more innovation, but a threat to Catholic schools if they don’t adapt.
Though on the whole Catholic schools still provide a high quality education and a distinct advantage to under-resourced children – see here for more stats on this – there are relatively few new Catholic school models that have proven exceptionally effective at educating low-income children and even fewer avenues for bringing such models to scale. A list of new Catholic school models might include the following:
By creating a Catholic School Growth Fund, we would open up opportunity for more new Catholic school models. It would allow Catholic educational entrepreneurs to see an easier path for scaling good ideas. New Catholic schools must be created more rapidly in areas with favorable conditions for growth, namely, a growing Catholic population, areas with insufficient supply of Catholic schools per capita, and states or cities with robust parental choice programs.
We also need to support effective school turnaround strategies. The Archdiocese of Seattle, with support from the Fulcrum Foundation, has been experimenting with an interesting turnaround approach. This approach recognizes that an ailing Catholic school – and some have fallen on hard times (low enrollment, mediocre or struggling academics, etc.) cannot be helped with a single intervention or just pouring money on the problem. Their model prescribes, instead, an intensive regimen. It includes the following:
- Changing the academic program to fill a niche in the market (i.e. dual language immersion, blended learning, a STEM focus, etc.),
- Providing intensive support and professional development to improve school quality in key areas known to drive performance,
- Conducting a rebranding, marketing and recruitment campaign, and
- Providing significant short-term financial support with a gradual withdrawal.
The intended outcome is shocking a sluggish Catholic school out of poor performance and setting it on the road to success in terms of academics, enrollment and financial health. All of this is done, of course, without sacrificing or changing the core of what makes Catholic schools special: faith and character formation rooted in community. We know that turnarounds are hard, but possible. The alternative will be round upon round of closures, in city after city, year after year.
Finally, a Catholic School Venture Fund would serve as both a catalyst of and repository for promising strategies. Funding shouldn’t necessarily be limited to replicating school models, it could also drive good and innovative ideas, like a particular approach to finding, training and retaining talent in Catholic schools or expanding data-driven instructional practices in Catholic schools.
I’ve heard that the idea of a Catholic School Venture Fund has been kicked around in different forums in the past couple of years, but to my knowledge there has not been much action yet. Well, it’s time to get started.
I have been reading some great books in the past few months that are shaping the way I think about education reform and renewal. I’d like to share the hit list and offer some brief comments for each. Some of you may have already read many, but if you haven’t read all, I’d jump on it. They are worth your time.
Topping the list is the much acclaimed Paul Tough book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. A wonderful read in the tradition of the Malcolm Gladwell books – integrating research in a lively nonfiction narrative – Tough weaves together stories and examples that depict the importance of non-cognitive skills on student outcomes. Drawing heavily upon work in psychology, neuroscience and innovative school leadership, Tough makes a compelling case for the importance of cultivating character strengths to allow students to flourish. I found the idea of the KIPP Character Report Card to be particularly fascinating. The concept involves providing students and parents with regular feedback on students’ character strengths and areas requiring improvement, focusing on observable indicators, to facilitate student improvement.
The next at the top of my list is Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, a leader of Uncommon Schools, a charter school network on the East Coast. This book is a treasure trove and detailed guidebook for what high-performing schools do and what school leaders must do to achieve superior results. The videos, sample documents, and planning tools make the book an outstanding resource for creating professional development and enacting school change. The chapter on data-driven instruction was awesome, peaking my interest in Bambrick’s other book, Driven by Data, which goes further into this area.
Third on the list is Sal Khan’s book, The One World Schoolhouse. Sal Khan is the founder of the now ubiquitous Khan Academy, an online library of 10 minute instructional YouTube videos and practice programs, especially strong in Math and Science. A thoughtful and quick read, One World Schoolhouse is a clear and thoughtful articulation of a lot of new thinking at the front lines of re-envisioning k-12 education. Though neither the first nor only person to express these ideas, Schoolhouse is a good and fun read that captures a lot of the thinking within this explosive area in k-12 and higher education. With a particular focus on the role of technology in allowing mastery learning, anytime learning, self-paced learning, and adaptive instruction, Schoolhouse also explores basic assumptions around the role of homework, summer vacation, and the role of internships. I am convinced that certain approaches to technology, particularly blended learning, will become predominant within the next 5 to 10 years. This book is a pleasant way to enter into that dialogue, and begin thinking about how education will be transformed with the emergence of new technologies. Read this book and visit The Khan Academy website, it will be worth your while.
Next on the list is a wonderful book about change management called Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, by brothers Chip and Dan Heath. Also in the Malcolm Gladwell style, Switch offers a simple, clear and compelling formula – with numerous examples and interweaving research – on how to effect change. The book uses memorable metaphors and stories to explain certain principles and rules of effective change management, such as “scripting the critical moves,” a less is more mentality to change that recognizes that simple and clear direction is of paramount importance, complexity is the enemy of effective change, and confusion and being overwhelmed or exhausted by change is often the source of people’s resistance. For any leader attempting to facilitate the change process or implement a new vision, this is a must read. Catholic schools in the U.S. are woefully in need of change. Therefore, this should be on all of our reading lists. I’ll be bringing it as a gift to some leaders in the Haitian Ministry of Education on my next trip down there. They’ve got a massive change agenda and could use some tricks from this play-book.
Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, is next on my list.
If anyone else has recommendations, please share!
A note of apology for the radio silence from the Soul of a Nation blog. I’ve been immersed in education reform and helping to renew the Catholic education system of Haiti for the past three years. This blog has not had an international focus, traditionally, and the work was been rather consuming. Its time to get caught up. First I’d like to share some highlights from what we’ve been up to in supporting Haitian Catholic schools.
Three years ago, one of the most devastating natural disasters in modern history, the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, brought an already beleaguered nation to its knees, killing over 200,000 and tearing Port-au-Prince and the surrounding cities asunder. The destruction was of epic proportions in a country with no enforced building codes and poorly made concrete block structures.
In the years since, progress has been halting, too slow for many, but visible in a few bright spots. While real improvements have been made in some areas, the story in the news is almost always one of wasted efforts and missed opportunities, and a poor nation still crippled by internal dysfunction and external meddling.
It is within this context that I’m blessed to report some hopeful signs and real progress from the efforts of the University of Notre Dame and the Alliance for Catholic Education. We have focused on three things:
1. The first was to rebuild Basil Moreau School, a large school of the Congregation of Holy Cross in a particularly poor neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Basil Moreau is nearly completed and will be a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility located in the heart of the earthquake zone. A monument of hope and dreams for the children and the community, Basil Moreau is a haven, a harbor, and a holy place of grace and liberation through education. Almost entirely subsidized from international supporters, Basil Moreau is a high performing school serving some of the poorest of the poor. The day its building is completed – in about 2 months – will be one of rejoicing.
2. The second was to create a new institute for teacher training. Under the leadership of the Congregation of Holy Cross and with intimate collaboration from the University of Notre Dame’s ACE Program, the Institute Superior Marcel Bedard launched its inaugural class this past August. Serving 35 teachers in this first cohort, the Institute brings international best-practices in teacher education to Haiti, drawing upon lessons and innovative approaches of ACE’s own Master of Education program. The Institute is off to a strong beginning. Though a start-up, with all that this entails, the Institute is blessed with strong leaders and a group of top Haitian faculty of education. It is a firm foundation upon which to build. Click here for a photo essay on the work of the institute. Password “haiti”
3. Finally, Notre Dame joined with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Haitian Catholic Church to conduct a national study and strategic planning effort for Haiti’s 2,315 Catholic schools spread throughout 10 (arch)dioceses. Completed in just under a year, these partners have disseminated the data and are arming Catholic educational leaders with the skills to leverage the results for leadership and effective management. The partners (ND, CRS and the Haitian Church) are now in the process of implementing the top priority projects that emerged from the plan, beginning with teacher training and the creation of local school boards and parent associations in 500 schools in the Dioceses of Hinche and Les Cayes. See here for an inspired short film (7 min) on the work of Catholic schools in Haiti.
In short, we have had real successes where progress is scarce. As I engage in meetings with leaders from government and the international donor community, I am constantly reminded of the importance and potential of the Catholic Church to serve as a catalyst and a leader for development. As it is in so many countries throughout the world, so too in Haiti, Catholic education serves as the soul of a nation and a vital source of hope and promise.