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This WSJ article by Staphanie Banchero and Jennifer Levitz detail some of the promising signs for Catholic schools nationally, Vouchers Breathe New Life Into Shrinking Catholic Schools.  Though much of the largest gains are in states with voucher and tax-credit programs, especially promising is the enrollment growth in large cities like Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles – all in states which lack publicly funded scholarship programs.  It is notable that all three cities have a large commitment to privately funded scholarships and have been proactive in welcoming Latino families to Catholic schools, two factors that may explain some of their recent growth.

One has to wonder if the combination of expanding voucher and tax credit programs and efforts to innovate and adapt to changing markets have started to yield a systemic turnaround.  Though too early to suggest that the 50 year storm of enrollment decline and closure is abating, these are very promising signs that fairer weather may be on the horizon.

For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life. Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic Catholics and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from closures and declining enrollment.

Chicago Catholic elementary schools saw enrollment increase 3% this year and 1% last year—the first two-year growth spurt since 1965. Greater Boston elementary schools had a 2% bump—the first in 20 years. And Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Bridgeport, Conn., also added desks for the first time in years.

Nationally since 2000, U.S. Catholic school enrollment has plummeted by 23%, and 1,900 schools have closed, driven by demographic changes and fallout from priest sexual-abuse scandals. Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia have announced plans to close even more Catholic schools.

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But lately, Catholic schools have slowed their overall rate of decline. This year, two million children attended Catholic schools, down 1.7% from last, but less than the average yearly decline of 2.5% over the past decade.

The improving prospects for Catholic schools in some cities come at a time of great ferment in U.S. education. Years of overhauls in public schools have yielded only modest progress. And attendance at independent private schools fell during the recession.

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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.

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.

The largest Catholic school system in the U.S., the Archdiocese of Chicago, can now boast enrollment growth in the city’s Catholic schools for the first time since the 1960’s.  In the midst of the worst and most stubborn recession this country has seen since the Great Depression, this news is simply incredible, almost miraculous!

Half of Chicago’s Catholic schools (53%) are stable or growing this year, compared with 35% the last several years.  Also particularly promising given Chicago’s booming Latino population and the critical segment of the Catholic market that Latinos represent for Catholic schools (see here for more), the Latino student population grew for the first time in Chicago in at least five years.

While other large Archdioceses are dealing with consolidation and school closure in an effort to find solid ground to begin building a more stable Catholic school system, Chicago is growing!!  How is this possible?  What is the magic in Chicago?

There’s no magic here, only a lot of hard work, strong leadership, and good ideas being effectively implemented.

First let’s mention leadership.  In July of 2008 Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, O.P. took the helm as Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese.  She has brought energy and dynamism to the lead spot in the Catholic schools office.  In Spring of 2009 the Archdiocese founded a new powerhouse of a Board of Catholic Schools, which has sought to exercise leadership in governance and policy for the Archdiocese.  Though it may be too early to be seeing the impact of this board’s involvement, this is a promising sign for the future of Catholic schools in Chicago.  Finally and perhaps most importantly has been the ongoing vital contributions and innovations of the Big Shoulders Fund.  Between their 10 to 12 million dollars of annual scholarship contributions and other funding support to stabilize and increase enrollment, to their experiments in adding regional marketing and recruiting staff, Big Shoulders has been integral to the health of the system for many years.

The marketing, enrollment and scholarship push has been at the center of effective policies of the Archdiocese, and can be largely credited with the recent growth.  There is an Archdiocesan Marketing Enrollment Network (AMEN) that promotes and shares best practices, an increased investment in Enrollment Marketing Staff at the Archdiocesan and local levels, and broader efforts to strengthen the Catholic school brand.

Also noteworthy are 16 Catholic elementary schools that are part of an innovative experiment called Archdiocesan Initiative Model elementary schools.  This 3-year pilot transferred governance authority among a set of at-risk schools from the Parish to the Catholic Schools Office.  The Catholic Schools Office sought to invest in programs and policies that would translate to enrollment growth and financial health.  Though the program only began on July 1, 2010, the schools have already seen a net enrollment increase, many of them reversing multi-year trends of enrollment decline.   The Archdiocese is also committed to ensuring the vitality of St. Gregory High School’s, which is also participating in the Board Initiative.

Finally, the Archdiocese has continued to invest in an effort to boost Latino enrollment in Catholic schools that began last year.  Working together with the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic School Advantage Campaign, and receiving considerable support from the Archdiocese Enrollment Marketing Consultants, Latino enrollment grew for the first time in at least five years by 200 students, an increase of 1.7% of total Latino enrollment.  The Archdioceses remains committed to an audacious goal of doubling Latino enrollment in Chicago’s Catholic schools by 2020, which will require ramping up to a growth rate of 7% annually.  Efforts like this story on Univision Chicago will hopefully continue to build the momentum. 

All and all, these modest gains are a small miracle and an important sign of what is possible in American Catholic schools.  May it be the beginning of a changing trend and a model for policies and practices that can work in other places.

A special thanks to Ryan Blackburn of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools for sharing the good news!

As a former high school teacher in the Diocese of Charlotte, I couldn’t be more pleased to see the diocese opening a new Catholic high school, Christ the King, in the north side of the city, an area called Lake Norman, as reported here in the Charlotte Observer.  Charlotte is one of (if not THE) fastest growing diocese in the country, experiencing a boom in its Catholic population, largely due to transports from the Northeast and Midwest, but also due to one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the nation.

I hope that the Diocese of Charlotte can find new ways, amidst its growth and prosperity, to effectively serve this newest wave of immigrant Catholics.  As a larger banking town with a considerable amount of corporate wealth, Charlotte would seem to be a prime candidate for a number of highly effective programs that have found ways to make Catholic schools more accessible to low-income families.

Large privately funded scholarship programs like the Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago or the Fulcrum Foundation in Seattle could be very successful in Charlotte.  Though it may be difficult to think of yet another high school anytime soon, the Cristo Rey model could also be successful in Charlotte with the large corporate sector in the city.  A Nativity-Miguel middle school could be another interesting option.

It is a great day in the Diocese of Charlotte and great to see a community where Catholic education is expanding.  May we always keep asking how we can do better and do more, particularly for the neediest families and those that can benefit most from a quality Catholic education.

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?

Today’s Catholic, the paper for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, reported on a new effort under-way by the four diocesan high schools to engage the Latino population.  A number of leaders from the high schools in the diocese recently attended a workshop hosted by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and their Catholic School Advantage (CSA) campaign that seeks to expand the participation of Latino families in Catholic schools.  The workshop, held at Notre Dame’s campus from July 9 to 11, welcomed over 150 Catholic educators from around the country to discuss the critical need for Catholic schools to reach out to Latino children and families.  I’ve discussed the CSA campaign in earlier blog posts, here and here.

It’s great to see the Catholic high schools in the dioceses of Fort Wayne-South Bend really responding to the need to welcome and educate our newest generation of Catholic immigrants through our Catholic schools.  Here are a few highlights from the Today’s Catholic article.

All four diocesan high schools have recognized the importance of welcoming Hispanic students in their communities. Bishop Luers High School, on Fort Wayne’s south side, already boasts diversity as a school strength. Of the 546 students at the school, about 25 to 30 are Hispanic, according to Principal Mary Keefer.

Keefer feels it is important to get the word out to the Hispanic community. Those driving down Paulding Road in front of the main entrance to the school may notice signage in Spanish. “We must do more,” Keefer says. “Often our students must translate for their parents. We are working on putting more of our information in the Spanish language.”

“Our world is not made up of people who look the same, act the same, celebrate the same. Our school must teach our young people to embrace all, to see God in all.

The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame will be offering a set of unique opportunities for Catholic school advocates and educators this summer.  ACE seeks to sustain and strengthen Catholic schools through leadership formation, research and professional services and is a leading organization in support of Catholic schools nationally.  For those interested in supporting Catholic schools and joining a powerful network of others committed to this mission, consider signing up for one of the programs below.

I will be attending the Advocates for Parental Choice Symposium this year and am very much looking forward to it.  I’d also recommend the Summer Forum on the Participation of Latino Families in Catholic Schools, which is a part of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign.

The following is an excerpt from the ACE Fellowship web-page, which helps coordinate these programs.

Summer Enrichment Opportunities

This summer, hundreds of Catholic school professionals, parents, and advocates will gather at Notre Dame to be enriched in their efforts to make a high quality Catholic education available to all who desire it, and we invite you to be among them. I hope you will join us on campus for one of these programs, and share these opportunities with your communities.

Today marks the First Sunday of Lent, bringing the Church more deeply into the season of preparation, prayer, fasting and alms-giving.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archbishop of Los Angeles, offers an inspiring Lenten Message for 2010 on his blog – yes the Cardinal has a blog, one of three blogging bishops that I’m aware of (Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg and Archbishop Dolan of New York are the other two).  His message, framed around the burden many are feeling because of the economy, centered on a strong call to alms for Catholic schools:

As we enter our annual Lenten journey, I would strongly recommend that all of us continue our traditional Lenten practices: increased prayer, appropriate fasting, and continued almsgiving. But this year, I would suggest that you consider making a donation during Lent to your parish school to enable a family unable to pay the tuition to have their son or daughter continue forward in that Catholic school. If your own parish school does not have this need, then there are many parish schools in each sector of our Archdiocese who could benefit from your Lenten charity.

I can think of no finer way to direct this year’s Lenten charitable giving than to those families who truly desire a sound Catholic education for their children but simply cannot afford it.

The second half of his message encourages the Church to be mindful of the “immigrants living in our midst.”

This reminds me of an incredible fact.  LA is home to over 1,000,000 Latino children, by far the largest number in any major metropolitan area, and LA’s Catholic Schools have 10’s of thousands of empty seats.  The Cardinal’s two apparently independent themes are actually quite related.

If the Church is going to succeed in serving the Hispanic and immigrant communities, it must increase Latino participation in Catholic schools, so effective in providing faith formation and bridging the Latino achievement gap.  A big part of accomplishing this will require making Catholic schools more accessible and affordable to low income families.  For more on this read the outstanding report from Notre Dame on increasing Latino participation in Catholic schools, and the efforts of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign.

This Lent, may we all grow in charity and commitment to serving God’s children, especially by supporting the gift of Catholic schools and their accessibility to all.