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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.”

Some people claim that the best things in life are free.  For families in Otsego, Michigan, who value Catholic education, this saying may take on new meaning.  Starting next school year, Saint Margaret Catholic School will offer new families the opportunity to enroll their children tuition-free for the first nine weeks.

Magazine subscriptions, gym memberships, and new software, among a wide array of other materials and services, are all usually associated with free trials.  Perhaps a similar approach for Catholic schools will find the same success.  For an education system whose greatest challenge is getting students to fill the seats, giving families an incentive to at least see if Catholic schools are right for their children –and experience the benefits of such – may just prove to be an ingenious strategy.


Voucher legislation is simply messy.  From building support for vouchers to withstanding legal challenges, the process is simply not a smooth one.  Then again, because vouchers will increase school options for the disadvantaged, I suppose this is no surprise.  In reality, when is combating injustice ever easy?

This article details the “messiness” of voucher legislation in PA, while this one discusses the legal challenges a Colorado voucher program in Douglas County faces.

As USA Today reports, Indiana has just passed the nation’s most sweeping parental choice plan.  Boom.  This is huge.  My man Mitch…

See the details about this exciting legislation here.


This morning the Supreme Court Ruled in favor of tax credits supporting private school scholarship organizations.  Couple this with 2002’s Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, and it looks like-Constitutionally speaking- private school choice is safe and here to stay.  Or, as the great MC Hammer would say to school choice opponents- U CAN’T TOUCH THIS!!!

When I started grad school at the University of Arkansas, the first course I had to take was entitled “Math for Economic Analysis”.  Perusing the syllabus the first day I saw that the course was designed to be a “review” of the major topics of linear algebra and uni- and multi-variate calculus.  The problem?  I had never taken linear Algebra nor multivariate calculus.

As I sat in that classroom the voice of GOB from Arrested Development came into my head:  “I have made a huge mistake”.

Then an enterprising classmate of mine, who was in a similar boat, alerted me to Khan Academy, a free collection of videos explaining math concepts in a simple and straightforward way. I went to their website and saw video after video of the exact topics that we were covering in class.  Inverting matrices?   A video for that.   Eigenvalues and eigenvectors?  A video for thatLimits, derivatives, integrals?  Videos for all. Taylor Polynomials?  You already know!

When its founder, Salman Khan, showed up as the featured TED talk in my Facebook news feed, I was excited to see what new crazy things he was up to.  If you are involved in any way in education, it will be 20 minutes that you will not soon forget.  As it turns out, Khan (a former hedge fund manager) started the website as a series of YouTube videos to tutor his cousins in another city.  It has since grown into over 2000 instructional videos and a burgeoning interactive curriculum of math instruction.  And it’s all free.

So here comes my crazy idea (Building on something TJ has said before):

Schooling has become more expensive because schools suffer from something economists call Baumol’s Disease.  The one sentence summary of Baumol’s Disease: if there is no increase in labor productivity (though technology or more advanced training) salaries for labor intensive occupations (like teaching) will rise in relation to less labor intensive occupations.  Because teaching is such a labor intensive operation, cost will continue to go up unless something is done to make that labor more efficient.

Catholic schools have seen a rapid rise in cost not only due to a decline in vowed religious working in schools but also due to Baumol’s disease.   Want to decrease the cost of Catholic schools? Make the work of teachers more efficient.

This is where Khan Academy comes in.  Khan, in his Ted talk, referred to schools that use his videos as “reverse homework”.   Students watch the videos for homework, at their own pace, and come to class to do the practice normally assigned for homework.  In class, the teacher moves across the class individually interacting with students while they practice.  This changes not the student/teacher ratio, but the “student to valuable time with teacher ratio”, making the effort of the teacher more efficient.

Catholic schools all across the country could start using these free lessons for enrichment, remediation, or instruction today, increasing the class size that teachers could effectively teach and driving down the cost of a Catholic education.

What if swaths of the day were devoted to students working independently, at their own pace, receiving this instruction (which have I mentioned enough is free?) and had teachers simply for help when they got stuck?

Khan makes the argument that this more efficient mode of instruction frees up time for robotics and other enriching activities.  In the Catholic context, this instruction could free up time for more service learning, religious instruction, or class discussions whose time is eaten up by inefficient delivery of more fundamental content knowledge and skills.

If we are committed to making Catholic schools accessible to more students, we need to explore methods to decrease costs without decreasing quality.  In this rare case, we can actually decrease costs while increasing quality.

This is an important opportunity that we would be foolish to pass up.  I believe in this so much that if there are any Catholic school teachers or principals out there that want to give this a shot, I will help you do it.  Comment, email me, call me, and we will make this a reality.

(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.

The past few years have seen the birth of a number of new organizations and initiatives in support of k-12 Catholic schools, largely in response to the onslaught of closings and the deep awareness of the vital contribution that Catholic schools make to our communities, our nation and our Church.  When so much of the news is dire for Catholic education, it’s worth stepping back a bit to see the rebirth that is taking place around us.  If necessity is the mother of invention, then a sustained 50 year crisis must be worth something!  And there has been a notable amount of invention recently that offers  hope for the future of Catholic education in the U.S.

Here is a list of major new initiatives emerging over the past couple of years that could make a meaningful contribution to Catholic schools nationally or regionally.  This list is not exhaustive nor does it pretend to be, and hits heavily on activities at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, with which I am most familiar.  But its a good start and I’m happy to add activities that I’ve missed if folks will share the good news!

ACE Consulting

Catholic Alumni Partnership

Catholic Education SIG at AERA

Catholic School Advantage Campaign

Center for Catholic Education at LMU


Program for k-12 Educational Access

ND ACE Academies

Seton Education Partners

In the days ahead I’ll offer a little profile of each of these exciting new initiatives in support of Catholic education.

The national education reform organization, Democrats for Education Reform, are opening a chapter in Indiana and are likely to have an outspoken role in the upcoming debate in Indiana.

As the reported:

Every Wednesday morning for several months, a group of local Democrats has gathered for breakfast to address a tremendous problem for their party in Indiana: the idea that Democrats are obstinate roadblocks standing in the way of education reform.

The group has spent hours talking about hot-button education issues such as charter schools, teacher evaluation measures and school turnaround efforts.

But the power of the state teachers union, and the piles of cash it provides to candidates, has led many Statehouse Democrats to block changes that would significantly help students and families in areas represented by many of those same legislators.

…the early-morning group has spent months preparing for the upcoming launch of the Indiana chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, joining a national effort that has spread to several states. They will announce the formation of their group in coming days and plan to start a political action committee that will raise money for reform-minded Democratic candidates for local and state offices.

Though Democrats for Education Reform support school choice, it will be interesting to see how this particular debate plays out in Indiana.  It is likely to be the most contentious of the issues on the table.


A great article yesterday in Ed Week about how the reforms and policies of Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education are setting the standard for reforms in states throughout the country.

Seeming to have a particular influence on my home state of Indiana, this bodes well for those states that are willing to follow Bush and Florida’s example.  Of particular interest is a newly formed league of extraordinary state school chiefs that are keen on following Florida’s example.

In November, the Foundation for Excellence in Education hosted a conference in Washington meant to highlight innovations in teacher evaluation, technology, and other areas, which drew state officials, researchers, and corporate executives from around the country. At that conference, five state schools chiefs—Mr. Bennett, Deborah Gist of Rhode Island, Paul Pastorek of Louisiana, Gerard Robinson of Virginia, and Eric Smith of Florida—announced their formation of a group to support new approaches to paying and evaluating teachers and administrators, school choice, and improved tests and standards, among other goals.