Archives for category: Catholic Schools

There was a time long ago when public schools were thriving, and Catholic schools were also thriving. They were not in competition for students or money. But as our financial demands began pressing on both sectors, Catholic schools began closing and struggling to survive. Among rightwing ideologues, it became conventional to proclaim Catholic schools as “better” than public schools because they were free to kick out the students they didn’t want.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, an editor at Commonweal, calls on certain tabloids (i.e. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post) to stop using Catholic schools to shame public schools. She hearkens back to that long-ago ethic when the different sectors served different populations and knew it.

The Post is unlikely to cease its attacks on the city’s public schools, because Murdoch loves school choice and lionizes charter schools. The Post eagerly prints press releases from Success Academy without ever bothering to fact-check or to acknowledge that SA is an exemplar of high attrition rates and high teacher-turnover rates.

O’Reilly writes (and this is only part of her article):

I can’t comment on the soundness of the decisions being made by the New York City Department of Education. But I know who I see using the pandemic to stuff their pockets, and it isn’t fat-cat maintenance workers. The Post’s implication that public-school educators are unconcerned with their students’ wellbeing is disgraceful. And while it is true that Catholic schools can be a lifeline for students served poorly by public education, I have also known families who have moved their children out of Catholic schools because the public system provides—is required to provide—services for learning disabilities and other special needs that Catholic schools can’t always accommodate. “Putting education first” is not as simple as it sounds.

Catholics should be standing in solidarity with all our neighbors as we do our best to cope with this crisis. We degrade our witness when we allow Catholic schools to be used in a propaganda campaign against public services—or against an honest reckoning with the facts. As the 2020 election approaches, conservatives are eager to exploit the Catholic school success story to advance the claim—let’s call it what it is, a conspiracy theory—that liberals are dishonestly playing up the threat of COVID-19 to make President Donald Trump look bad.

The truth is, my kids and their schoolmates are part of a broad experiment to find out whether masks and distancing and all the other safeguards in place are enough to prevent the spread of the virus. All of us, public and private, parents, teachers, and administrators, are looking for the best way forward in a highly unstable situation. That situation is not the fault of teachers’ unions, or lazy public-school janitors, or even (despite his many sins) Bill de Blasio. It is a direct consequence of the reprehensible failure of the Trump administration to protect Americans from COVID-19. We are all still scrambling, months after schools first shut down in March, because we have inadequate testing and tracing, no national recovery plan, and a president who undermines public trust and sneers at his opponent for wearing a mask. The real scandal we’re all facing isn’t the lack of a functional school system. It’s the lack of a functional federal government.

Steve Hinnefeld, a regular commentator on education in Indiana, regrets that Amy Coney Barrett was not asked about vouchers during her hearings.

He notes that she served on the board of a Catholic school in Indiana that received state voucher funds and that openly discriminated against same-sex families.

Barrett served from 2015-17 on the board of Trinity School at Greenlawn, a South Bend Catholic school, the New York Times reported. Trinity had a policy during Barrett’s time on the board that effectively prohibited same-sex couples from enrolling their children in the school, according to the Times.

That would seem to cast doubt on Barrett’s claim in her confirmation hearing that she had “never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference” and would not do so. It also raises policy questions about whether publicly funded institutions should practice discrimination.

This is a new kind of charter school scandal. A virtual school enrolled students already enrolled in Catholic schools and claimed full state tuition. The virtual school gave the Catholic school cash and laptops. Meanwhile, the parents paid tuition to the Catholic school. In effect, the students attended two schools.

Bizarre new world of profit-taking.

Free technology! Free state money! More enrollments! Public money for religious schools that state law forbids!

An offer too good to pass up.

A district with declining enrollment opened an online charter school (aka “cash cow”) offered free computers to students in a Catholic school a hundred miles away.

The arrangement allows students in Catholic schools to be enrolled in two schools at the same time. The academic record of online charter schools is dismal.

“That Lennox had created a virtual school was not so remarkable. Online public schools operate across California in almost every form imaginable. Some cater to home-schoolers; others focus on students who have fallen far behind. Many are charter schools that are supposed to be held accountable by the school boards that authorize them, but a handful are run by public school districts that answer mainly to themselves.

“The Lennox Virtual Academy operated in what legal experts have called a murky regulatory environment. Even so, it stood out both for enrolling students already attending school elsewhere and for its willingness, in partnering with Catholic schools, to test the limits of California’s particularly strict interpretation of the separation of church and state.

“The description of the pilot program alarmed Rivera, who is an attorney and could tell she was not being asked to sign an ordinary permission slip.

“It had red flags all over it,” she said of the paperwork, particularly one section that stated, “…all of our students in 5th-8th grade will need to be co-enrolled at both schools.”

“She grew even more concerned after she asked a St. Francis administrator how it could possibly be legal for a Catholic school to get such expensive technology for free from a public school district, and was told the school was taking advantage of a legal “loophole.” St. Francis officials declined to comment for this story, but the Diocese of Fresno and the Lennox School District defended the arrangement as legal.

“Rivera refused to sign the forms.

“There can’t be a loophole in the law that other private schools aren’t using,” she said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

I admire Catholic schools. I like the moral and ethical basis of their teachings, rooted in faith.

I admire our nation’s public schools, which enroll nearly 90% of our children. They teach not only academic skills but citizenship and tolerance, the arts of living with those who are different from oneself.

I believe in the separation of church and state. Those who seek a religious education should pay for it. Religious schools should be funded by philanthropists like Gates and Walton, not taxpayers.

Charter schools are killing off Catholic schools by competing with them but requiring no tuition. This is not fair. Charters compete by pretending that. “No excuses” makes them like Carholic schools. Wrong. Catholic schools succeed because they are faith-based.

The Green Dot charter chain took over Locke High School in 2008.

It received $15 million of mostly private funding to overhaul the school and completely change its culture.

But the one challenge that Green Dot has been unable to overcome is to provide a safe, clean place for boys to go to the bathroom.

After the stalls were vandalized, the school ripped them out, leaving no privacy.

When you read the article, you will note that teachers were afraid to express their concerns. Wonder why?

Many boys go home to use the toilet.

Test scores are up, though still disappointingly low.

On state subject matter tests, more than half the Locke students tested “below basic.”

But the students don’t have the most basic of amenities, even with a grant of $15 million.

Still waiting for that Green Dot magic.

A new study says that for every charter that opens, a Catholic school closes.

The author, Abraham Lackman, who worked for the New York state senate when it passed the first charter law in 1998, said that no one anticipated that charters–which are publicly-funded and tuition-free–would drain students from Catholic schools, which are not tuition-free.

He says the charters are not as good as Catholic schools and cost the state additional millions of dollars.

The head of the foundation that supports charters in Albany said that parents make the choice. “We’re more concerned with where they’re going, not with where they’re coming from,” he said.

Charter schools contribute directly to the collapse of Catholic schools in the inner city, according to new research by Abraham Lackman, a scholar in residence at the Albany Law School in New York. With the help of a friend, I got an URL: And here is a report of his findings in the New York Daily News:

Lackman was chief of staff for the New York State Senate Finance Committee between 1995 and 2002, which included the year (1998) when the legislature authorized 200 charter schools. In a paper called “The Collapse of Catholic School Enrollment: Dissecting the Causes,” Lackman demonstrates that Catholic schools close as charters open.

Catholic school enrollments dropped precipitously in the nation and in New York state over the past decade.  In New York state, K-8 enrollments in Catholic schools fell by a staggering 43%, from 202,000 to 115,000 from 2000 to 2010. Charter schools were not the only cause of the decline—demographics and the cost of keeping the schools open played a role too–but the advent of charters, he says, was a “significant and growing factor.” Between 2006 and 2010, 89 Catholic schools closed in New York state as 95 charter schools opened. About 30% of the students who leave Catholic schools go to charters.

He estimates that every new charter draws 100 students from Catholic schools. As another 280 new charters open in New York—thanks to Race to the Top—Catholic schools will lose another 28,000 students to charters. In the competition with chartesr, he says, the outlook for Catholic education is bleak.

It is not hard to see why charters would drive Catholic schools out of business. When a charter opens in a working-class neighborhood, it  blankets the area with flyers and posters and postcards promising to provide a rigorous, college preparatory education for free. “For free” matters. The poor and working-class families that typically rely on Catholic schools in urban districts have trouble paying even a modest fee of $3,000-5,000 per child.

There is a difference, however. The Catholic schools have a proven record. They are safe, well-disciplined, and get consistently good results. Many of the new charters are not good schools and will not provide a quality education. They are almost certain to have a high turnover of both teachers and principals, offering not a community but instability.

A large part of the Catholic schools’ success derives from the fact that they are faith-based and that they sustain a sense of genuine community, as well as stability. To me, and I am not Catholic, the success of Catholic schools depends on maintaining their religious identity, that is, keeping the crucifixes in the classrooms as well as the freedom to speak freely about one’s values. If Catholic schools turn themselves into charters hoping to survive, they make a huge mistake. They will have to abandon their religious identity, give up the faith-based nature of their school. That is no way to save Catholic schools.

As a supporter of both public education and Catholic education, I have a solution to the dilemma. Public money for public schools, and private money for Catholic schools. Just think of the billions that have been poured into charter schools for a tiny percentage of the nation’s students (is it 4% now?). Imagine if the same money—or even half of it—had been devoted to building a foundation for the future of Catholic education. We would then have a far better public school system, free of the internecine battles over resources between public school parents and charter parents. And Catholic education, which serves its students so faithfully and so well, would be preserved for future generations.

Note to philanthropists and hedge fund managers: Can’t you see the great return on investment that would come from saving Catholic schools in urban districts?