Sean Kennedy, a fellow at the Lexington Institute in Arlington,
Virginia, is the author of the recent study “Building 21st Century
Catholic Learning Communities: Enhancing the Catholic Mission with Data,
Blended Learning, and Other Best Practices From Top Charter Schools” (PDF file). His article, "Charting a Future for Catholic Education", on the City Journal
website, is an appreviated version of his study; it argues that
Catholic schools, if they are to survive and thrive, need to embrace
certain qualities and strengths of charter schools, which now outnumber
Though they enrolled 5.2 million students at the height of the baby
boom, Catholic schools in the United States have struggled with
declining matriculation in the decades since and today have just under 2
million students. This year marks a particularly striking milestone:
the first time that charter schools, nationwide, will enroll more
students than Catholic schools. Charters’ growing success is not without
irony, since the independently run public schools have long imitated
the Catholic model: high expectations, discipline, and school uniforms.
What accounts for the decline of Catholic schools and the rise of
charters? In a word, competition, though it should be noted that the
playing field hasn’t been levelCatholic schools (with a few exceptions)
don’t receive public funds, as charters do. Nonetheless, Abe Lackman of
Albany Law School analyzed New York State data and concluded that every
new charter lures students away from a nearby Catholic school.
According to John Eriksen, the outgoing superintendent of New Jersey’s
Paterson Diocese Catholic schools, “charter schools are competition, and
Catholic schools that don’t recognize that will be on the menu instead
of having a seat at the table.”
For over a century, Catholic schools thrived without government
dollars because they offered high-quality education and religious
instruction to generations of immigrants and their children, often at
low cost. Priests and nuns staffed the schools that Catholic
parishioners subsidized. As American public education became
increasingly captured by fads, Catholic schools stood as a refuge,
offering strict academic standards and discipline.
These days, expenditures on lay teacher salaries and repair of
dilapidated buildings have blown up the price tag at Catholic schools to
three times the rate of inflation. In nominal dollars, per-pupil costs
nearly doubled between 1998 and 2010, from $5,600 to $10,800; average
tuition for incoming ninth-graders at Catholic schools more than
doubled, from $4,300 to $8,800. Even as the Church subsidy has increased
through financial-aid scholarships and cost-sharing, Catholic schools
are becoming prohibitively expensive. Parents face a stark choice: part
with a sizeable portion of their disposable income or find a cheaper
alternative. Increasingly, charter schools present that alternative,
offering a relatively comparable education courtesy of the taxpayer.
Yet the slow death of Catholic schools in the United States should not be abided quietly.
Read the entire article.