Liam Julian

The quest to raise graduation rates??is on (see here and here).

This should help.

The pontiff is still in the middle of his speech to Catholic educators (which, as predicted, is mostly a soft-spoken smack down of Catholic colleges and universities gone astray). But we're pretty sure he said a few helpful things about the tragedy of inner-city schools closing at an alarming rate. (We say pretty sure because we find his accent difficult to parse.) More later when a transcript is available.

Last week we asked, ???Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools???? Pope Benedict XVI offered his thoughts in today's address to Catholic educators:

The Catholic community here has in fact made education one of its highest priorities. This undertaking has not come without great sacrifice. Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight, laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation. Some, like Saint Katharine Drexel, devoted their lives to educating those whom others had neglected--in her case, African Americans and Native Americans. Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.

This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible


What to make of Pope Benedict XVI's comments about Catholic schools? Here are a few thoughts.

First, note that he described ???contribut[ing] generously to the financial needs of our institutions??? as ???a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community.??? Translation: Bishops should ask their parishioners to open their wallets and help support Catholic schools (as has happened in Wichita, where widespread tithing has allowed the diocese to make all Catholic schools free for Catholic families).

Second, he said that ???everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that [Catholic schools] are accessible to people of all social and economic strata.??? Translation: it's not just the Church's responsibility to support Catholic education for poor children; the larger public should help, too--perhaps through school vouchers and the like.

Bottom line: if these words reach the ears of Catholics, and other Americans, too, they could do a world of good.

UPDATE: Education Week's take here....

Liam Julian

Clayton Wilcox, superintendent of Pinellas County Schools (Florida), the 22nd largest district in the country,?? today??announced his resignation. After years of controversy, the district just released??zoning maps for its??new student assignment plan, which doesn't take race into account when apportioning pupils to schools. The maps are bound to stir things up, and perhaps Wilcox wants to avoid the??forthcoming??scuffles.

(For fourteen months, Wilcox actually operated a blog, which he briefly shut down, ostensibly because too many comments on his posts were insulting.??Flypaper scoffs at such blogging weakness.)

Liam Julian

Catholic school teachers may feel called to their profession by a higher power, but??they're also called to??higher salaries.

Liam Julian

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that almost "nine in 10 public elementary school parents in Jefferson County [Kentucky] say it's important to bring together students from different races and backgrounds to learn." (The Supreme Court ruled last year that Jefferson County may very rarely, if ever, consider race when determining how it assigns students to schools.)

But the article also notes:

At least 90 percent of parents said any changes to assignment rules should maintain family choice, minimize time on buses, allow siblings to attend together and ensure parents know which middle and high schools their children will attend.

That's a lot to ask from an assignment plan that seeks to make schools more racially diverse. All things being equal, most parents will, at least in surveys, support engineering school diversity. But in big districts like Jefferson County, parental choice and minimal time on buses??are often just logistically incompatible with racially mixed schools. Parents support diversity, but not if it means their kids attend class all the way across town and wake up at 5 a.m. each morning to catch the bus.

USA Today's Richard Whitmire turns in a provocative thumbsucker at Politico on John McCain, his (still to be fleshed out) education platform, and his top education aide (and former rodeo star) Lisa Graham Keegan. To the dismay of many education writers (not to mention Ed in '08), Whitmire reports that "education will be a back burner issue for McCain, lagging far behind terrorism and the economy, a notion not disputed by his aides."

That disappoints Whitmire, too, who offers up his own suggestions for what the candidate might embrace:

Recent victories on the reform agenda side, such as high-flying charters and the astonishing success of Teach for America, have captured the imagination of young, independent-minded Democrats. If the Democratic nominee fails to tack back to the center, these voters may be open to a switch. Pushing hard on charters, for example, could add up to a reform platform akin to Bush's "I'll bring you Texas" accountability, which fleshed out his "compassionate conservative" credentials.

Yes, that would be great, and a nice complement to some of the ideas Checker Finn and I laid out in the Weekly Standard a month ago. But everyone's kidding themselves if they think McCain is suddenly going to try to be an education president. The voters are burned out on the issue, with No Child Left Behind fatigue running deep, and McCain doesn't need to use education in the same way that President Bush...

Today's "daily article" from First Things--one of the preeminent Catholic journals in the country--provides a great write-up of Fordham's Catholic schools report.

Every generation lives off the cultural inheritance of its predecessors. Among that inheritance for today's American Catholics is a network of parochial schools built by their immigrant forebears, which served both to teach the faith and ground the community. But today, many of those Catholic schools in urban areas are facing a near-fatal financial crisis.

After providing an excellent overview of our findings and recommendations, the author, Mary Rose Rybak, questions our enthusiasm for Catholic schools educating non-Catholics--not to mention converting Catholic schools to charter schools as a means of keeping their doors open.

The reformers at the Fordham Foundation see Catholic schools as one answer to the problem of urban education because they are good schools. But it is worth asking a few questions: To what extent are these schools excellent because they are Catholic, in the sense that they express a commonly held worldview, center a religious community, and participate in a shared faith life? And what effect will it have on their excellence if they cease to be Catholic, in the sense of primarily educating Catholics as Catholics? Will these schools still retain their excellence?

It does appear that Catholic schools continue to provide an excellent education to non-Catholics; consider the school voucher studies that show that inner-city private schools (which means, mostly, Catholic schools) significantly...

It might not be The Wire (apologies to our friends at Quick and the Ed), but yesterday HBO announced plans to air an edu-documentary this summer: Hard Times at Douglas High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card.