Praying for a productive summit

I'm looking forward to Thursday's White House "summit" on inner-city kids and faith-based schools, both because it's a really important issue and because a number of panelists (and at least one moderator) are involved with the promising projects and programs recently profiled in Fordham's Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools?

But I've also learned a thing or two about "summits" over the years. When they accomplish anything (rare), it's because tons of groundwork has been done in advance to forge near-agreement among key players on an action plan or program to be announced or inked at the summit itself. Also, they're usually small events where a few really important decision-makers meet with each other "at the summit"--i.e., somewhere above the hillsides inhabited by bureaucrats and staffers and assistant secretaries and such.

What's coming up this week is more like a conference than a summit. There will be a cast of thousands. Problems and ideas will surely be aired, perhaps brilliantly examined, but to the best of my knowledge, no action plan will be announced for none has been agreed to. I worry that the tone will be set by the President's remarks at the prayer breakfast the other day that Catholic schools need to be "saved." That's oversimplified and na??ve, at least for elected officials. (The pope and his bishops are another story.) However, helping more poor kids to attend such schools is a legitimate public policy objective toward which actual programs can be mounted. If Thursday's event gets us any closer to such programs, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

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