Catholic Schools Become Charter Schools

Andy Smarick
Seton Education Partners
September 2009

Faced with an unsustainable financial model, falling enrollment, and grim prospects for further philanthropic support, in 2007, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. chose to convert seven of its inner-city schools to charter schools. This case study tells the story of that charter conversion process, not as an argument that this is the solution for all Catholic schools facing closure, but to glean key lessons for other Archdiocese that might want to travel the same route. Author Andy Smarick found ten such lessons from the Washington experience. Many are operational, such as that working with the charter authorizing body, in this case the DC Public Charter School Board, “early and often” is central to success. Others are more results oriented, like the fact that conversion will likely increase enrollment and bring in more students who are behind academically, straining the new schools. And still others are environmental, like having an already existing network--in D.C., it’s the Center City Consortium--helps pave the way for a smoother transition. One of the biggest hurdles, of course, is how to replace--but not remove--religion; in other words, the structure, discipline, and character building that are provided by religious instruction should be maintained in a secular way. There’s much more to be found in this narrative. Read it here.

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