Sunday, March 04, 2007

Radical Changes Pay Off For D.C. Catholic Schools

Kudos to the Catholic schools in Washington DC for such a remarkable turnaround!  A lot of lessons here for ALL school reform efforts. 
Yet despite these remarkable results and the DC voucher program, the archdiocese is STILL being forced to shut schools.  This is absolute madness!
Like public charter schools, which operate independently, Catholic schools can serve as laboratories to help education experts sift out what works and what doesn't in the classroom.

About 60 percent of consortium students come from low-income families, and nearly all are minorities. Most -- 74 percent -- are non-Catholic. Asked about this, consortium officials quote Hickey: "We don't educate these children because they are Catholic. We educate them because we are Catholic."

But the D.C. Catholic schools continue to struggle financially, part of a national trend. Petrilli wrote in a recent report that the Archdiocese of Detroit had shut 21 schools, with more closures likely. In addition, he wrote, the New York and Brooklyn archdioceses shut down 36 schools, and the Chicago archdiocese closed 18 schools.

The Washington archdiocese has announced that four schools, including two in the consortium, might close in the coming school year. The consortium has raised more than $30 million since 1997. Among many fundraising activities is an annual dinner led by Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). But the financial drain continues. Consortium schools charge about $4,500 in tuition and fees per student each year, and many families pay less than that. But officials say the cost is about $8,000 per student.


Radical Changes Pay Off For D.C. Catholic Schools

Once-Dying Campuses Find Success by Borrowing From Indiana's Playbook

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 8, 2007; Page B01

Many Catholic schools in the District seemed moribund in 1995. Paint was peeling, and enrollment and test scores were dropping. Advisers urged the archbishop of Washington to shut or consolidate several schools serving low-income neighborhoods.

Cardinal James A. Hickey refused. "I won't abandon this city," he said. Instead, Washington's Catholic schools began a series of drastic changes in 1997. New administrators armed with research on what worked in urban education put many schools under the same office. They told teachers that they would be judged on how much their students improved, required them to use common math and reading curricula and adopted learning standards that had worked well in Indiana, 500 miles away.

It was one of the most radical realignments of Catholic education ever attempted in a U.S. city. Ten years later, principals and teachers at the 14 schools in the archdiocese's Center City Consortium are celebrating a sharp turnaround in student achievement and faculty support.

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