Catholic schools adopting the best practices of the top charter networks
With Catholic schools closing across New York City and enrollment plummeting 35 percent over the last decade alone, Queen of Angels and five other Catholic schools in East Harlem and the South Bronx have banded into a "network"— another charter term—of six schools and 2,100 students to try to reverse course.
A central part of the plan to push back the decline of Catholic education is to treat the city's successful charter school sector as a model, rather than a competitor, although charter schools have been contributing to the Catholic sector's population drain by attracting low-income families who choose a free charter over a tuition-based parochial school.
The six schools are managed by the new Partnership for Inner City Education, which signed an 11-year contract with the Archdiocese of New York in 2013.
"The Catholic school system as a whole right now is taking a step back and saying, 'we need to get this right now,'" said Cecilia Greene, the Partnership's director of stewardship.
The idea is that if these six schools can show substantive improvement over the next several years, the rest of the city's struggling Catholic schools could follow. And the Partnership's leaders are looking to the city's high-performing charter schools as a template for their revamped schools.
The schools' student populations are very similar to that of the city's charter sector. Ninety-nine percent of students at the Partnership's schools are black or Hispanic, and 69 percent qualify for scholarships. The Partnership has a higher percentage of English language learners—22 percent—than most large charter networks.
Greene described the network's model simply: "We are Catholic charter schools."
The Partnership's turnaround plan combines some of the central components of Catholic schools—strict discipline, a focus on character development—with a new infusion of charter-inspired efficiency and academic rigor.