Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court justice, might never have blossomed in the Bronx without the help of a faith-based school, a Catholic oasis called Blessed Sacrament. Sotomayor herself says so. Asked by Anderson Cooper if she would have become who she is without the school, Sotomayor said, “Doubtful.”
Sadly, Blessed Sacrament is closing this year, felled by the same social and economic forces – and education policies – that contributed to the shuttering of 1,300 Catholic schools in the past 20 years. There is tragedy and irony in its passing. You don’t have to be religious to feel it.
For most of this country’s history, faith-based schools have been a fundamental part of the American experience. But now, as the nation continues to wrestle with how best to get academic traction with poor and minority kids, its 21,000 religious schools continue to shrink, and continue to be mostly overlooked as a potential piece of the solution.
Here’s the tragic part. Eleven of 12 gold standard research studies find positive academic outcomes for students using vouchers to attend private schools, the vast majority of them religious schools. More recently, William Jeynes, a researcher at California State University, Long Beach, found via a meta-analysis of 90 studies that students in religious schools were on average seven months ahead of their peers in traditional public and charter schools. This was after controlling for race, gender, poverty and parental involvement.
Faith-based schools are a financial bargain, too – for all of us. Average tuition is thousands of dollars less than per-pupil funding for public schools, so collectively, taxpayers are saving tens of billions of dollars a year.
All this isn’t to say faith-based schools are the end-all, be-all. They range in quality just as charter and virtual and traditional public schools do. But in this era of customization, they offer more options, and in this time of desperation, more hands on deck. There is no good reason to bar them from the mix of educational alternatives that is helping parents and educators find the best fit for each and every child. Continue Reading →