I wish faith-based schools, many of which have served urban communities and low-income families admirably for decades, could be seen more as partners than outsiders in a system of 21st Century schools that will educate our students.
What we need perhaps most in American education are more high quality, replicable schools. Among faith-based schools we have many of these, yet we have watched them disappear rapidly, especially from our inner cities where they have not only been education centers, but community centers. Enrollment in Catholic schools, for example, began to decline in 1965 and has since fallen by more than 60 percent, resulting in the closure of 5,000 schools, according the National Catholic Educational Association.
The overall decline in faith-based schools was chronicled well in 2008 in a White House Domestic Policy Council report, “Preserving a Critical National Asset.” Yet almost no progress has been made in halting the deteriorating circumstances for these schools. The Great Recession and ongoing demographic changes have continued the trends, but faith-based schools still educate about 3.8 million students and account for 80 percent of private school enrollment, according to the latest U.S. Department of Education data from 2009-10.
The American Center for School Choice launched its Commission on Faith-based Schools in large part to focus attention on the value these schools have for American education and for many families. We want to expand the understanding that the public and policymakers have before we lose more high quality schools, especially in areas that have precious few of any type.
Virtually all of our international competitors have education systems that integrate government-operated schools and private schools, including faith-based schools. We know, therefore, that the distinctions we make are artificial. At a time when we suffer from a dearth of high-performing schools – schools that can deliver a consistently rigorous curriculum and successfully graduate a high percentage of the student body – we can little afford to watch indifferently as more good ones close.
Coming Thursday: Wishing for a progressive teachers union.