A match made in heaven: innovation and Catholic education

Editor’s note: The National Catholic Educational Association is sponsoring Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 27-Feb. 2. Students, families, parishioners and community members are focusing on the value that Catholic education provides to young people as well as its contribution to local communities. This year’s theme is Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.

Catholic schools have a rich tradition of providing high-quality education to disadvantaged children in America’s cities. A recent study of private school enrollment in Education Next found that middle-income families in particular have been losing access to private schools, in part due to a declining number of Catholic schools.

It’s worth noting that in the absence of private choice programs, the ability of middle and (especially) low-income families to access private schools would have declined further. In 1965, 13,000 Catholic schools served 5.2 million students. As a result of closures, 6,600 Catholic schools now serve 1.9 million students.

Reducing funding discrimination against private schools is not the only path to expanding access; reducing costs with innovative models also can expand access. This type of innovation is bubbling up in the Catholic school sector.

Cristo Rey is a network of 35 Catholic schools focused on low-income students that combine college-prep academics with a four-year corporate work study program in which Cristo Rey students share office job in partnerships with participating firms. Generated revenue keeps tuition costs low. Cristo Rey graduates are earning four-year college degrees at three times the rate of low-income students nationally, and have pursued blended learning strategies in pursuit of further improvements in outcomes and possible cost containment.

Founded in 2010 by the University of Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), Notre Dame ACE Academies responded to a call from U.S. bishops for greater collaboration between Catholic higher education and K-12 schools. Notre Dame has partnered with Catholic schools in states with private choice programs and has launched an effort to explore blended learning strategies. ACE has partner schools in Palm Beach and Tampa, in addition to partnerships in Arizona and Indiana.

Then there is this very interesting speech by Gareth Genner to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation:

Genner’s organization Parish.Academy is helping to create 40-160 student Catholic micro-schools with a goal of an annual cost of $3,885 per student. From the organization’s website:

Parish.Academy offers a unique opportunity to keep a Catholic school open even if enrollment has fallen substantially and with unsubsidized total costs of $3,850 or less the tuition will be within the means of a greater number of parishioners. Please consult with us before announcing a school closing and let us offer you with a no-cost solution.

Color me intrigued. This Anglican will be praying for the success of these and other Catholic innovators.