Forget for a moment the Seattle Times' blatantly transparent attempt to frame a "turnaround" (defined as a one-year increase in enrollment) at a local Catholic school as an example of "charter-style" reforms (putting up fliers and accepting a $433,000 grant to buy new computers). What's really fascinating about this article is the spotlight it shines on our nation's struggling Catholic schools, a struggle that public school critics never seem to want to talk much about.
According to data compiled by the National Catholic Education Association, total Catholic school enrollment has declined by 22 percent over the past decade, from 2,616,330 during the 2001-2002 to 2,031,455 in 2011-2012. Over that same period, a net total of 1,243 Catholic schools have shut their doors, falling from 8,114 schools a decade ago to only 6,841 today.
And what's at the root of these Catholic schools' woes? Over-reliance on a nonrenewable resource:
Scott Hamilton, who runs Seton Education Partners, a 3-year-old organization dedicated to helping Catholic schools thrive, said the bigger problem is that the former economic model of Catholic schools, which relied on low-paid nuns and large class sizes, is no longer possible. In 1960, nuns made up about 96 percent of the teaching force at Catholic schools, he said. Now they make up only about 3 percent.
For decades public school critics have pointed to less well-funded Catholic schools as proof that educators can do more with less. But it turns out that the secret to affordable private education has always been an under-staffed, underpaid faculty.
The charter school movement is not about reforming education, it's about reforming the management and administration of schools in a way that breaks the teachers unions and drives down wages and benefits. But, you know, if we continue to devalue both the status and pay of teachers, the best teachers may prove to be a nonrenewable resource too.