Catholic Schools Challenged To Educate the 'Worst'

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NEW YORK--Roman Catholic schools should launch an aggressive campaign to educate the "worst'' students in every community and seek public and private funding once those students graduate, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett proposed here last week.

"Seek out the poor, the disadvantaged, the disruptive, the dropout, and take them in, educate them and then ask society for fair recompense for your efforts,'' Mr. Bennett said in a speech at the annual meeting of the National Catholic Educational Association here.

The Secretary proposed calling this campaign "Project Voluntas,'' using the Latin word for goodwill or testament.

'Great Success'

Mr. Bennett, himself a graduate of Catholic schools, cited several recent studies, including work by the sociologist James S. Coleman, indicating that Catholic schools have had "great success'' in educating poor, minority, and other "at risk'' students.

But the church schools have been less successful in "making their case to the public'' in seeking greater support, Mr. Bennett said.

"In contemporary jargon, I don't think good Catholic schools have been marketing themselves as well as they should,'' the Secretary said.

He noted that while some Catholic schools have won national recognition for their efforts in educating the disadvantaged, other parochial schools are closing. About 4,000 Catholic schools have closed in the past 20 years, he said.

"You can't wait around for tax credits or tuition vouchers or other forms of new government support,'' he said.

Referring to the Education Department's recently failed proposal for vouchers for the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, Mr. Bennett said, "We took our best shot at it, and we lost.''

However, the effort helped to build broader acceptance for public and private choice, he said.

"In time, I think people will come to believe in extending choice to private education,'' the Secretary said.

'Politics of Inclusion'

In what has become a continuing theme of his speeches, Mr. Bennett again criticized what he called "the education establishment,'' which he said traditionally has opposed funding for private education.

The Secretary was interrupted by applause at one point in the speech when he criticized the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Aguilar v. Felton, which declared unconstitutional the practice of sending publicly fundedChapter 1 remedial teachers into parochial schools.

In a conversation with "a member of the education establishment,'' Mr. Bennett said, "I pointed out that public funds should go to all the public--and that some of the public are enrolled in nonpublic schools, too.''

Mr. Bennett said his proposed "Project Voluntas'' could help discredit objections to public support for private schools, and serve as a model of private-sector initiative.

"While the National Education Association lobbies to exclude any funding for programs--and even for children--in private schools, you can practice the politics of inclusion,'' he said.

Such a campaign to take "the worst 5 or 10 percent'' of students would "transform and save the lives of children who otherwise might fail,'' he said.

Mr. Bennett said he would also recommend his proposal to other private schools, but said it was most appropriate for Catholic schools, which have a minority enrollment of about 20 percent.

In a question-and-answer session after the speech, Mr. Bennett said support for his proposed project would come mainly from local sources. "I'd like business to say, we're going to help good schools, no matter who they are,'' he said.

When asked whether he would do more to help Catholic schools, Mr. Bennett complained that he had been "bashed'' by "the education establishment'' for supporting Catholic education.

"Some even think it's unconstitutional,'' he said. "There's not much more I can do or I will be crossing that line.''

Praise for 'Values'

The Secretary also praised Catholic education for teaching values, and admonished parochial schools to "keep faith with your tradition,'' even as the enrollment of non-Catholics increases.

"Whatever the sectarian differences may be,'' Mr. Bennett said, "parents send their children to school for moral as well as academic education.''

Vol. 07, Issue 29

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