Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

School Choice & Charters Opinion

The Intriguing Possibilities of Catholic School Reform

By Rick Hess — October 12, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

While in Milwaukee last week, I had the chance to spend some time visiting with the leadership team for Seton Catholic Schools, a network of about two dozen elementary schools enrolling about 8,300 students. As a Jewish kid who always attended (and taught in) traditional public schools, I always find parochial schools innately interesting. What they’re doing at Seton is doubly so.

In recent decades, Catholic education has confronted a bunch of challenges. A half-century ago, the parochial staffing model relied heavily on nuns—which served to make staffing a no-brainer and to keep costs way down. Because those nuns are no longer there in significant numbers, staffing parochial schools is now a lot more expensive and difficult than it used to be. Charter schools offer a tuition-free alternative for lots of urban families that might have once considered parochial schools. Meanwhile, parochial schooling also has to deal with the same hidebound routines, dated facilities, and ineffective practices that hinder so many urban public schools.

Dealing with all of this can be pretty intimidating, especially for Catholic school leaders who are supposed to negotiate these challenges on their own—while dealing with change-resistant alums and communities. What Seton is trying to do via its network is offer those isolated schools a path forward. At participating schools, Seton is helping them rethink school leadership, providing coaching, supplying regular assessment, offering back-office services, tackling challenges like recruiting and technology, and seeking ways to energize these schools’ faith-based mission.
On the one hand, none of this is surprising. What Seton is seeking to do isn’t much different from what a well-run district or a charter management organization does. The difference is really more with the kinds of schools Seton is supporting, and the particular possibilities that they offer. On the other hand, those possibilities mean that Seton yields some really intriguing opportunities that aren’t available to even the most dynamic public educators.

What do I have in mind? There are many things I could mention; I’ll name three.

One is the chance to woo current and potential educators seeking a faith-based community that public schools can’t provide. Private schools have the freedom to ignore teacher credentials, meaning they can permit aspiring teachers to skip certification programs that can be costly and unhelpful. For teachers tired of schools obsessed with state testing requirements and whipsawed by policy directives governing everything from discipline to teacher evaluation, private schools can offer a respite and the chance to craft measures tailored to their realities and needs.

A second is that these schools have more formal freedom than public schools to reimagine schooling. (I’m talking formal impediments; when it comes to the informal and cultural stuff, private schools are frequently pretty stymied in their own right.) They don’t have to worry about state hiring directives or procurement protocols, staffing mandates, or federal “time and effort” reporting requirements. Private schools have enormous freedom to rethink how they configure the school year, group students, utilize staff, compensate teachers, or leverage technology.

A third is that religious schools are free to take their faith seriously. (Wacky, I know.) They allow educators and communities to embrace a vision of schooling that stretches far beyond “college and career readiness.” Whereas educators in public schools are asked to teach character, perseverance, empathy, and tolerance while carefully steering clear of any faith-based underpinnings that have historically justified them, religious schools are free to teach morality unapologetically.

Meanwhile, for those who tend to agree with Immanuel Kant that social and emotional learning are best when based on abstractions and not bound up with the vagaries of faith, there are public district and charter schools. That’s one of the things I love about America’s decentralized, eclectic system of schooling. As much as it frustrates those enthralled by grand visions and eager to impose “system solutions,” it provides a rich array of schools and systems from which families can choose. In a nation with more than 50 million kids in school, each with their own strengths and needs, that seems like a pretty fortuitous thing.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Virtual Charters in Hot Water Again. Accusations of Fraud Prompt $150M Lawsuit
Indiana officials seek to recoup more than $150 million they say was either wrongly obtained or misspent by a consortium of virtual schools.
Arika Herron, The Indianapolis Star
2 min read
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. Rokita filed a lawsuit against a group of online charter schools accused of defrauding the state out of millions of dollars Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
School Choice & Charters How the Pandemic Helped Fuel the Private School Choice Movement
State lawmakers got a new talking point as they pushed to create and expand programs to send students to private schools.
8 min read
Collage showing two boys in classroom during pandemic wearing masks with cropped photo of feet and arrows going in different directions.
Collage by Gina Tomko/EducationWeek (Images: Getty)
School Choice & Charters Opinion Taking Stock After 30 Years of Charter Schools
Rick Hess speaks with Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, on charter schools turning 30.
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty
Getty