Charter schools and Catholic schools

The push is on in Washington this week to put more federal money into the charter-school movement. That may be good news for parents whose children are in substandard public schools, but it's bad news for Catholic schools, which are losing enrollment to the publicly funded charter schools.The Obama administration's push for increased federal funding comes on top of vast corporate philanthropic support for charter schools from the Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation and others. As I wrote in Commonweal last year, the charter schools often pick up some of the trappings parents find attractive in Catholic schools, such as strong discipline and uniforms.I don't see how all but the strongest Catholic schools can survive the competition with charter schools unless there is a stronger financial commitment to Catholic schools on the part of major foundations and, yes, Catholics themselves. Catholic schools have long provided a refuge from the educational fads that afflict public education. Setting aside their religious mission, that alone is reason enough to save them. The campaign to use corporate methodology - performance data, bonuses, marketing - that is behind the charter-school movement may well prove to be another educational fad that goes nowhere. No less than Diane Ravitch, an educational historian who had advocated a more business-like approach to education, seems to have come to that conclusion. "The more I saw, the more I lost the faith," she writes in her upcoming book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System," according to The Washington Post.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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