For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life. Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic Catholics and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from closures and declining enrollment.
Chicago Catholic elementary schools saw enrollment increase 3% this year and 1% last yearthe first two-year growth spurt since 1965. Greater Boston elementary schools had a 2% bumpthe first in 20 years. And Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Bridgeport, Conn., also added desks for the first time in years.
I can't recall the last time I read anything so upbeat about the prospects for Catholic education. Although I do think publicly funded vouchers can be part of the solution, the headline - "Vouchers Breathe New Life into Shrinking Catholic Schools - overstates their role. Outreach to Latino Catholics and donations by business leaders, as the article notes, are also key.The article glosses over another reason the enrollment picture seems to be improving. "Years of overhauls in public schools have yielded only modest progress," it says.That is, it has become clear that years of so-called reforms involving high-stakes testing and charter schools, changes in school governance and teacher contracts, etc., have produced only mixed results in public education, leading more parents to look once again at Catholic schools as an alternative.Beyond the factors mentioned in the article, I'd add one more that is still needed: Catholics need to be enthusiastic about Catholic schools if they're going to succeed. Without that, I don't think major donations from the business world or government money would do it.