about the bloggerJoe Womac
7.22.2011Soda Pop and Schools
What Catholic Schools Can Learn from PepsiCo
Catholic schools can learn a lot from the soft drink industry and its consumers. Stick with me as I try to explain why…
Recently, Coke scored what appeared to be a major victory against its rival Pepsi when Diet Coke passed Pepsi as the #2 selling soft drink in America, giving Coke the top two slots in soft drink sales for the first time. Certainly it was a symbolic victory for Coke and many hearing the news may have assumed that the folks at Pepsi were quite disheartened with the news.
However, digging deeper into the facts of the situation reveals that the story of Diet Coke passing Pepsi was truly not a story of Coke versus Pepsi. Instead, it is a story of diet versus sugar. Dating back to the day the first diet soda sold, the sugar drinks have been losing ground to the sugar free drinks. PepsiCo and Coke have both realized for years that many of their customers have become conscious about the number of calories in the drinks they consume, so consequently they have been creating products for those customers that contain fewer calories.
Michelle Rhee, Howard Fuller, Sara Martinez Tucker, and John DiIulio Each Speak Out On What Issues Matter Most for Our Nation's Children
Do you care about education issues?
Are you concerned about what should be done to improve our nation's schools?
If so, I suggest you skip tonight's television program and instead spend 90 minutes listening to what the University of Notre Dame's panelists had to say at their recent event, The System: Opportunity, Crisis, and Obligation in K-12 Education.
3.25.2011A Nice Little Primer
Andy Smarick's History of Catholic Ed...
My friends at Seton Educational Partners, just sent me this article written by Andy Smarick, former Deputy Assistant Education Secretary for the U.S. Dept. of Ed. It could serve as a good primer for those interested in the historical rise and then decline of Catholic education in our innercities. Check it out.
3.9.2011The Economics of Dropping Out
What is each high school graduate worth? What does each dropout cost us?
Most of the research and commentary on high school dropouts focuses on the negative consequences in the life of the typical dropout. High school dropouts are mulitple times more likely to spend time in jail, struggle with unemployment, commit violent acts...The depressing list goes on. Check out the impressive interactive site set up by Boostup on dropout rates to learn a bit more in this direction. It gets pretty scary and depressing when you focus not only on the consequences of dropping out but on the fact that nearly one in three students drops out in the United States, and nearly one in two in some innercities and rural parts of the country.
What, though, of the positive impacts of preventing a dropout? In other words, instead of focusing on the negative trends that come from dropping out, what can we surmise from focusing on the positive effects of graduating high school. The Alliance for Excellent Education has set up a useful interactive tool of their own, similar to Boostup's above. However, it does something different. It quantifies the impact of dropouts in terms of the lost economic opportunity. Since graduates earn more, society loses the potential economic benefit of a higher earning graduate each time a student drops out of high school. So here in Seattle, for instance, our citizens would earn almost $100,000,000 more each year if we could just cut the dropout rate in half.
So, I'll finish with one last little point relating this issue to Catholic education: Considering the fact that studies have shown that Catholic schools dropout rates nationally are as low as 3% -- certainly not even close to the national 30% -- shouldn't the public be very concerned that Catholic schools in our inner cities are closing at extremely rapid rates (over 1,300 in just the last decade)? With over 2,000,000 students enrolled in Catholic schools in this country, it would seem that the above research points to tens of billions of added earnings caused by the increased graduation rates (lower dropout rates) of Catholic schools.
2.17.2011Back on the Blog
Archbishop Dolan's Remarks
I'm back from hiatus now that we have a new Blog site. This first post is a short one. Interested in hearing an eloquent set of remarks in support of school choice for Catholic education? Try out NYC's Archbishop Dolan and his recent Fox Interview:
9.1.2010Going Back(ward) to School in DC
Note that although the film was produced by a conservative think tank, many of the proponents of the program featured in the film are not Republican. The film is called "Let Me Rise" and is featured on the Voices of School Choice website.
Clearly, the challenges facing principals and schools are immense. Clearly, in some communities consolidation is the only solution. Clearly, we should be aggressively pursuing increased lay leadership and governance reform in many school communities where such is needed.
That said, I just hung up the phone with a principal of a Catholic school here in the Seattle area. He has been in this role for a short four years. When he began, the school had shrunk to just 140 students and, needless to say, had many empty desks and much debt to repay. Where are they today? This fall they will welcome an enrollment of 260 students and nearly full classrooms throughout the building. Their debt is largely paid down and they are about to embark on a campaign to remodel the gymnasium. This principal saw through the empty desks and debt and saw opportunity. We need more of that.
8.13.2010Being Willing to Rethink the Model
In a recent survey of US Pastors regarding their perceptions and attitudes toward Catholic K-12 schools ("Faith, Finances, and the Future: The Notre Dame Study of U.S. Pastors"), Ron Nuzzi, Anthony Holter, and James Frabutt learned that most US Pastors who oversee a Catholic school "did not perceive the mission of their schools to be supported by Catholic institutions of higher education." According to the same study, only 17% of those surveyed reported any active partnership with a Catholic college or university. Nuzzi, Holter, and Frabutt--who are employed by the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Educational Initiatives--suggest this is highly disappointing, especially considering that those few pastors that did sense the support of a Catholic college or university were much more likely to value their Catholic grade school.
This common impression of the pastors reinforces findings from a different study conducted in 2002 by John Watzke. This study looked at Catholic university teacher education programs and learned that less than 1/3 of the faculty of Catholic college teacher training programs "have any experience in Catholic schools (as a student, teacher, or administrator)." If less than 1/3 of the faculty have ever experienced a Catholic school at any level, how can we expect these same faculty to take a lead in training the future leaders and educators of that same system?
This is not to imply that nothing is being done by our Catholic Universities (Just check out the University Consortium for Catholic Education for some great examples). But one would hope for higher positive response rates the next time a survey is done.
This supporter and many others do more than give us their resources. They deliver for us an uncompromising message of validation that a Catholic donor is not as easily able to provide. When a person that is not a product of Catholic schools or not a believer in the Catholic faith gives to Catholic education, it has a way of highlighting some very important reasons for giving such a gift that have nothing to do with religion. It makes the onlooker say: "Hmmm...If this brilliant, discerning, and successful person has decided to invest in these schools despite their own personal lack of religious affiliation, there must be something of serious societal value going on in these schools."
Philanthropy Roundtable, a nonprofit based out of Washington DC, recently published an article in their magazine, Philanthropy, on some of the most prominent supporters of Inner-city Catholic Schools that happen to not be Catholic. The article, "An Episcopalian, an Atheist, and a Jew Walk into a Catholic School...", is most definitely an interesting read. It makes again for us the clear case for the importance of Catholic schools in our inner-cities, as well as the reasons for why we should all, Catholic or not Catholic, care about their futures. Christopher Levenick, the author of the story, asked some of these philanthropists why thye support these schools if they are not Catholic themselves. Here's what they said:
“I think it’s the structure of the Catholic schools. It’s partly the
commitment of the faculty and the administration. But it’s also the disciplinary
environment—kids wearing uniforms, doing their homework, and learning at an
early age the importance of showing up on time—which gives the students a
uniquely important experience. Kids seem to want that kind of guidance,
discipline, and leadership.”
Peter T. Grauer, Chairman, Bloomberg LP
President, Inner-City Scholarship Fund
“Well, just like in charter schools, if you have teachers who truly
care about their students, you are much more likely to see great results.
Similarly, you cannot overlook the focus and commitment of parents who choose to
send their kids to these schools. There are a number of factors that contribute
to the success of charter schools and Christian schools, but I think the two
most important are faculty commitment and family engagement.”
David WeekleyFounder, David Weekley Homes
“One of the keys of parochial education, in general, is that the
children are not only given quality academics but also a sense of values and
culture. The fact that these schools view it as part of their mission to impart
proper values—which you might call Judeo-Christian—to their students is integral
to their success. I think that’s very important in building a whole
Donn Weinberg, Chairman, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
"It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports,
guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the
other, from this time forward forevermore." -John Adams, July 2, 1776, Letter to
Clearly we Americans are living up to President Adams July 4th aspirations for us. But how do Americans behave the other 364 days of the year? What does it mean to be a "model citizen"? Over 80 percent of Americans will tell you that they feel it is a "very important" function of our school system to prepare students to be "responsible citizens" (see below Campbell study). But what is a "responsible citizen" and how do you train one?
This is the question Dr. David Campbell asked when doing his doctoral dissertation at Harvard published in 2001. Dr. Campbell was not just interested in what qualities define a model citizen, but what is the environment that is likely going to inculcate such traits. What did he find?
"Strong evidence has accumulated that nonpublic, particularly Catholic,
schools are a private means to the very public end of facilitating civic
That's right. You want to make good citizens out of our nation's children? Put them in Catholic schools. Here's a link to his study.
Okay now. I wonder. What did you think about? Did you think about the amazing technology in your classroom? Did you think about the history text book that changed your life or that amazing math chapter in your Geometry curriculum? I think probably not.
I'm not a betting person but I would wager this month's wages that the vast majority of people willing to put themselves through that little mental exercise above have a person or persons pop into their mind when asked to think of pivotal educational moments. And I'm willing to bet that the people we ponder are the teachers that were fantastic in some way.
What does this tell us about how to improve schools? Pretty obvious. Good teachers make good schools. We all know this from our own experience and the Gates Foundation has picked up on it to (just check this link out).
This year, at Bishop Blanchet, a Catholic Prep High School in Seattle, Mr. Bill Herber will retire after 50 years at that school. 50 Years! He's taught the children of former students, who were the children of former students! Please take a minute to check out this PI story and the accompanying videos on YouTube. I cannot imagine that if you do so you'll remain unconvinced of the impact a teacher can have over a career.
As for me, I cannot relive for you many specific lessons from my 7th grade English class or what textbook we used, but I am sure if my memory were wiped systematically clean one memory at a time, Ms. Sampson would be one of the last people I'd ever forget. What a force that woman was! And because of her talents and passions as a teacher that I must admit I resented at times, my classmates and I all left her care dramatically improved readers and writers--two skills extremely difficult to teach.
A good education means more than just learning math, science, reading and writing. It means a better life. Let's connect some dots:
- Dot 1: In this country, the more money your family of origin has, the further you're likely going to make it in your education. Click on the below chart provided by the Gates Foundation and spend a moment coming to your own conclusions about what it means.
- Dot 2: And the higher you make it in education the more money you will make. Now spend a minute or two with this chart provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Dot 3: Private schools, especially Catholic schools, close the achievement gap for poor and minorities, making it more likely they will go to college and beyond. Check out this summary of data from CAPE (too many charts to choose from!).
5.20.2010Cristo Rey Proving It Can Be Done
- Refuse to take any student unless they come from an economically disadvantaged family, preferably near the poverty line;
- Refuse to accept "academically gifted" students with a stated preference for those from the "middle of the pack" or lower.
Now check out this WSJ article/video to learn how these very same high schools can post unprecedented academic results, like one in Cleveland that not only graduates all its students but has a 100% acceptance rate for its graduates into college. I'm talking about the Cristo Rey Network of Catholic High Schools.
I had the pleasure two weeks ago of having lunch with several of the Cristo Rey Network leadership--Rev. John P. Foley, S.J., (Executive Chair), Robert J. Birdsell (President & CEO) and Christopher D. Broughton (Director of Post-Secondary Initiatives). They shared with me story after story of the incredible impact this model of education has had on thousands of students that would have most probably slipped through the educational cracks had they not been given the opportunity to attend a Cristo Rey School.
Kudos to these excellent folks and to the WSJ for telling the world about it.
5.17.2010Can the DC Opportunity Scholarship story teach us something about the realities of "centralization" and "dependency"?
This past year, burried within a massive omnibus spending bill, a small provision was added that would effectively elimintate this successful scholarship program. Consequently, whether you've heard of this program or not, your senator participated in a vote (one way or the other) recently that (at least for now) has ended this program, and so these same thousands of students attending mostly excellent schools will likely be returned to the same underachieving classrooms they were in prior to 2004. No vote in Congress has ever impacted them as much, so I am quite certain that each one of these young people is aware that this vote was taking place.
In his recent opinion article for the Wall Street Journal, civil rights leader Fr. Ted Hesburgh, former president of the University of Notre Dame called the end of this program a major "Setback for Educational Civil Rights." Here are some samplings from his piece:
Much has been written about the crisis in education, and the effective resegregation of our public schools. It's clear who is paying the price. A study a few years ago from Johns Hopkins University highlighted the terrible disparity of the current system: Nearly half of our nation's African-American students, nearly 40% of Latino students, but only 11% of white students attend high schools in which graduation is not the norm.
...Many of the parents using Opportunity Scholarships chose Catholic schools for their children even though they are not Catholic themselves. That's no coincidence. When others abandoned the cities, the Catholic schools remained, and they continue to do heroic work....
...I have devoted my life to equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skin color. I don't pretend that this one program is the answer to all the injustices in our education system. But it is hard to see why a program that has proved successful shouldn't have the support of our lawmakers. The end of Opportunity Scholarships represents more than the demise of a relatively small federal program. It will help write the end of more than a half-century of quality education at Catholic schools serving some of the most at-risk African-American children in the District.
What's happened with the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program provides a close up look on two critical issues worthy of analysis and thought:
- Centralized Systems of Education: What happens when you distance the decision maker from the impact of their decision? Here, we had a senator from Illinois placing a small provision in a large spending bill that would end this program for kids in Washington DC, thousands of miles from his home state. In Catholic schools, the model is typically one of local decision-making -- a system of schools not a school system. Local school commissions working with local principals and pastors. Certainly it's important to have aspects of centrality to assist groups of schools (e.g. a Superintendent). That said, when you centralize to the point that important decisions are being made by those that have never stepped foot inside the school affected, let alone the classrooms, it's not surprising when well-intended decisions are made that actually harm the educational mission of a school. It can be frustratingly arbitrary.
- Dependency - The Downside of Government Funding: Many of us that care deeply about the importance of saving the Catholic schools in our inner cities also hope that our governments--local, state, or federal--will be some part of the solution. However, the DC Opportunity Scholarship debacle demonstrates that there's a potential downside to government assistance of our Catholic schools and that downside can be dependency. What happens when the rug gets pulled out from underneath us? I guess we'll see in DC.
5.14.2010Oh BOY, we've got problems...
Perhaps most distressing is that this is really not, according to Wessel and the data, related to the recent economy. This apparently isn't a new issue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics we've seen five straight decades of unemployment rises for men at the prime of their employable years.
What's it related to, then? You guessed it. Education. Men are not doing as well in education and the job market for people that haven't done well in education has been shrinking for decades.
Wessel highlights four possible solutions to this dilemma:
- Improve our schools and education system;
- Force businesses to be less efficient and thereby get them to hire more people;
- Create more government generated jobs through major government infrastructure projects (Secretary Summers option of choice);
- Do nothing and let the losers lose and the winners win.
Hmmm...is it just me or is one of these four highly preferable to the other three. I'll let you pick, but in the meantime I'm making plans to enroll my son in a Catholic school when he's old enough.
Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, recently gave a speech to the "Mom Congress" challenging parents to do their jobs when it comes to the education of their children:
"We need parents to speak out and drive change in chronically-underperforming schools where children receive an inferior education. With parental support, those struggling schools need to be turned around now--not tomorrow because children get only one chance at an education."
He also challenged schools to be more involving of parents in achieving excellence:
"Schools should be places that honor and respect families, that meet parents on their own terms--even if it means teachers giving out their cell phone numbers to field questions at night and calling back to the single mom who missed her parent-teacher conference because she was at work. Unfortunately, that mutual support and engagement is missing from too many schools."
Who would disagree with Secretary Duncan? The parent's role is critical in the educational success with the child, and so obviously is the school's role in that process. Which comes first in importance is irrelevant compared to the larger point that both are necessary. Period.
What of Catholic schools when it comes to this issue?
- Parents have required involvement in Catholic schools: The majority of Catholic schools have parents sign contracts. These contracts require parent volunteer hours in the school, attendance to parent-teacher conferences, and the signing of the school handbook, signifying the school's acknowledgment that it cannot do its job without parents involved;
- Catholic schools have parent-commissions or parent boards and since these schools are not run by larger districts, the parents, through these groups, are given true leadership in the running of the schools;
- Money matters here: Nearly all parents, even the poorest of the poor, are asked to pay some tuition. It's a lot to ask of a single parent, working two jobs, to come home from that second job and review all of the homework assignments of their multiple children. What happens when that parent is cutting a monthly tuition check? "You better do your homework, I'm paying for this education you're getting bucko!"
- Latino children are representing a dramatically increased portion of the American student population;
- Although 95% of Latino children are American citizens, most come from immigrant families;
- Most Latino children have parents that did not graduate from high school;
- Many Latino children live in poverty;
- Consequently, Latino children routinely underperform national achievement averages;
This data is consistent with recently published books and research (see this April 2010 memo from Center of Immigration Studies).
But what do we do about it? Currently, less than 3% of Hispanics choose to send their children to Catholic school. Yet, study after study has shown that those that do attend perform very well. Shouldn't this be a top priority and a huge portion of the solution for alleviating the "obstacles" Hispanics face in successful integration into our society. The vast majority of Hispanics are Catholic, so one would think that Catholic schools would be a good fit. Not to mention, the above studies point to the importance of community, outreach, and one-on-one educational intervention as important aspects to any plan for solving this crisis. These are things Catholic schools do well.
Notre Dame has set an ambition goal of increasing that 3% Catholic school attendance rate to 6% for Hispanics nationally, which would add 1,000,000 students to the classrooms of Catholic schools. They're calling it the Catholic School Advantage campaign. I'm on board. Are you?
Let's follow that lead a different direction. Let's go fiscal with it. High school students cost approximately $10,000 a year per pupil to educate (For those interested I used 2002-3 census data for this estimate, adjusting slightly for inflation. There are probably better and more recent data sources, I know). So what if LMU is right about the delta affect of introducing Catholic education into the life of a child? And let's suppose we introduce Catholic education into enough lives in the Los Angeles Unified School District that we increase the graduation rate of the high schools in the LAUSD by just 5%. There are approximately 40,000 high school seniors in in the LAUSD alone. So an increase of 5% means 2,000 more kids graduate in a given year, meaning they aren't in school next year requiring that $10,000 per pupil funding. What's the delta in this admittedly highly speculative equation? We reduce the annual expense of education in this one district by $20,000,000 by simultaneously increasing graduation rates by 5%.
Highly speculative, I know, but even still, imagine the consequences of such intervention...
Recently, the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results were made public for 4th and 8th grade . And they continue to validate that this gap does indeed exist. This is a test administered by the US Dept. of Education for the purpose of comparing school progress accross state lines. The results not only show that the education gap still exists, but that what city you live in can mean as much as a four year difference in achievement.
Joel I. Klein (Chancellor of NY City Schools), Michael Lomax (CEO, United Negro College Fund), and Janet Murguía (CEO, La Raza) co-authored a Washington Post Op-Ed last week discussing dispartity of student performance from region to region, pointing out that in cities like Boston, New York, Miami, and Houston, African American and Latino students scored on average three years ahead of their counterparts in places like Detroit and Los Angeles.
What kind of school, what kind of learning environment can foster a successful closing of the achievement gap? Dr. Theresa Perry is an expert on what it takes to make a school ready to close the achievement gap (read a recent interview of Dr. Perry's here). She is also the author of a book on the topic. Dr. Perry says that to close the achievement gap we need to first to have a community or culture of achievement where simply being at the school means you are an achiever. In her words a lack of "differentiation". Sounds like Catholic schools to me.
3.24.2010Standards of a Different Kind
My two cents: There's nothing wrong with having the right standards in literature, social studies, and math, but these goals so often seem to leave out any discussion of the standards that arguably make a larger difference in whether we've been or will be successful with a student. In order to take students that are in traditionally underperforming demographics and get them to achieve in math, science, etc. we must first succeed with them in more critical areas like self-esteem, world-view, and their senses of dignity and destiny. What does a child that feels he is destined for dropping-out care about learning math?
Some might call this kind of talk fluff, but take a look at this description borrowed from Bishop Blanchet High School's "Graduate Profile":
Bishop Blanchet High School provides all students with a challenging academic experience with focus on developing the whole person: spiritual, academic, social, physical and creative. To this end, a graduate of Bishop Blanchet High School is:-A Christ-like person, committed to service,
-A life-long learner,
-A critical, creative and independent thinker,
-An active, responsible global citizen
See also this introductory paragraph from Seattle Preparatory School's Academic Dean:
Ignatian education strives to go beyond academic excellence. It is a collaborative process between and among teachers and students which fosters personal and cooperative study, discovery, creativity, and reflection to promote life-long learners and action in service to others. Its ultimate goal is to develop men and women of competence, compassion, and conscience (bolding mine).
Before setting any standards in core subject areas, these amazing schools went and set standards of a different kind. They also both posted 100% graduation rates last year.
That said, I would add that governing boards of limited jurisdiction and quality marketing are no panacea to the challenges Catholic schools face, especially in economically disadvantaged communities. The fantastic schools featured in Mr. McGurn's article apparently have 10% of the students on financial aid, which they should be congratulated on. However, this also means that 90% of the students in those schools are full paying customers. I have yet to walk into a truly inner-city Catholic school and find more than half of the students coming from full-paying families. Such would be impossible in places where nearly every child qualifies for free or reduced lunch under the federal poverty guidelines. What governance strategy do we advise for our schools that primarily serve those from "at risk" backgrounds?
The article points out an astounding fact: Since 1985, every single senior on the Xavier Basketball team has graduated. Let me repeat that: EVERY SINGLE SENIOR BASKETBALL PLAYER HAS GRADUATED FOR 25 YEARS! If that isn't achieving in the face of academic stereotypes, I don't know what is. I also happen to believe this is precisely the Catholic education difference. These schools focus on the "whole person" at every level, grade school through the university.
So as we put on our school colors and cheer on our favorite teams these next weeks, let's also pause and cheer in thanksgiving and celebration of the work of Sr. Rose Ann and the thousands of other Catholic educators out there reaching out to the hearts and minds of our future leaders.
THE REPORT - http://catholicschooladvantage.nd.edu/assets/19176/nd_ltf_report_final_english_12.2.pdf
THE VIDEO - http://catholicschooladvantage.nd.edu/about/video/