Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Catholic Schools- Jewish Parallels

Over a Rosh Hashanah dinner, a local community leader and CFO was complaining about day school tuition. (His kids are finishing day school) He asked why the community did not see the need for transparency, accountability, and the creation of endowments back in the 1990’s. As a CFO, he knows that one is always weighing cost benefits of outsourcing, joint purchasing, and cut backs. And he mentioned that like most non-profits, they only survive with endowments. What was the community thinking?

Here is a talk that was published today by Archbishop Dolan of NYC. It was published with several responses. It may provide some of you with some thoughts or at least quotes for speeches. Dolan points out the decline and current challenges especially the rising cost of salaries and he suggests to go back to the diocesan responsibility and in the Jewish case it would be back to the kehilalh system. (Parenthetically, I must point out that in Europe the members of the vaad arba Artzot, kehilah leadrs, parnesim and heads of school board were businessmen not rabbis.) Dolan points out the need to move beyond petty turf wars.

Maurince Halliman points out that parochial schools may no longer be better that public schools. We are not recent immigrants anymore in poor school districts and the results just give us a Lake Wobegon “slightly above average.” There may be a need for proper assessment of strengths and weaknesses? Know what your product is. How does it compare to the Tenafly school system?

Robert Sullivan points out that commitment is based on a still unquantified continuity of the parents attitudes. And that more creative working with public schools or creating day schools with a greater emphasis on secular studies may help the schools. (Several of the local Islamic schools are going that route. Lets not forget that Hirsch’s school system only had 2 periods of Jewish studies a day and Maimonides School originally had equal time for Latin and Talmud, one period a day.) And Patrick J. McCloskey leaves us with the exhortation to remember that there is “An abundance of brilliant leadership and expertise is available among top professionals, academics, CEOs, CFOs and so on in dioceses across the country.”

The Catholic Schools We Need
Archbishop Timothy Dolan
SEPTEMBER 13, 2010
But what of today’s Catholic schools that exist in a world largely free of those sorts of 20th-century threats? Are we not facing our own crisis of closure for the Catholic school in America?
The answer is yes. Statistics from the National Catholic Educational Association tell a sobering tale about Catholic schools in the United States. From a student enrollment in the mid-1960s of more than 5.2 million in nearly 13,000 elementary and secondary Catholic schools across America, there are now only half as many, with just 7,000 schools and 2.1 million students enrolled.
The most crippling reason, however, may rest in an enormous shift in the thinking of many American Catholics, namely, that the responsibility for Catholic schools belongs only to the parents of the students who attend them, not to the entire church. Nowadays, Catholics often see a Catholic education as a consumer product, reserved to those who can afford it. The result is predictable: Catholics as a whole in the United States have for some time disowned their school system, excusing themselves as individuals, parishes or dioceses from any further involvement with a Catholic school simply because their own children are not enrolled there, or their parish does not have its own school.
The truth is that the entire parish, the whole diocese and the universal church benefit from Catholic schools in ways that keep communities strong. So all Catholics have a duty to support them. Reawakening a sense of common ownership of Catholic schools may be the biggest challenge the church faces in any revitalization effort ahead. Thus, we Catholics need to ask ourselves a risky question: Who needs Catholic schools, anyway?
To re-grow the Catholic school system, today’s efforts need to be rooted in the long-term financial security that comes from institutional commitment through endowments, foundations and stable funding sources and also from every parish supporting a Catholic school, even if it is not “their own.” Catholic education is a communal, ecclesial duty, not just for parents of schoolchildren or for parishes blessed to have their own school. Surely American Catholics have sufficient wealth and imagination to accomplish this.
We cannot succumb to the petty turf wars that pit Catholic schools against religious education programs and other parish ministries. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the church is all about both/and, not either/or. Strong Catholic schools strengthen all other programs of evangelization, service, catechesis and sanctification. The entire church suffers when Catholic schools disappear.

Maureen T. Hallinan
In a society characterized by an intense interest in student achievement, many Catholics feel secure in the longstanding reputation of Catholic schools as providing an outstanding education. This positive reputation has been referred to as the “Catholic school advantage.” It is based on empirical evidence that throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Catholic secondary school students attained higher standardized test scores in reading and mathematics than public high school students.

Yet these findings are dated and may no longer accurately describe the academic benefits of Catholic schools. Recently, the federal government has taken aggressive steps to improve public school achievement…In light of these changes, it is important to determine whether Catholic school students still outpace public school students in terms of achievement and other student outcomes.

An analysis of nationally representative, longitudinal surveys allows for an evaluation of contemporary schools. A few studies indicate that at least at the high school level, students in today’s Catholic high schools, on average, still outpace those in public high schools. More research is needed to determine whether this is a stable pattern and whether it extends to earlier grades. A recent analysis of seventh and eighth grade students in middle or elementary schools in a large urban environment failed to find a Catholic school achievement advantage in reading and mathematics for the average student; but it did show evidence of a benefit for disadvantaged and minority students in these grades. Another study reports that children who attended kindergarten and early elementary grades at Catholic schools received slightly higher, though barely statistically significant, test scores than those in public schools. These findings provide evidence that while Catholic schools may not provide a strong academic advantage for K-8 students, it does benefit certain subsets of students, namely, those in most need of academic support to succeed in school.

Beyond Religious Education- Robert Sullivan
‘We need not think that our church will exist only if we push children through religious schools.’

What if, moreover, these schools deemphasized religious education? In so doing, the school itself—educating young people to be thinking, interested citizens, conversant in the arts and history, in addition to perhaps theology and philosophy—would be an act of social justice, and, as well, a continuation of the American church’s historic role as host to immigrant communities, especially in cities, but also in suburbs where immigrant populations have increased greatly over the past decade. There is historical precedent: in Reformation Spain, Jesuit schools exempted Protestant students from religious studies. Rather than act as evangelizing mechanism, schools might operate more on the model of Catholic hospitals, or even Catholic colleges, which accept and encourage the presence of a variety of religious beliefs, not to mention non-believers.

Yes, I recognize that some studies have shown that Catholic schools can be an effective means of passing on the faith. But I remain skeptical of the idea that young people who attend Catholic schools are more likely to attend Mass later on. In my own experience, the most important indicator as to whether or not the young person will or will not attend Mass is unmeasurable and mysterious and has mostly to do with the parent. (If you could plot it would have the parent’s own relationship with his faith on one axis and his or her relationship with their children on the other.)

Patrick J. McCloskey
Undoubtedly there are adequate intellectual, managerial and financial resources in the Catholic community to meet current and future challenges. An abundance of brilliant leadership and expertise is available among top professionals, academics, CEOs, CFOs and so on in dioceses across the country.

Also crucial is effective leadership from the hierarchy, as Archbishop Dolan demonstrates. The fierce passion, which characterized prelates and religious orders from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, needs to be recovered where lacking throughout the Catholic community.

Full Speech Here
Full Comments Here

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