The Perfect Enemy | Why Catholic schools didn’t fail at all while public ones did during COVID pandemic
December 10, 2022

Why Catholic schools didn’t fail at all while public ones did during COVID pandemic

Why Catholic schools didn’t fail at all while public ones did during COVID pandemic  New York Post

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In case you missed it, American education is in free-fall. The National Center for Education Statistics released the first national test scores for fourth- and eighth-graders since before the pandemic, and the news is somehow worse than we could have imagined, with catastrophic learning loss, the largest declines ever recorded and decades of progress wiped out.

But in America’s Catholic schools, the failure and free-fall simply did not happen. In fact, in both math and reading, Catholic scores stayed the same or improved in areas where public schools dramatically declined.

For instance, Catholic students in 8th grade saw a one-point average increase in their reading scores, compared to the three-point drop for public school 8th graders. Scores for 4th-grade math stayed the same for Catholic schools but dropped five points for public schoolers in the same grade.

The losses facing America’s public-school students can’t be overstated — researchers typically consider 10 points as equivalent to a year’s worth of learning, so most of our public-school students have lost months they can’t get back.

Unsurprisingly, the education establishment has been scrambling. They seemed unable to decide whether this disaster affected all states regardless of COVID closures (it didn’t), or whether it was the inevitable result of trying not to spread the virus. A quick look at European schools throughout much of the last few years casts doubt on that idea, but Catholic schools now offer a powerful rebuttal much closer to home.

Scores for 4th-grade math stayed the same for Catholic schools but dropped five points for public schoolers in the same grade.
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As Partnership School’s Kathleen Porter-Magee pointed out, if Catholic schools were a state, they’d be the highest-performing state in the nation. They’d also be the most cost-effective state — by a long shot.

Families pay an average of $5,847 to send their children to Catholic school, compared to the roughly $16,000 public schools receive per pupil — not counting the billions the education establishment received, and then largely did not spend, during the pandemic.

In other words, it could be done. The public school system just decided not to do it.

In retrospect, the outcomes seem obvious. Across the country, most Catholic schools stayed open and kept teaching students, while most public schools closed and offered at best a paltry attempt at actual remote learning.

The decision to stay open and keep teaching students was an extraordinarily bold one. As Porter-Magee recently noted, it was made amid substantial uncertainty and constant rhetoric from teachers’ unions and their allies that reopening schools “was tantamount to murder.”

The fear-mongering rhetoric never came true, of course. And thanks to the brave decisions and hard work of Catholic school leaders across the country, neither did the massive learning loss that plagues public schools today.

Families across the country have rewarded Catholic schools for standing in the gap when it mattered. Catholic-school enrollment is soaring, while public-school enrollment plummets.

After many years of struggles for Catholic schools, with pillars of the community forced to close when they could no longer make ends meet, this is a welcome change. But more must be done.

Despite recent growth, many Catholic schools operate at a financial loss. That’s because the average cost to families doesn’t come close to capturing all the expenses involved. To make up the difference, Catholic schools rely heavily on private donors, diocesan support and endless work of administrators who are dedicated to the mission of Catholic education.

But there is another option to make Catholic education sustainable for another generation: school choice.

In leading school-choice states like Florida, Catholic school enrollment growth was especially strong, and schools have not faced the same types of existential struggles as many in other states regularly do.

When parents can redirect some of their education tax dollars to the schools of their choice, many choose Catholic schools — and many schools no longer face the same financial burdens as before.

School choice offers a solution to ensure that the growth Catholic schools are experiencing now continues into the next generation. As an added bonus, there is compelling evidence that school choice helps public schools as well.

For Catholics, education is core to our identity. As the Catechism says, “Parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental,” and “public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring concrete conditions for its exercise.”

During the pandemic, leaders across the country proved their dedication to this mission by keeping students learning in historically challenging conditions.

They succeeded where the system failed. As we continue to learn more about the scale of the challenge ahead of us to clean up the disaster of the last few years, lawmakers should pass the types of programs that ensure Catholic schools can remain strong for another generation who will need them.

Tommy Schultz is the CEO of the American Federation for Children.