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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Improving Catholic Education

With the economic downturn, a lot of Catholic schools are closing. Across the nation, priests and bishops are wringing their hands with concern. "We must save our Catholic schools!" they cry.

I have a simple proposal for not only saving Catholic schools, but dramatically expanding Catholic schools, and at only 5% the current cost.

Indeed, the solution is simplicity itself.
Give a $1000 scholarship per child to every Catholic homeschooling parent.

In numerous documents and public statements, the Vatican has made clear that only the family guarantees authentic education in values.

Obviously, the Catholic school does not guarantee an authentic education in values. Thus, in order to maintain Catholic education while keeping in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, diocesan money should not go to schools, but directly to families. By subsidizing family homeschooling efforts, the family is strengthened.

The "social values" bishops should be all over this, right? I mean, they're always up in arms about a minimum wage, and putting money into direct subsidies. So put your money where your mouths are, gentlemen. Send money from the collection basket directly back to the Catholic families that homeschool.

"But the parents aren't qualified!" some of you may be shouting. Yes, I'm sure. But take a look at who is teaching theology in many of the Catholic schools around the nation. Certainly it isn't people with theology degrees. Indeed, often-times it isn't even a practicing Catholic who is given the task of teaching the Catholic Faith.

Besides which, when parents do the educating, qualifications stop making a difference. The most recent study of over 11,000 homeschooled students from around the nation shows that the homeschool provides 74% better educational outcomes then public schools, but at a cost of less than $500 per pupil per year (versus in excess of $10,000 per pupil for public schools). This improvement in outcome comes without regard to the number of college degrees the parents might hold and without regard to the household income.

In short, when parents teach their own children, both parties are so motivated that the usual measures for predicting academic success no longer apply. Family income, minority status, college education and certification, all of that is simply not relevant. I think it may have something to do with that whole "love" thing, but that's just an uninformed hunch.

In any case, if we give each homeschooling family a per child subsidy of $1000 per year, it would be generous according to their needs, but only one-fourth the cost of teaching that same child inside of a school whose grounds and staff must be maintained in the style to which they have become accustomed.

In short, the size of Catholic schooling across the nation could be increased four-fold without one dollar of additional expenditure, but with a nearly 75% jump in educational outcomes.

"But we need to simply support our Catholic parochial schools!" you might respond.



Catholic schools do perform 25% better than public schools, but the per child cost is actually the same as public schools when you compare dollars spent on a straight educational basis, without throwing in all the bells and whistles that public schools are required by law to maintain.

Indeed, with the advent of on-line learning, the whole institutional school experience is being revealed for exactly what it is - a prison system for underage children.

Our society maintains those buildings for exactly one reason: it wants to capture the dollar-generating potentials of both parents. In order to do that, the children must be warehoused from the earliest possible age, so that neither parent wastes their economic capacities on the family, but instead orients those dollar-generating abilities towards the corporation, where they properly belong. Elementary and pre-elementary schools are meant to orient everyone to build up the corporation, not the family.

Given what we already know about the capacity of homeschooling to improve educational outcome, given the tremendous resources afforded to every family at virtually no cost through the Internet, it is clear the school building still exists only because it's such a fine warehouse. It certainly isn't about education - that is blindingly obvious.

So, by giving direct grants to families, Catholic bishops would be getting a much better educational experience for Catholic students, they would be directly supporting the family using the social justice principles they have so loudly espoused in regards to the minimum wage, and they could increase the number of students involved in Catholic education by a factor of four with no additional outlay.

It has been my experience that people often know what is best for others and loudly tell them what it is when opportunity arises, "You need to pay your employees a living wage!" "Rich people should surrender part of their income to the poor!" etc.

Alright, bishops!

Now you have a chance to do with your diocesan funds exactly what you keep telling corporations they need to do with their funds: give out the money and give up a little direct control, in the sure knowledge - already demonstrated via several massive studies - that the new solution will provide better outcomes than the old.

So, I'll be waiting for that to happen.
I'm sure it will be quite soon.


Any day now.


RecoveringFeminist said...

Thank you for this post! On August 3, 2009, I sent this suggestion to the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, which is struggling financially, as are many other dioceses:

We have chosen to Catholic homeschool using the Seton Catholic curriculum. It costs us about $500 per year to Catholic home educate one child. Larger families would have different costs. I am guessing the average cost to Catholic educate in a brick and mortar school, subsidized by the Catholic parish, is approximately $10,000 per student. For those parishes that are facing the possibility of having to either sell or shut down a school, I offer a very small (relatively speaking) financial investment suggestion. "Invest" in Catholic education by offering a subsidy to those families who will enroll and home educate their children in a Catholic curriculum like Seton, Catholic Heritage Curricula, Our Lady's Victory, Kolbe Academy, etc. The pastor would have the freedom to verify that the children are, in fact, enrolled in a Catholic home schooling program.

The cost would be minimal compared to the subsidy presently incurred by parishes and parishioners. In addition, the mothers who may be presently working outside the home may have the incentive to fulfill her vocation by being home with the children. This small investment would accomplish many Faith-filled missions. In addition, with Catholic home education, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are fostered and encouraged.

The wisdom of the Church in this matter is expressed with precision and clearness in the Codex of Canon Law, can. 1113: “Parents are under a grave obligation to see to the religious and moral education of their children, as well as to their physical and civic training, as far as they can, and moreover to provide for their temporal well-being.”


Steve Kellmeyer said...

Great minds think alike!

I had previously made this same suggestion several years ago in my book "Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America" (available at Bridegroom Press.

So far, no takers.

Brendan said...

Why stop at $1k/year? Why not pay a living wage?

Seriously, a prison/warehouse to serve the collective. Right on.

Anonymous said...

Excellent arguement, Steve.

I thought your book, "Designed to Fail" was quite accurate (and sometimes harsh to take in for those of us just beginning to examine the problems of "catholic" compulsary schooling). I have a suggestion to buttress what you brought to our attention in your book: check out the wisdom of John Taylor Gatto in "The Underground History of American Education"....the work is accurate, prophetic, and a masterpiece from a man who spent 30 years experiencing life as a NY teacher. (And won awards for his efforts, to boot!)

I say we need to think outside the box (school) and get back to what Jesus is calling us to do: spread His Word (which, unfortunately, is not done well in the traditional institutional school framework because the intent of the framers of compulsary schooling was - and remains yet today - to prevent His Will from being done)!

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Yes, anyone who has read my book knows that the whole second section draws very heavily on John Gatto's ground-breaking research.

Gatto is worth his weight in gold.
He's also an ex-Catholic.

Patrick said...

A few local Catholic schools closed a few years ago but the parish churches continued to run. As expected, the churches lost nearly half their weekly donations as the school families moved to parishes that had attached schools. The bishop commented on how much of a negative financial impact closing a school has had on their parish. However, the parishes actually ended up with a larger surplus at the end of the financial year because none of the church funds were siphoned off for the school. As far as I can see, the only big negative for the church to close the Catholic schools would be that they would have to do it nationwide or those parishes without a school may dwindle due to the parish "aging up" and may eventually die as new families move to school parishes.

JJ said...

I agree that Catholic education needs improvement. I've taught CCD for three years, the kids I get at the beginning of the year barely know the faith. I am doing a project in my religion class on how to improve Catholic education. However, I can't agree with your plan. Just because parent are apt to teaching the faith does not mean they can teach arithmetic, history, science, foreign language, ect. Therefore, they need to send kids to school. Also, the building is not a prison, and I say this as a high schooler. Computers may teach knowledge, but they will not easily teach wisdom. I do not think online school can replace the edification and importance of a student-teacher relationship in a classroom. What do I suggest, well I'm not yet sure. Perhaps, a Catholic school that has no religion class. This way, a student would be in a Catholic environment with the sacraments available. Also, the student would have access to Catholic teaching and literature without it being forced upon them. Religion taught in the classroom can just be thrown aside by the student as if it were some useless science lesson. Should the meaning of life and love be taught from a whiteboard?