N.Y.’s Archbishop says: Let parochial schools come to the rescue
Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” portrays a country clearly displeased with the current government-run school system. I compliment the filmmaker for shining a light on the challenges so many face in trying to find the best possible education for their children.
Despite the fact that the film exposes troubling problems in the public school system, it presents a glimmer of hope by profiling successful charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded and are exempt from certain regulations that bind the other public schools.
But there’s another bit of news which no one seems to be talking about. Superman is already here – and he’s waiting in the classrooms of New York’s Catholic schools.
If only the film had focused some of its attention on what is happening in our inner-city Catholic schools. I can’t help but be proud of what we have accomplished here in New York. Last June, 99% of our high school seniors graduated, and 96% pursued college.
These results are even more impressive considering Catholic schools serve the same demographic as public schools. Nearly 70% of children attending our inner-city Catholic schools come from families living at or below the federal poverty level, and 94% of our students are minorities.
As reformers debate whether high-quality charter schools or traditional public schools better serve low-income children, Catholic schools should not be left shouting on the sidelines.
While the students in our schools have become more diverse over the years, the purpose of Catholic education remains the same. We provide a values-based, academically excellent and nurturing school to our children. Yes, we proudly teach our students about the Catholic faith, yet we also serve children of all faiths, or none at all, respect each of their backgrounds and care equally about their future.
Our schools still do a remarkable job with children – and they desperately need support from wider society.
Over the years, the cost of living and the dependency on dedicated lay-teachers has increased, and consequently the cost of Catholic education has skyrocketed as well. As a result, many children, particularly those in the inner city, were no longer able to afford a Catholic education. Tragically, parents are unable to use their tax money for a school of their choice.
Indeed, “Waiting for Superman” includes the story of Bianca, a kindergartner who attends a Catholic school that’s literally right across the street from her Harlem home. She likes it there – but her mother’s hours are cut back, and despite the best efforts of the parish, school and Inner-City Scholarship Fund – the mother can no longer afford to pay any tuition. That sends the mother and daughter in search of quality public school options.
If a scholarship had been there for Bianca, as they are for so many other girls and boys, she never would have been waiting for Superman.
For the last 40 years, nonprofit organizations affiliated with the archdiocese have raised tens of millions of dollars to support need-based tuition assistance to inner-city children. The Inner-City Scholarship Fund, the Patrons Program and The Endowment for Inner-City Education continue to raise scholarships for families who want an alternative to the public schools. Today we are faced with a waiting list of over 1,000 children hoping for a scholarship to attend Catholic school here in New York City.
The commitment of the archdiocese to finding ways to make our schools available to all children who desire to attend them will not waver. Our inner-city schools educate over 35,500 children. Despite what may seem like long odds, our schools are working, our students are learning and succeeding – all with minimal government support.
Why do we see such amazing results? I believe it can be summed up in one word: accountability. Applying the principles of subsidiarity, our schools are locally based, and are accountable to our parents, students and God. Not only do we hold ourselves accountable, but we also stress to parents the importance of taking an active role in their child’s education as well. The church believes parents are the primary educators.
The goal of our schools is not only to form individuals who lead self-sufficient, virtuous lives, but to produce the leaders of tomorrow. From what I’ve seen from our students lately, they’re doing a great job. In other words, if you’d like to meet some super young men and women, I gladly invite you to stop by one of our schools and meet some of our students, teachers and parents.
Superman is waiting.
Dolan is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York.