OPINION: More School Choices, Not Fewer

From Sister Karen Dietrich writing in The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News:

Thanks to a bill recently passed by the New Jersey Legislature, Catholic Partnership Schools can convert our schools in Camden into public charter schools.

But why would we?

Negative news about Camden has become a staple. But Catholic Partnership Schools’ model of sharing resources and a culture across the city’s five remaining parochial elementary schools is a success story.

At a time when Catholic schools across the country are closing, ours are growing and thriving. Last month, we began the school year with a record 1,070 students, representing a 7.2 percent increase in enrollment over the previous year.

Our schools outperform Camden’s traditional public schools and the majority of the city’s charter schools by a wide margin. While our tuition is just $6,000 a year – less than a third of what public schools are spending per student – our proficiency rates in math and reading are the best in the city. Eighty percent of our graduating eighth graders are at least proficient in those core subjects.

The charter school bandwagon has been growing, and the New Jersey legislation is a reflection of that. Unfortunately, on the altar of charter expansion, some policymakers are willing to sacrifice the very thing that makes Catholic schools successful: our culture. But charters alone will not solve all our educational problems.

This shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. Camden and other communities need more educational choices, not fewer. There are more than 13,000 school-age children in the city, and they all deserve a decent education.

Catholic Partnership Schools are educating only about 8 percent of those children. Clearly, we need more great charter schools – and more great traditional public schools – if we are going to fulfill our society’s responsibility to future generations and, in Camden, end the cycle of poverty and violence.

While public education systems are undergoing reforms, some Catholic as well as charter schools are already making a difference in the lives of children every day. They should be supported, not supplanted. It’s a mistake to think we can turn the lights off at a successful Catholic school in the evening and turn them on at a charter school with the same great results in the morning. Several converted parochial schools in Washington have learned that lesson.

Read more here: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/132110423.html