Lost Classroom, Lost Community (2014) by Margaret F. Brinig & Nicole Stelle Garnett is a great piece of research on the effectiveness of Catholic schools. They answer this question by examining the opposite—that is, what happens to a community when a Catholic school is closed? By examining crime data in Chicago, they argue that the closing of a Catholic schools leads to the downfall of a neighborhood.
The two law professors from Notre Dame are making an interesting school choice argument here. “Our bottom line conclusion is that it does matter if the Our Lady of Hungarys [the South Bend school saved from closure] disappear from our cities” (3). Their conclusion is based on the realization that Catholic schools provide social capital to a neighborhood. Even for neighbors not directly engaged with the school receive benefits from such a great institution.
The authors trace the origins of American Catholic schools an examine the trends impacting current enrollments. It’s a quick and effective summary chock full of research. It’s important to note that inner-city Catholic schools were founded and maintained by a sense of social justice. “This commitment flowed from an unwavering believe that inner-city Catholic schools were an important act of social justice—a way that the Catholic Church could serve the poor effectively, by literally saving poor children from the urban public schools that were failing them” (28). This system of schools was not based on tuition and weren’t private schools as we currently understand them in the current School Choice debates.
The authors continue with the challenge presented by charter schools and examine the conversions which have taken place in Washington, DC, Indianapolis, and Miami. Then they turn their attention to Catholic school closures and examine the factors (e.g. neighborhoods, pastors) which contribute to the closures. They then present their hypothesis regarding the impact of closing schools. “Based upon our findings, we can predict with some confidence that neighborhoods where Catholic schools closures occur will be less socially cohesive and more disorderly that neighborhoods with viable schools” (75). This is a powerful hypothesis and challenges the current debate about closing Catholic schools. They make the argument that Catholic schools are more significant than public or charter schools and prove it in a variety of ways. And they also show that the impact of Catholic schools is more significant in dense urban environments.
In the last section, the authors expand the case for School Choice arguing for the Common Good (as opposed to individual family self-interest). The last chapter, entitled “Imagining Cities Without Catholic Schools,” challenges all of us to examine what our cities would be like without Catholic schools.