How are we going to keep urban Catholic schools (defined as Catholic schools located inside urban areas) open? Those schools—especially those in non-school choice states—were hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic. This week and next we’re going to explore different angles, starting with this week when we’ll set the context.

A group of researchers at Boston College and the NCEA join me on the podcast this week to discuss the update of the work of Joseph O’Keefe, SJ from 20 years ago. O’Keefe explored the problems of urban Catholic schools around. His work was fundamental to understanding the changes taking place in Catholic schools and we’re all better for his work. Here is a link to the Commonweal article that O’Keefe wrote about the study (which gives you a quick overview) and here is the link to his book here.

Charles Cownie and Andrew Miller from BC have set out to update O’Keefe’s work and figure out what is happening in the urban Catholic school environments.  Annie Smith from NCEA is also joining in the effort. They are starting with surveys (have you seen the email?  Have you filled it out?). They are going to follow up these quantitative surveys with interviews so they’ll have both quantitative and qualitative looks at the positive and negative trends.

The researchers are looking at why some urban Catholic schools are succeeding and why others are not.  They are focusing on three areas:

  1. Students: who is being served by these schools?
  2. Staffing: who is working at these schools?
  3. Structures: what are the programs and governance at these schools?

Why are we concerned? The issue cuts to the core of mission. If the purpose of Catholic schools is to serve only those who can afford it, then we will become a tuition-driven private school network.  But if we aspire to be schools in and for the world, urban schools make up an important (and historic) component.

The study promises to give us real data to discuss the reality of our urban schools, instead of anecdotal evidence that is reshaped by every person’s perspective. It also promises to give us a window to what’s working.  Here’s a link to more information about the study.

Listen to the podcast and join the conversation.

This post originally appeared in the March 15th Catholic School Matters Newsletter