Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wichita dispels myths about Catholic schools

"One of the reasons Catholic schools outperform public schools is that they don't have to deal with 'problem' kids. If a child is a troublemaker they just kick him out and force the public schools to deal with him."
Heard that before?
I have.
Many times.
So has Bob Weeks, out in Kansas. And so, when a Wichita, Kansas public school board member made a similar allegation, he decided to do some fact checking.
It turns out that the Wichita Catholic school system expels about 1 out of every 2,000 students each year, while the public school system expels kids at about 10 times that rate.
Read the full story here.
Other myths
The Wichita Catholic school system also serves to dispel some other myths about Catholic education.
For instance: "Catholic schools do well because they don't have to deal with minority students, who are also frequently poor students."
The facts: Among the almost 11,000 students in Wichita Catholic schools, over 1,300 are Spanish-speaking and over 2,300 are minority. Almost a quarter come from low income families. (Source here.)
Another myth: "Catholic schools do well because they don't have to deal with students with special educational needs."
Again, the facts: There are no entrance exams for Wichita Catholic schools. If a child needs an Individualized Education Program he gets it and the staff works with him to ensure that he reaches his potential.
According to Superintendent Bob Voboril,
We have a group of counselors and nurses that do everything they can to serve every kid with a disability. We do that without any federal funds. It’s not about how smart they are.
When people come to me and say, "We don’t need those low-earners," I tell them every time, "Okay, I’ll buy that, if you can show me in the Bible where it says that Jesus came to save only the top 50 percent." We have a care for every darn kid here.
The right attitude
The Wichita Catholic school system is so successful because it has adopted the right attitude towards Catholic education. According to Mr. Voboril,
This is how Catholic schools should be. They are built around faith. They are built around parish. They are built around community. And they are built around the Spirit. We don’t separate school from parish, parish from diocese, it’s all part of the same whole. And that whole is living the stewardship way of life.
When asked about moving on to other, larger dioceses Voboril responded,
I could go to other places that have more resources. But in the end, I am going to make a difference by staying in a diocese that is so committed to forming people the right way. Nobody is doing it as effectively as we are and nobody is as passionate as we are. In other places, they are just talking about holding on and surviving. Here, we are talking about new and innovative ways to spread Catholic schools even further across the diocese.
DOR is one of those places where they are just "holding on and surviving," despite all the happy talk to the contrary coming out of Buffalo Rd.
Bishop Matthew Clark, Fr. Joe Hart and MCCS Superintendent Anne Willkens Leach could learn an awful lot from Wichita.
Most likely they won't.
If history is any guide, our local triumvirate will just continue to ignore this success story.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I don't want to knock Catholic schools (I am a product of 12 years of Catholic Schools), we need to be careful in not knocking public schools.
1. Catholic schools are chosen by parents; public schools are assigned to parents. Any educator will tell you that kids whose parents care about their education do better. In Catholic schools almost all parents care about the education their kids get or they would not go to the trouble and expense of sending them there.
2. Catholic schools DO expel trouble makers that then DO go to the public schools. I saw it in my time. I have no doubt it happens with some frequency.
3. Catholic schools DO have fewer resources for special needs children, and most of those resources often come from the public schools.
4. Catholic schools often have a far lower rate of poor children than inner city schools – it simply costs money the poor do not have or requires steps that the poor often cannot or do not take.

Catholic schools do a great job with limited resources. The commonality of faith (however poorly presented), the choice of the parents to send their child there, and the investment made by parents to send their children there are all important and DO NOT generally exist in public schools. However, much the same effect is seen in other private or other religiously based schools. IMHO, the purpose of Catholic schools is primarily to teach and inculcate the faith, and secondarily to educate. Unfortunately, many Catholic schools seem, instead, to lead kids away from the faith. That is the real tragedy of many Catholic schools.

Mike said...

Anon. 12:13,

I don't think I was knocking public schools; that certainly was not my intent.

My whole point was that Catholic education "done right" can work with its fair share of disruptive students, can educate its fair share of poor and/or minority students, and can also educate its fair share of students with special educational needs.

The Wichita Catholic school system proves that all this is possible.

Have many (most?) Catholic school systems fallen short of the Wichita model? You betcha they have.

But they don't have to. Wichita proves they don't have to.

Will it require major structural and cultural changes for most Catholic school systems (and dioceses) to achieve Wichita's results?

Absolutely!

But nobody can say it's impossible. Wichita proves that it's not impossible.

Mike said...

Anon. 12:13,

One more thing.

One should read the full report on Wichita to get a feel for what is truly possible.

It starts here and runs for about 12 pages.

I think you will find that the Wichita Catholic school system is everything you say you would want a Catholic school system to be.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:13,

In my 13 years in Catholic Schools only one student ever got expelled, and he punched a teacher and the principal. We had many students that would have been suspended or expelled from public schools, but the staff saw them as a challenge, not something to get rid of.

Most people don't realize that the resources for Special Needs students do not come from the public schools, they are mandated by the state and paid for by the taxpayers. It's not something the public schools are "giving away"

The school districts are responsible for the testing and allocation of services. Some districts are better than others. Likewise, some Catholic Schools are better advocates for their students than others (one school has a person dedicated to make sure the kids are receiving all the services they are eligible for).
For example, the RCSD made it easier to get services in the City's Catholic Schools (because they knew it would cost far more to have the students in public schools), but Webster does not Some kids have to leave school and be bussed to a local public school to receive their services, which is very disruptive.

nyyankeegirl said...

oops, meant to not be anonymous with my comment above, this is NYYankeegirl

nyyankeegirl said...

Mike,

First as a parent of 2 children affected by the most recent school closings, I personally want to thank you for your continued support of Catholic schools. I only hope those few left last long enough that they too are not dumped by Bishop Clark.

Anonymous: I too am a product of 13 years of Catholic school and now I am a parent of 2 children who are catholic school students. You bring up the point about catholic schools expelling trouble makers who then go to public schools. This is so incorrect! In the entire time my children have been in school (and I was on our schools SAC committee before it was one of the schools that met its demise thanks to Bishop Clark, and I volunteered at our school on a daily basis) only ONE student was expelled, and the reason was he literally HIT a teacher and threw objects at her and he was a first grader. This was a case of a concerned grandparent who put this troubled young boy in catholic school with the intent of "getting him straightened out". This was one instance that didnt work and he was rightfully expelled for the safety of the students and teachers. For this one boy who was expelled, trust me there are MANY MANY more who are sent to Catholic schools FROM public schools, usually by concerned grandparents for the purpose of "straightening out" kids who are troubled or have serious behavioral issues. Catholic grammar schools are often used as a "boot camp" and the majority of the time, with the nurturing environment combined with tough love, mass, the learning of the faith (this for many of these children who have not been raised catholich) and increased expectations, these children generally succeed and always for the better. But there are usually a few months of classroom angst as this "process" of gettng these troubled students acclimated goes forth. I fully anticipate this sept 8th on the first day of school, we will see many more students who will be HELPED coming FROM public schools than would EVER be expelled from Catholic schools. I see it every year firsthand and many of these children ARE poor and from the city or live in subsidized housing and they receive financial aid. My daugther's grade alone last year had 3 such children who came from public school to our suburban school, all city residents, (I live in Greece) cared for by single mothers whom I met at school functions. THIS is the norm... not expelling troublemakers.

nyyankeegirl said...

sorry all this has gotten confusing, I only wrote one post as ny yankee girl and thought it was above as "anonymous" - but that wasnt mine, someone snuck in before me, my apologies for the confusion as I am pretty new to google comments - the only comment that is mine is the one titled NYYankee girl! :)

Nerina said...

I first considered Catholic school when my oldest (who happens to have Asperger's Syndrome) was entering school. I was told, point blank, "that your son would be better served in a public school. We simply don't have the resources to service his needs." I heard this from two different Catholic schools.

I don't know if my experience is typical, but it sure did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

And, ironically, when I mentioned sending my kids to Catholic schools, my relatives said my kids would be surrounded by troublemakers since that's where all the troublemakers got sent by their parents.

And, ideally, I think it would be great for inner-city Catholic schools to service the most vulnerable students regardless of ability to pay. I would love to have some of my tithe go for that kind of proposal.

My kids are all in public school, and while it isn't perfect, it has done a very good job (especially with my oldest son who is now a high honor roll student).

nyyankeegirl said...

Nerina

I am sorry to hear that you had trouble at all with schooling for your son. Good to hear he is doing well now. I hope the bad taste in your mouth from that experience is not at the schools themselves, but rather at the diocese who does not fund schools adequately and just leaves them hanging to rely on their fundraisers for needed equipment and supplies year after year. At our school the year before it was closed we actually had to have fundraisers in order to pay for a spanish teacher 2 days a week. We had to let an amazing teacher go when we simply didnt have the funds to pay what was a meagher full time salary. she was so dedicated to helping children who had trouble with math, or the ones that needed advanced study in math. We could barely fund the basics let alone try to expand to help students who needed the special help your son deserved. I guess after reading your post my first reaction was, isnt it for the best that the catholic school principals you went to clearly told the truth to you rather than take your tuition money for a service they could not adequately provide your son? In a perfect world, I wish they could have helped your son, as Jesus said "Let the children come to me." I wholeheartedly agree with you on having schools open for needy city students (or anywhere). I too would be happy to tithe for that purpose rather than constantly being hounded for this and that mission in some other country when the need is here. The last 2 years before our school was closed with the latest batch, it was so clear that the diocese was letting us twist in the wind, so I am sure that is what occurred to a number of the other schools closed as well. Anyway, I know that those who generally work and volunteer at our catholic schools certainly dont do it for any reason but their dedication to the faith and educating children based upon that. I know they would have taken your son into the fold if they felt it best for him.

Mike said...

nyyankeegirl,

I'm one of those grandparents who paid for his 3 granddaughters to attend Catholic schools.

In my case it had nothing to do with discipline; education (or the lack thereof) was the issue.

My oldest granddaughter actually failed 6th grade in the city schools but was going to be sent on anyway. Her teacher actually wrote "Social promotion to the 7th grade" right on her report card!

She repeated 6th grade at Holy Cross and ultimately graduated from high school with a Regents diploma. In a couple of weeks she will start classes at Finger Lakes Community College where she is enrolled in the nursing program.

The city schools had written this kid off but Holy Cross got her turned around and performing up to her potential. I have no doubt she would have been a dropout, had she had stayed in the city school system.

The other two also made the switch out of city schools to Holy Cross at the start of junior high and both are now doing quite well in high school.

BTW, thanks for your comments.

Also, don't worry about being a newbie. Everyone goes through it and most become an old pro in no time at all. Just keep posting!

nyyankeegirl said...

Mike,

Thanks for the warm welcome!

If it came across that way I am sorry... I did not at all mean to imply that the only grandparents who pay tuition for their grandchildren are those with behavioral problems! :) I should have listed the additional reasons as well. You gave your own example quite eloquently! Its wonderful that you are such a concerned grandparent that you took the time and money to see that they needed more in the way of their education and you stepped up to the plate. My husband and I work multiple jobs to pay for tuition, so its admirable that you did that for your grandchildren. The fact that one of their public school report cards said "social promotion to 7th grade" is unbelievable! I can see why that alarmed you enough to take action and look at the result of your efforts: a regents diploma and journey into nursing! I had the privilege of going to St Augustine's grammar school as a child from K-8, and the reason was because my grandmother who raised me insisted! I grew up in a tough inner-city neighborhood and she worked in the school library to offset the tuition and from what I remember her telling me she talked to the pastor at the time and with her being elderly, her work in the school, and my help with cleaning the school and rectory, she got the tuition waived. I graduated from there in the 70's. Yours is another great example of how our schools are needed, and should not be written off or closed. They should be viewed as a mission unto themselves by the diocese, but we all know unfortunately they are not. I can't tell you how many families in our school that was closed (borderline city) that were not "traditional". Many were single parent households, or parents working multiple jobs with split shifts, or stepparents, or like you grandparents putting their grandchildren through school. I know of a number who left Catholic schools after this latest group of closings. They were discourage and had enough. I hold out hope that the school my children are presently in will be open long enough to see them through so we dont have to make an adjustment to a new school again. That was such a heartache for everyone.

Nerina said...

Mike,

Congratulations to your granddaughter. I went to a community college for my RN and it was the best choice I ever made. Nursing is a very flexible and rewarding career. I've worked in every unit known and I've worked every shift depending on the needs of my family. I recommend nursing to any young woman who shows an interest (and I say "woman" specifically since it is such a flexible career for a mother).

She is lucky to have had such a generous grandfather.

Nyyankeegirl,

In retrospect, I am very glad for the principals' honesty. God works everything for His purpose and He truly has worked a miracle with our oldest.

I agree that this diocese does not do a good job supporting Catholic education. I think some people think, "well, there's always McQuaid." And McQuaid is an excellent institution, but there is no way we could affort the tuition for all five of our kids in Catholic schools and continue to give to charitable causes and continue to eat, etc...:).

Mike said...

Nerina & nyyankeegirl,

Just about everyone to whom I've told this story compliments us on being generous. I suppose that's one way of looking at it, but all we saw was a need that we knew the girls' parents could not meet and that we knew we could.

Given those circumstances we would have felt guilty if we had done nothing.

Everything any of us has is ultimately a gift from God. He doesn't want us to be selfish with his gifts but to share them with others, especially when their need is obvious.

Any I cannot tell you how much joy I got watching my oldest granddaughter graduate a few weeks ago. We could not have spent that money on anything that would have made us any happier.

(Pics here, if you're interested.)

Nerina said...

Mike,

Great pictures! I would have been a blubbering mess. Congratulations again!

Nerina

nyyankeegirl said...

Mike,

what lovely pictures! Thanks for sharing, she looks so proud and happy as I am sure you must have been when you took those photos.

Nerina,

I totally understand what you mean about McQuaid. My son starts 6th grade in 11 days. My husband and I still honestly dont know what we are going to do. He is a straight A student, in advanced math, he wants to go to McQuaid, his 5th grade teacher said to us in our parent teacher conference "McQuaid is the only place I can see him going given his intellect and interests" and my husband and I sit and look at each other and are barely scraping by paying the tuition now and have absolutely no idea how we handle mcquaid tuition in sept of 2010. We are praying for guidance on this one.

Mike said...

Nerina,

Have you talked to anyone at McQuaid about your concerns?

One of their administrators is a fellow parishioner at Holy Cross. (He also insists on teaching one math class a year, as that is his first love.)

Contact me offline (dorcatholic "at" frontiernet "dot" net) if you would like to talk with him and I'll see what I can do to set it up.

Nerina said...

Mike,

I think Nyyankee girl is the one contemplating McQuaid for her son. We are not pursuing McQuaid at this point.

Nerina

Mike said...

Nerina,

Sorry about that.

That's what I get for trying to blog and talk on the phone at the same time.

I am simply not a multitasker.