Do charter schools anchor an urban neighborhood the way catholic schools do? Not according to two researchers from the University of Notre Dame Law School. Professors Margaret F. Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett studied catholic and charter schools in Chicago to see how they function as urban community institutions. Why this focus? “Catholic schools are vanishing from the urban neighborhoods where they have operated for decades — in some cases, for over a century — and are being replaced by educational institutions so new that they did not exist anywhere in the United States two decades ago,” the authors write in a report bound for the University of Chicago Law Review. “Yet virtually nothing is known about the impact that the transition will have on urban neighborhoods, many of which already struggle with disorder, crime, and poverty.”
Would any school have an effect on what ails an urban community? Brinig and Garnett argue no. Relying on police “beat” data from the Chicago Police Department, the researchers found that beats with open Catholic schools have lower rates of serious crime than those without one. “Usually,” the study concludes, “the presence of a charter school in a police beat appears to have no statistically significant effect on crime rates …”
This is important in any debate over school choice, the professors say, because charter schools are seen as the more politically palatable policy alternative. “But, our findings that Catholic schools apparently anchor and stabilize struggling urban neighborhoods — and that charter schools do not — bolster the case for expanded school choice.”
If education policy continues on its current course, which favors an expansion of public school choice and charter schools and disfavors private school choice programs like vouchers and tax credits, then charter schools will continue to open, and Catholic schools will continue to close, in our cities …
… At this point, we cannot know how charter schools will perform as community institutions over the long hall. But, we do know how Catholic schools are performing today and strongly suspect that further school closures likely will further erode the social capital that they generate. We also know that it is likely that multi-pronged approach to school choice, which includes financial assistance to students attending private schools might stem the tide of Catholic school closures by increasing their accessibility to students of modest means.