Catholic schools can learn from charter schools – Sean Kennedy, podcastED

Charter schools took a page from Catholic schools when they arrived in the 1990s and began their expansion – character development, solid discipline, a no-excuses approach to success for low-income kids. But now it’s Catholic schools, struggling with declining enrollment (in part because of competition from charters), that should borrow good ideas from charters, the author of a new report says.

Sean Kennedy, a visiting fellow at the Lexington Institute, points to how high-performing charter schools have embraced data and technology to better differentiate teaching, including use of “blended learning” models that have both improved student performance and reduced cost. “They’ve really invested in data,” Kennedy, a product of Catholic schools, said in the redefinED podcast below. “And that’s something that, unfortunately, for various cultural and just simply resource reasons, Catholic schools have shied away from.”

Kennedy says despite the funk they’re in, Catholic schools can more nimbly embrace promising trends than other education sectors and again stand out. They don’t have the bureaucratic or union entanglements of traditional public schools, and they still have the faith and character-building components in their favor.

“I’m very optimistic,” Kennedy said. Catholic school educators “often take huge pay cuts from what they would get in public schools. They often work much longer hours. And they love what they do. So if it can be presented to them in a way that this is going to benefit both their teaching and their students directly, I think teachers and administrators in Catholic education are at a special advantage to grab a hold of this data movement and really run with it.”

Kennedy also said vouchers and tax credit scholarships can be crucial in Catholic school reform efforts, particularly with Hispanic students. A project is now underway in the Tampa Bay area with two Catholic schools that accept tax credit scholarships and the Notre Dame ACE Academies, which aims to revitalize Catholic education. “There’s fewer and fewer kids in inner city areas being served by high quality Catholic schools, as these Catholic school business models kind of collapse in on themselves. And that’s a tragedy,” Kennedy said. “With the growing Hispanic population, there’s even greater need to serve these families.”

Avatar photo

BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at