Urban Public Schools Take Cues from Catholic Schools' Success: But Washington Fails to Follow N.Y., Chicago Initiative

Article excerpt

Escalating violence and declining achievement in urban public schools make it difficult for public officials to ignore the quiet success of inner-city Catholic schools.

In stark contrast to public systems, Catholic schools are a haven for all and a success story for the disadvantaged. They also do more with less, officials say.

Consequently, officials in Chicago and New York are beginning to ask how. So far, however, Washington officials aren't asking.

"We had not one approach from D.C.," said Lawrence Callahan, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington.

"I'm surprised, knowing there's so much research out there about Catholic schools in terms of success. You would think there would be some interest or inquiry."

When Paul Vallas took over the troubled Chicago public schools last year, he called Elaine Schuster, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and asked for help. As a result, a team of Catholic school policy-makers was assembled to help the public schools analyze management techniques and curriculum.

"We can't duplicate them, but we can learn from them," Mr. Vallas told the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Archdiocese is the largest Catholic school system in the country, with 138,000 students. Inner-city Catholic schools are about 80 percent minority and 40 percent non-Catholic.

In urging public schools to adopt uniforms, President Clinton was borrowing an idea from the Catholic schools.

New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a graduate of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, also champions Catholic schools as a role model. He is promoting a $2 million effort, backed with money from businesses and philanthropies, to send 1,000 struggling students from city to parochial schools.

A 1993 study by the state Education Department compared those city Catholic and public schools that have more than 80 percent minority enrollment, according to the New York Times.

The study found that parochial students consistently outperformed their public school counterparts in reading and mathematics tests by anywhere from 10 to 17 percentile points. …