Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Identification, Description, and Perceived Viability of K-12 Consolidated Catholic School Systems

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Identification, Description, and Perceived Viability of K-12 Consolidated Catholic School Systems

Article excerpt

There is a lack of general understanding and information regarding K-12 consolidated Catholic school systems, including the factors that led to the changes in structure and governance as well as the viability of this emerging model. Limited research exists on Catholic school viability, and no research exists on the extent that the K-12 consolidated Catholic school system is a model that is sustainable. The purpose of this study is to (1) identify the different organizational structures within K-12 consolidated Catholic school systems, (2) determine the factors that led communities to adopt the K-12 consolidated Catholic school system, and (3) identify the variables that predict the perceived viability of the school system model. For dioceses considering a more collaborative approach to school operations, this study will help identify the benefits and limitations of adopting the K-12 consolidated Catholic school system.

Literature Review

Catholic education has a rich history in the United States dating back to the 17th century, well before this country was established as an independent nation (Hunt, 2005). Following the substantial immigration movement into the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, Catholic schools grew rapidly with the peak of enrollment coming in 1965 (Buetow, 1985; Convey, 1992; Hocevar & Sheehan, 1991; Hunt, 2000). This period of growth and progress, however, would not continue. The post-Vatican II era of Catholic schools in the United States has been the antithesis of growth and progress.

The decline of Catholic schools beginning in the late 1960s, labeled a crisis by many inside and outside of the Church (Guerra, 2000; Hunt, 2000), can be attributed to several factors: the rapid reduction of student enrollment and available financial resources (DeFiore, Convey, & Schuttloffel, 2009; Donovan, Erickson, & Madaus, 1971), out-migration of Catholics from the inner-city to the suburbs (Haney & O'Keefe, 2007), and two significant leadership challenges: (1) recruitment, retention, and preparation of Catholic school leaders (Schuttloffel, 2003), and (2) a lack of support and oversight of pastors and diocesan offices (Cook, 2008; DeFiore et al., 2009). The weakening enrollment base and availability of financial resources, coupled with unprepared or unsupportive parish, school, and diocesan leaders, have challenged the traditional structure, purpose, and continuation of Catholic schools (Baker & Riordan, 1998; Kelleher, 2004; Kollar, 2003). These challenges have led to the implementation of alternative governance and leadership models within K-12 Catholic schools across the country. Still, little attention has been placed on the issue of Catholic school viability in determining the factors or structures that keep schools open (Buetow, 1985; Convey, 1992; Guerra, 2000; Haney & O'Keefe, 2007; Lundy, 1999; McDonald & Schultz, 2010).

Catholic School Viability

Finance is the most obvious and urgent challenge facing Catholic schools in the 21st century (Cook, 2008; Guerra, 1991) and the primary reason why Catholic schools close (DeFiore et al., 2009). The financial pressures on Catholic schools are often accelerated as a result of substantial enrollment declines. McDonald and Schultz (2012) report that the total number of Catholic elementary and secondary schools has declined by 16% since 2000, but enrollment dropped a staggering 23.4% during that same time. While it is clear that enrollment and financial pressures impact school viability, only two studies have developed predictive measures that help identify unstable schools prior to closure (James, Tichy, Collins, & Schwob, 2008; Lundy, 1999).


In a study of parish elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, James et al. (2008) found a reliable method to predict viability; these factors include total enrollment, enrollment trends, and a ratio of median household income with tuition. …

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