Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Lost Ground: Catholic Schools, the Future of Urban School Reform, and Empirical Legal Scholarship

Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Lost Ground: Catholic Schools, the Future of Urban School Reform, and Empirical Legal Scholarship

Article excerpt

Lost Ground: Catholic Schools, the Future of Urban School Reform, and Empirical Legal Scholarship LOST CLASSROOM, LOST COMMUNITY: CATHOLIC SCHOOLS' IMPORTANCE IN URBAN AMERICA. By Margaret F. Brinig & Nicole Stelle Garnett. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2014. 224 pages. $45.00.

The central themes in Margaret Brinig and Nicole Garnett's Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools' Importance in Urban America distill as easily as they haunt. Well understood is that the United States needs to improve the quality of education as well as its equitable distribution across various subgroups of students. Paradoxically, students most in need of high-quality education services-including minority students, particularly those from low-income households in urban areas-are more likely assigned to under-performing public schools. Historically, the nation's Catholic schools provided urban students, including many minority students from low-income households, with more efficacious yet less expensive educational services than their urban public school counterparts. Brinig and Garnett's book identifies and discusses an especially lethal interaction of an array of key trends: While the need for high-quality, low-cost education services continues its ascent, Catholic school closures accelerate and, in so doing, threaten efforts to help improve the urban education landscape. To make matters even worse, as Brinig and Garnett also argue, the consequences of Catholic school closures extend beyond the education realm and degrade the stability of urban communities. Brinig and Garnett's work on this topic is important as the policy issues remain timely and novel, and they enlist data and empirical methods into their analyses. As a result, Brinig and Garnett's book is not only important for what it says but also how it says it.

I. Introduction

Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools' Importance in Urban America explores a difficult and discomforting issue with important policy consequences: What happens when an increasing number of Catholic schools "vanish from the urban landscape forever"?1 The story that unfolds-buttressed by careful empirical legal research-is an unhappy story for many, and one with distressing educational and public policy consequences. While any school closure warrants careful attention and analysis, what Brinig and Garnett tell us is that the accelerating trend of Catholic school closures in urban America poses particular problems for education reform efforts generally and, more particularly, for the many families, including many low-income minority families, who now have fewer education options. But that is not all. Brinig and Garnett's additional-and more provocative-claim is that Catholic school closures pose important deleterious consequences for many urban neighborhoods and communities.

Despite a relatively robust and well-developed scholarly literature on Catholic schools, Lost Classroom contributes in two important ways. First, while much of the existing literature frames Catholic schools as educational institutions, Brinig and Garnett expand the traditional analytic frame by assessing Catholic schools not only as educational institutions but also as community institutions. In so doing, the authors endeavor to better understand the complex relations between Catholic schools and the "neighborhoods where they are (or were) situated."2 Second, also critical to Lost Classroom's success is that it brings a sophisticated and creative empirical perspective to timely research questions. As a consequence, Lost Classroom is an important scholarly contribution not only for what it says but also how it says it.

II. Background

Public perceptions about the persistent and substantial challenges confronting America's public schools, particularly its urban public schools, are well-known, well rehearsed, and, to some degree, too quickly devolve into caricature.3 Public perceptions about urban Catholic schools are similarly both well understood and well rehearsed. …

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