Catholic Schools, Urban Neighborhoods, and Education Reform

By Brinig, Margaret F.; Garnett, Nicole Stelle | Notre Dame Law Review, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Catholic Schools, Urban Neighborhoods, and Education Reform


Brinig, Margaret F., Garnett, Nicole Stelle, Notre Dame Law Review


This Article explores the implications of a dramatic shift in the American educational landscape--the rapid disappearance of Catholic schools from urban neighborhoods. Primarily because of their strong track record of educating disadvantaged children, these school closures are a source of significant concern in education policy circles. While we are inclined to agree that Catholic school closures contribute to a broader educational crisis, this Article does not address well-rehearsed debates about educational outcomes. Rather than focusing on the work done inside the schools, we focus on what goes on outside them. Specifically, using three decades of data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, we seek to understand what a Catholic school means to an urban neighborhood. Our study suggests Catholic elementary schools are important generators of neighborhood social capital: We find that neighborhood social cohesion decreases and disorder increases following an elementary school closure, even after we control for numerous demographic variables that would tend to predict neighborhood decline and disaggregate the school closure decision from those variables as well. Our study--the first of its kind--contributes in a unique and important way to ongoing debates about both land use and education policy for reasons that we explore in detail in the Article.

INTRODUCTION
  I. THE DISAPPEARING URBAN PARISH SCHOOL
     A. A World Set Apart
     B. Race, Suburbanization, and a Changing Church
     C. The Roots of the School Closure Crisis
 II. DISORDER, SOCIAL CAPITAL, AND URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD
     LIVE
     A. Disorder, Social Capital, and Collective Efficacy
     B. Disorder and Fear
III. CHICAGO'S CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AND THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS:
     AN EMPIRICAL TEST
     A. Catholic Schools in Chicago
     B. Explaining School Closures: Beyond Demographics
     C. Neighborhood Effects of Catholic School Closings
        1. School Closures and Perceived Social Disorder
        2. School Closures and Perceived Physical Disorder
        3. School Closures and Social Cohesion
        4. School Closures and Collective Efficacy
 IV. SCHOOL CLOSURES, LAND USES, AND SOCIAL CAPITAL
     A. The Empirical Evidence
     B. A Catholic School Effect?
  V. CATHOLIC SCHOOL CLOSURES AND EDUCATION FINANCE
     DEBATES
     A. The Geography of Education Reform
     B. Private Schools and Public Values
     C. Neighborhood Public Schools, Interdistrict Competition, and
        "Community-Specific Social Capital"
        1. Local Public Schools and Educational Outcomes
        2. Local Public Schools and "Community-Specific
           Social Capital"
     D. Catholic School Closures, Neighborhood Social Capital, and
        Education Reform
CONCLUSION

INTRODUCTION

More than 1600 Catholic elementary and secondary schools, most of them located in urban neighborhoods, have closed during the last two decades. (1) The Archdiocese of Chicago alone (the subject of our study) has closed 148 schools since 1984. (2) The steadily increasing number of school closures has prompted talk of "crisis" in some education policy circles, (3) even leading to a "White House Summit" on the subject in 2008. (4) The reasons for sounding the alarm primarily concern the work done inside the schools that are closing--that is, the education of disadvantaged children who do not generally fare well in public schools. It is this work that prompted former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to call Catholic schools a "national treasure" not long ago. (5) Beginning with the groundbreaking research of James Coleman and Andrew Greeley, numerous scholars have found that Catholic school students--especially poor minority students--tend to outperform their public school counterparts. Greeley found, for example, that the achievement of minority students in Catholic schools not only surpassed that of those in public schools but, moreover, that the differences were the greatest for the poorest, most disadvantaged students. …

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