The Catholic University of America

Oct. 31, 2012

Experts Discuss Ways to Boost Catholic Schools

  Merylann Schuttloffel, Department of Education chair, participates in a panel discussion.

During recent panel discussions sponsored by the Lexington Institute and the Catholic University Department of Education, experts from around the country shared ideas and information about best business and governance practices at top charter and independent schools that could benefit Catholic schools, where enrollment has been declining.

“What surfaced during the discussions were the need and opportunities for new models of governance to support Catholic schools in the 21st century,” said panelist Merylann Schuttloffel, associate professor and education department chair.

Held Oct. 16 at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, “Building 21st Century Catholic Learning Communities: Enhancing the Catholic Mission with Data, Blended Learning, and Other Best Practices From Top Charter and Independent Schools” also explored best practices at some of the nation’s most innovative and successful Catholic schools.

Don Soifer, executive vice president of the Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan think tank headquartered in Arlington, Va., delivered opening remarks at the event.

Panelist Samuel Casey Carter talked about the independent Faith in the Future Foundation, where he serves as chief executive officer. Faith in the Future took over day-to-day management and leadership of 17 Catholic secondary schools and four schools of special education from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Sept. 1.

Prior to the establishment of Faith in the Future, the archdiocese had planned to close four of its high schools. But under the new arrangement between the archdiocese and the foundation, the schools remain open. The foundation also handles major fundraising, enrollment management, marketing, and the cultivation of best practices in leadership and education for the schools.

“Mr. Carter’s presentation was very timely,” noted Schuttloffel, who is also director of the department’s Catholic Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Programs. “Faith in the Future is a clear example of what a new governance model for Catholic schools could look like.”

The event was prompted by the findings of a July 2012 Lexington Institute report, Schuttloffel said. The report notes that the 2012-2013 school year is the first in which more American children are enrolled in charter schools than Catholic schools. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, 1,942 Catholic schools, or 23.8 percent, have closed in the past decade.

“This milestone presents an opportunity for Catholic schools to innovate and renew their mission by learning from high-performing charter schools,” states the report’s executive summary.

“The charter school movement adopted many of the traits that set Catholic education apart — discipline, high academic expectations, and a strong sense of community,” the summary notes.

“The best charters merged those traits with basic business principles to deliver academic excellence and strong social support at a low cost.”

Schuttloffel noted that Catholic schools are already doing well in four areas that are “crucial” to Catholic school improvement: leadership; community support (from parents, parishioners, relatives, and benefactors); curriculum, methodology, scheduling, and facilities; and subsidiarity and reflective decision making.

Schuttloffel participated in a panel discussion on the ways that blended learning (face-to-face classroom methods combined with online activities) and other charter best practices can be used to promote Catholic identity and communities in Catholic schools. She noted that charter schools have been recognized “for their efforts to develop grit in their students’ character; grit is defined as a blend of perseverance and resilience.”

She said that character development is also important to Catholic schools. But these schools, where faith is the foundation for curriculum, discipline, motivation, service, and worship, “have a profound … route to character.”

More news from CUA