Monday, October 27, 2008
When Catholics urge vouchers for school choice and argue that Catholics schools perform better than the public schools that often fail poor children, the responsive retort frequently has been that Catholic schools are able to skim off the cream of the crop and avoid the difficulties with disadvantaged students. John Breen notes that such arguments have no purchase on Catholic schools in disadvantaged parts of Chicago, where they still out-perform the public schools.
When I hear the argument that Catholic schools supposedly avoid responsibility for the most challenging of students, I always am reminded of John Cardinal O’Connor's response in New York City. In an article ten years ago, Sol Stern well-summarized the Cardinal O'Connor challenge:
Cardinal John J. O’Connor has repeatedly made New York City an extraordinary offer: send me the lowest-performing 5 percent of children presently in the public schools, and I will put them in Catholic schools-where they will succeed. Last August the Cardinal sweetened the offer. He invited city officials to come study the Catholic school system, “to make available to public schools whatever of worth in our Catholic schools is constitutionally usable. The doors are open. Our books are open. Our hearts are open. No charge.”
The city’s response: almost total silence.