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Mary Butz worked in the Néw York City public schools for 35 years. She was a teacher of social studies; an assistant principal; founded her own small high school, which was part of Deborah Meier’s group and Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools. After seven years as principal, she stepped down and became a mentor to other principals. Chancellor Harold Levy asked her to take charge of a program to help 500 new principals. She created a group of 50 highly accomplished principals who were called the Distinguished Faculty. This group mentored new principals. In the summers, all the principals attended a “Principals’ University,” where they chose the practical workshops that met their needs. Many of the principals praised the program as the best professional development they ever had.
I mention all this detail because I know Mary well. She has been my partner for 30 years. While I was traveling in Waco and Dallas, she was glued to the TV, watching Pope Francis. She has her differences with the Church, but she loves the nuns who educated her, and she loves this Pope. I am Jewish, and I love this Pope too.
I have a principle: public money for public schools; private money for nonpublic schools. As readers of the blog know, I do not consider charters to be public schools; whenever they are sued for violating a state law, they say they are private corporations, not state actors. I agree with them.
I am a product of Catholic education. I went to Catholic school, then to a Catholic college. I spent my career working in the New York City public schools. I deeply love each of these institutions down to my toes. Each serve the children in their care with dedication, love and concern.
Yesterday while watching the Pope’s visit a Catholic school in East Harlem, I watched Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Mayor Bill de Blasio hovering around the children. I was struck with a simple truth that this city is not facing. THEY (our influential leaders in government, business leaders, and philanthropists) are allowing Catholic schools to be closed and disappear. I am not advocating for vouchers – I am advocating for funding from the philanthropies and hedge fund managers who shower millions of dollars on charter schools that try to imitate Catholic schools.
Why is our governor opening more and more charter schools that receive extra millions from wealthy hedge fund managers? Why are these hedge fund managers pumping their money into the unknown? Why are we taking taxpayer funds away from public schools to support these schools? Why are they speculating that charter schools will succeed? Some will, some won’t.
The billionaires behind “Families for Excellent Schools” are spending millions of dollars on a television campaign to demand more charter schools. That same money would save many Catholic schools without undermining public education.
Can they not see the light before them? If they care about poor children, why don’t they fund Catholic schools? Why are they using their millions to drain students and resources from public schools? Why don’t they use their money as donations to Catholic schools, instead on spending it on political attack ads? The business community should help to sustain and grow schools with a long history of service while simultaneously allowing our public school to survive.
Catholic education has been and continues to be hugely successful. Children who come from poverty-stressed homes blossom in Catholic schools. Why is that? Is it because they are strict and orderly? Yes. Is it because their expectations are clear and defined? Yes. Is it because they require parents to participate in the education of their children? Yes. So, don’t charters do the same? Well . . not necessarily.
Charter schools have adopted the trappings of Catholic education: uniforms, neat and orderly buildings, defined objectives, parent involvement. It all sounds good and looks good on paper but they lack the genuine ingredient for student success. SOUL.
Charter schools focus on test scores; Catholic schools focus on character. Honesty, integrity, compassion, social justice.
Catholic schools care for the whole child. Catholic education fosters, teaches and preaches a body of belief that embraces service, gratitude and love. Children learn because they are loved. They learn because they are safe. These children learn because their principals, their teachers, their fellow students all adhere to a higher code.
Hedge fund managers, corporate leader, and foundations: Put your money where it will make a lifelong difference. It is such a simple, honest solution. It is clear and obvious. Catholic education works. It should not die. Stop funding imitations when the real thing is right before you.