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Op-ed Urges Chicago to Learn from Philadelphia's Catholic Schools

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In an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, Sean Kennedy, a fellow at Arlington, Va.-based public policy think tank the Lexington Institute, argues that Catholic schools in Chicago could learn valuable lessons from the steps that the Philadelphia Archdiocese has taken to preserve Catholic schools in that city.

The Archdiocese of Chicago recently announced that it would be closing five Catholic schools in the region, laying off 14 percent of its staff, Kennedy says. The move mirrors the trend in Catholic education across the U.S. over the past 50 years. In the past 13 years alone, over 2,000 Catholic schools have closed, Kennedy notes.

Researchers attribute the dwindling number of Catholic schools to middle-income families' flight from urban areas, declining financial support from the church, and higher operational costs. Competition from the rise of charter schools is also a factor, particularly in urban areas, which have historically been a stronghold of the Catholic school system.

When faced with closing four Catholic high schools in Philadelphia, however, the Archdiocese there decided to cede control of its high schools to the Faith in the Future foundation—which is led by Catholics. The group has implemented governance, finance, and academic reforms that have helped bring the schools' debt down from $6 million to $500,000 in one year, writes Kennedy.

One strategy to create more efficiencies in the school is the implementation of blended learning, Kennedy points out in his piece, which the Faith in the Future foundation has put into place in the Philadelphia high schools it works in.

Such leadership could provide a way for the Archdiocese of Chicago to preserve Catholic schools there without being forced to shutter more of its schools, he argues.

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