Building 21st Century Catholic Learning Communities
Enhancing the Catholic Mission with Data, Blended Learning, and Other Best Practices From Top Charter Schools
Catholic K-12 education in the United States is in crisis – with rapidly declining enrollment, untenable financial models, and new competition from public charter schools. The 2012-2013 school year will be the first in which more American children will be enrolled in charter schools than Catholic schools. This milestone presents an opportunity for Catholic schools to innovate and renew their mission by learning from high-performing charter schools.
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 best charters merged those traits with basic business principles to deliver academic excellence and strong social support at a low cost.
Another distinguishing factor of many top-performing charter schools is the regular use of timely data to inform differentiated instruction. A new education model pioneered by charter schools called “blended learning” promises a high-quality, lower-cost education to students regardless of their background. Blended learning uses technology to customize student learning and promote subject mastery. Teachers are empowered to intervene and adapt to student needs. Schools garner tangible data to address their specific weaknesses and to market their strengths.
As important, blended learning complements the Christian mission of Catholic schools. Student-teacher interaction is actually increased under the model, as time and space are used more efficiently and effectively. The social capital and trust Catholic schools engender as faith communities, or “families,” aid in the implementation of this new model.
Blended learning’s essential innovation is not strictly its use of data, but that it maximizes data usefulness to teachers, parents, administrators, and funders. Schools willing to embrace this model can see dramatic improvements in financial and academic results and better continue their Catholic religious mission.
This paper discusses the progress of several, innovative Catholic education models from around the country that are already implementing many of these practices with impressive success, including San Francisco’s Mission Dolores Academy. It also draws from exemplary models in the charter school sector, including Arizona’s Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and DC Prep in Washington, DC.