Thoughts on today's White House summit on faith-based schools

The White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools, underway at this moment, has about 300 attendees, all of whom already agree with each other about nearly all the issues on the table. No bad thing to rally the troops or (changing metaphors) preach to the choir. But I didn't spot anyone there whose mind needed to, or was likely to be, changed by the proceedings. Hence the main value of this event beyond the Ronald Reagan Building amphitheater (normally occupied by the satirical Capitol Steps) depends on whether word of it percolates out and anybody pays heed.

Four more takeaways, two of them admittedly churlish:

    • The President gave a good talk, peppered with positive examples from the world of Catholic schools (never mind the ecumenical audience and many flavors of faith-based schools) and from the recent Fordham Institute report on same. He called on states to repeal their Blaine Amendments. He was in excellent humor and form but also showed faint signs of final-year-in-office enervation.
    • Though the Fordham Report and its case studies permeate this event, it is never named, quoted from or referenced. Even session moderator Scott Hamilton, who edited it and has a Fordham tie, is identified on the program by another part of his work life. We don't need to ask why the systematic shunning. It's payback for Mike's and my occasional truth-tellings about the Secretary of Education (here, for instance).
    • The social science evidence offered (mainly by Cal State's Bill Jeynes) on behalf of achievement-gap closing by church-affiliated schools left something to be desired. No mention of selection effects and no true measure of school effects. And no mention of the reluctance of these--and just about all--private schools to have their performance assessed via instruments that lend themselves to valid comparisons with public schools.
    • Despite the Summit's generous support from the wonderful Bradley and Friedman foundations, everyone attending the opening reception had to pay for his/her own drinks--starting at five bucks for a Pepsi! I hope some of that margin makes its way into inner-city faith-based schools or scholarships for kids, but I'm not counting on it.

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