When the Washington D.C. Archdiocese agreed to convert seven of its schools to charters in 2007, the education world was taken aback. But the transition went smoothly and, by all accounts, the schools are thriving. So why now, when faced with a possible closing of fourteen more Catholic schools (seven in Maryland and seven in the District), is the Archdiocese apparently considering every possible solution except that one? Instead, it seems, the Archdiocese is mobilizing parents to lobby for the resuscitation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which was more-or-less halted by Congress a few months back (though current enrollees will be allowed to finish). At least one in five youngsters in the seven financially-problematic D.C. Catholic schools is a voucher-recipient; at one of the seven, voucher recipients are one in two. But what about Maryland’s seven, clustered mostly in working class areas with significant Hispanic and black populations, like Silver Spring, Hyattsville, and Greenbelt, where there is no voucher program? There is another way. Research on Catholic-charter conversions, courtesy of yours truly and Seton Partners, as well as the Archdiocese’s own experiences two years ago, means it might even be smoother going this time around. There’s definitely something lost when a Catholic school goes secular, but that’s a far cry better than closing them down all together.
"Catholic schools look at closing," by Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, November 24, 2009