Catholic schools, urban neighborhoods, and education reform.

Author:Brinig, Margaret F.
 
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This Article explores the implications of a dramatic shift in the American educational landscape--the rapid disappearance of Catholic schools from urban neighborhoods. Primarily because of their strong track record of educating disadvantaged children, these school closures are a source of significant concern in education policy circles. While we are inclined to agree that Catholic school closures contribute to a broader educational crisis, this Article does not address well-rehearsed debates about educational outcomes. Rather than focusing on the work done inside the schools, we focus on what goes on outside them. Specifically, using three decades of data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, we seek to understand what a Catholic school means to an urban neighborhood. Our study suggests Catholic elementary schools are important generators of neighborhood social capital: We find that neighborhood social cohesion decreases and disorder increases following an elementary school closure, even after we control for numerous demographic variables that would tend to predict neighborhood decline and disaggregate the school closure decision from those variables as well. Our study--the first of its kind--contributes in a unique and important way to ongoing debates about both land use and education policy for reasons that we explore in detail in the Article.

INTRODUCTION I. THE DISAPPEARING URBAN PARISH SCHOOL A. A World Set Apart B. Race, Suburbanization, and a Changing Church C. The Roots of the School Closure Crisis II. DISORDER, SOCIAL CAPITAL, AND URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD LIVE A. Disorder, Social Capital, and Collective Efficacy B. Disorder and Fear III. CHICAGO'S CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AND THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS: AN EMPIRICAL TEST A. Catholic Schools in Chicago B. Explaining School Closures: Beyond Demographics C. Neighborhood Effects of Catholic School Closings 1. School Closures and Perceived Social Disorder 2. School Closures and Perceived Physical Disorder 3. School Closures and Social Cohesion 4. School Closures and Collective Efficacy IV. SCHOOL CLOSURES, LAND USES, AND SOCIAL CAPITAL A. The Empirical Evidence B. A Catholic School Effect? V. CATHOLIC SCHOOL CLOSURES AND EDUCATION FINANCE DEBATES A. The Geography of Education Reform B. Private Schools and Public Values C. Neighborhood Public Schools, Interdistrict Competition, and "Community-Specific Social Capital" 1. Local Public Schools and Educational Outcomes 2. Local Public Schools and "Community-Specific Social Capital" D. Catholic School Closures, Neighborhood Social Capital, and Education Reform CONCLUSION INTRODUCTION

More than 1600 Catholic elementary and secondary schools, most of them located in urban neighborhoods, have closed during the last two decades. (1) The Archdiocese of Chicago alone (the subject of our study) has closed 148 schools since 1984. (2) The steadily increasing number of school closures has prompted talk of "crisis" in some education policy circles, (3) even leading to a "White House Summit" on the subject in 2008. (4) The reasons for sounding the alarm primarily concern the work done inside the schools that are closing--that is, the education of disadvantaged children who do not generally fare well in public schools. It is this work that prompted former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to call Catholic schools a "national treasure" not long ago. (5) Beginning with the groundbreaking research of James Coleman and Andrew Greeley, numerous scholars have found that Catholic school students--especially poor minority students--tend to outperform their public school counterparts. Greeley found, for example, that the achievement of minority students in Catholic schools not only surpassed that of those in public schools but, moreover, that the differences were the greatest for the poorest, most disadvantaged students. (6) More recently, Derek Neal confirmed Greeley's "Catholic school effect" in research demonstrating that Catholic school attendance increased the likelihood that a minority student would graduate from high school from sixty-two percent to eighty eight percent and more than doubled the likelihood that a similar student would graduate from college. (7) Especially given the continued underperformance of many urban public schools, anyone concerned about the long-term prospects of the urban poor should shudder when Catholic dioceses release their inevitable lists of school closures each spring.

We are inclined to agree that Catholic school closures contribute to what few dispute is a broader educational crisis--especially for poor children living in urban centers. This Article, however, does not address well-rehearsed debates about educational outcomes. Rather than focusing on the work done inside the schools, we focus on what goes on outside them, seeking to understand how urban Catholic schools affect the lives of residents in the neighborhoods surrounding them. (8) Specifically, using three decades of data drawn from the census and from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, we conduct novel empirical research that helps us begin to understand what a Catholic school means to an urban neighborhood. We do so primarily by measuring various effects of elementary school closures in the Chicago neighborhoods where they operated for decades. (9) We find strong evidence that Catholic elementary schools are important generators of social capital in urban neighborhoods: Our study suggests that neighborhood social cohesion and collective efficacy decrease and disorder increases following an elementary school closure. These results hold true even after we control for numerous demographic variables that would tend to predict neighborhood decline and disaggregate the school closure decision from those variables as well. (10)

Our study--the first of its kind--contributes in a unique way to two critical public policy debates. The first is the question of how different kinds of land uses affect urban neighborhood life. The predominant form of land use regulation in the United States--Euclidean zoning--segregates residential and nonresidential uses.

This segregation has, since the inception of zoning in the early twentieth century, flowed from a conviction that exclusively residential neighborhoods are healthier and more conducive to community life than mixed-land-use neighborhoods and that nonresidential land uses increase disorder and crime. In her classic work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs sharply challenged this view, arguing that nonresidential land uses, in fact, foster social capital and suppress disorder in urban neighborhoods. (11) Although Jacobs's views have been ascendant in recent years, the available empirical evidence runs counter to her hypothesis: Numerous studies find that nonresidential land uses increase crime and disorder and decrease neighborhood social cohesion. In contrast to these earlier studies--including some studies of public schools--our study suggests that some nonresidential land uses are good for neighborhoods, and we offer a few thoughts on why urban Catholic schools run counter to the general trend. (12)

These land use conclusions bear directly on a second important policy debate, namely, how law should structure and finance elementary and secondary education. A primary scholarly goal of this paper is to bring new information to bear on this critical and highly contested question. At least since Brown v. Board of Education, (13) public education in the United States has evolved away from the traditional, geographically assigned neighborhood public school and toward more parental choice--first through busing, then through magnet schools and other public-school-choice devices, and, more recently, through charter schools and a handful of private-school-choice programs. A great deal has been written about these developments. Here, we are particularly interested in what might be called their "communitarian" impacts. Scholars from a number of disciplines have raised concerns about the evolution away from traditional public schools on communitarian grounds. For example, William Fischel, an economist, has argued both that neighborhood public schools generate local social capital and that the traditional model of locally operated and financed public schools incentivizes parent homeowners to organize and to demand educational excellence. He therefore worries that private school choice may undermine both "community-specific social capital" and educational quality. (14) Other scholars, including philosophers Amy Gutmann and Stephen Macedo, assert that public schools should be privileged in the distribution of public educational funds because they are needed to inculcate the democratic values that form the building blocks of civil society. (15) These arguments have been empirically challenged by studies suggesting that private schools--especially Catholic schools--actually do a better job at inculcating democratic values. (16) We believe that our study provides a new and important counterpoint in this debate--one which strongly favors expanded school choice. If nontraditional schools--and we begin here with inner-city Catholic schools (17)--generate significant positive externalities, then these effects should be considered in educational finance debates. This is especially true in light of the very real possibility that these schools, and their beneficial community effects, will continue to disappear unless new sources of tuition assistance become available to the students they serve.

We also hope that this project will contribute to a debate within the Catholic Church in the United States about the future of inner-city parochial education. While there are many reasons why schools close, including some that we explore in this paper, changes within the Catholic Church over the past half century undoubtedly have forced church leaders to...

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