Charter schools, only 20 years old, are on the rise across America as parents and students try to escape failing public schools. The growth in charter schools has hit Catholic schools especially hard, as education historian Diane Ravitch noted, “Where charter schools are expanding, Catholic schools are dying.” Instead of fearing the rise of Charter schools, Catholic schools should learn from their innovative practices.
Parents who once preferred Catholic schools to the failing public system are abandoning Catholic schools en masse. This coming school year (2012-2013), more American elementary and secondary school students will enroll in charter schools than Catholic schools for the first time.
Charters have grown precisely because they took some of the best practices of Catholic schools – uniforms, discipline and high expectations – and applied them zealously. Now, Catholic schools should adopt some of the best practices used by charters to stage a comeback.
Milwaukee’s Catholic schools have a special opportunity to lead reform. Starting in the fall of 2013, one of the most innovative charter school networks, Rocketship Academy of San Jose, Calif., will open its first franchise in Milwaukee.
Rocketship plans to open eight in total and enroll 4,000 students in the coming years. Rocketship’s model has improved student outcomes dramatically, especially for English language learners. More important, Rocketship spends half as much per pupil than traditional schools.