Read: Lost Classroom, Lost Community
By Margaret Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett (University of Chicago, 2014)
The case for Catholic education has long rested on research showing the schools to be effective academic institutions. Even when controlling for selection bias, Catholic schools have been shown to outperform public schools, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. With Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools’ Importance in Urban America, Margaret Brinig and Nicole Stelle Garnett add another argument to the case for Catholic education: Catholic schools are essential to a community’s health, especially in inner-city neighborhoods.
Such a claim seems logical enough, but Brinig and Garnett, both Notre Dame law professors, aim to prove it through data. The middle chapters of the book detail their reasoning and statistical analysis. A reader may need a background in statistics to understand them, but anyone can appreciate their analysis.
In two of the three cities looked at—Chicago and Philadelphia, but not Los Angeles—the authors find that Catholic school closures have had a negative impact on a neighborhood’s sense of social cohesion and its crime rate. This cannot be fully explained by the fact that these were schools, community organizations, or even religious institutions. Brinig and Garnett argue that this is specifically a Catholic school effect.
The fact that they could not replicate their findings in Los Angeles suggests that it may not hold true for all cities. The authors hope their findings inspire greater research into the “Catholic school effect” as well as research on the impact of public and charter schools on communities.
The authors conclude that their findings warrant public funding of Catholic education through vouchers. Their comparison of Catholic and charter schools is a useful addition to the education reform discussion. The book, though, is about more than Catholic education or education reform—it is important for anyone interested in the health of our cities.
This article appeared in the October 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 10, page 43).