The latest example of how Catholic schools succeed where others cannot, courtesy of George Will in today’s Washington Post .

It began in 1996 with 79 students meeting in the four corners of a roller-skating rink. Today the 540 students — most from two-parent families with an average of five members and an income of $38,000 — enjoy an old parish school, refurbished and expanded. About one-third of those admitted to the ninth grade do not graduate, half because they cannot cope academically, others because they chafe under CRJHS’s three hours of homework a night and its strict dress and discipline codes.

The school exists to nurture a culture of achievement for children with no other option for college preparation, including those who in public schools might be diverted onto a vocational track. It is not skimming off the cream of the crop of local students; it rejects any who can get accepted by, and afford, other Catholic schools. Some especially promising students are directed to Catholic schools that offer scholarships. Which makes CRJHS’s college placement rate especially remarkable: In the past seven years, 99 percent of graduates have been accepted by at least one college, 75 percent of them four-year institutions.

CRJHS can have its work program, its entirely college preparatory courses (“the old, dead white man’s curriculum,” says an English teacher cheerfully), its zero tolerance of disorder (from gang symbols down to chewing gum), its enforcement of decorum (couples dancing suggestively are told to “leave some space there for the Holy Spirit”) and its requirement that every family pay something, if only as little as $25 a month. It can have all this because it is not shackled by bureaucracy or unions, as public schools are.

The “Cristo Rey model” is as American as another Chicago-area startup, McDonald’s. And like McDonald’s, the first of which was in suburban Des Plaines, the model is being replicated. The Cristo Rey Network now has 22 schools around the country, with four more coming by 2010.

Read the entire column to find out what makes the Cristo Rey model so successful.

Articles by Ryan T. Anderson

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