Launched in the Fall of 2020 as a collaboration between the National Catholic Educational Association and Boston College's Urban Catholic Teachers Corps and Department of Educational Leadership, this project will update a 2004 landmark national study into how urban Catholic schools have been sustained, enhanced, and/or adapted. The study will also provide a comprehensive and collaborative vision for urban Catholic education for the next 20 years, including their work serving marginalized and excluded students, families, and communities.
This is a mixed-methods research study. Participants are primarily principals and superintendents of urban Catholic schools nationwide. Principals filled out an online quantitative survey about their student body demographics, school characteristics, student family information, curriculum and instruction, school finances, development, and governance, and religious practice. A smaller sub-sample were also interviewed about the challenges and innovations that have emerged. Similarly, superintendents were interviewed regarding urban schools in their dioceses and the areas of challenges as well as innovations in curriculum and instruction, services offered, and partnerships.
The pandemic and resulting economic uncertainty have exacerbated the precarious position of Catholic education in the United States. Over the past 20 years the Catholic school sector has experienced an annual 1-2% decline in student enrollment and number of Catholic schools (MacDonald & Schultz, 2020). However, more than 150 schools have already closed since March 2020 (Crary, 2020; Gjelten, 2020), well exceeding the anticipated 1-2% of annual closures with more closures predicted in the coming months.
Should Catholic schools in urban areas serving low-income, marginalized, and excluded communities continue to close at their current rate, a crucial social good contributing to equity and justice for these communities will be lost.
Since 2005, there has not been a comprehensive attempt, through research, to demonstrate the ways that the legacy of urban Catholic schooling for marginalized and vulnerable students has been continued, enhanced, or adapted to the changing contexts and times. In this unprecedented COVID-19 era, new research in the spirit of the original Sustaining the Legacy study is necessary to make sense of the complex student, staffing, and structural issues confronted by urban Catholic schools.
This study will lay the groundwork for a broader understanding of what is necessary to lead this “courageous, comprehensive, and collaborative” change in urban Catholic schooling of the marginalized and excluded over the next 20 years. Our update of the “Sustaining the Legacy” research, together with NCEA, will provide for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in Catholic education a more robust and complex way to make sense of the current challenges and needs of these schools.
“Should Catholic schools in urban areas serving low-income, marginalized, and excluded communities continue to close at their current rate, a crucial social good contributing to equity and justice for these communities will be lost.”