On Topic: Decline and fall?


Published: September 2006

On the day before a national summit on Catholic education hosted by Boston College in June 2006, three education experts—Gerald Grace, Sr. Dale McDonald, and Joseph O’Keefe, SJ—sat down with Ben Birnbaum, editor of Boston College Magazine, to discuss the state of elementary and secondary parochial school education in the United States.

The three explored the reasons why there has been a decline in the number of Catholic schools and in enrollment, and what hope exists for this once thriving sector of American education. According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), 7,600 Catholic schools educated 2.4 million students in 2005–2006; in 1960, the figures were 12,900 schools and 5.4 million pupils.

McDonald traces the development of U.S. Catholic education from the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, which mandated that each parish establish a school. Grace suggests ways that American schools can learn from Britain’s flourishing system of Catholic education. O’Keefe speaks about whether Boston College’s partnership with St. Columbkille School, in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood of Boston, is a viable model for sustaining and governing a parochial school.

Gerald Grace is the author of Catholic Schools: Missions, Markets, and Morality (Routledge, 2002) and director of the Centre for Research and Development in Catholic Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. Sr. Dale McDonald, PBVM, is director of public policy and education research at the NCEA. Joseph O’Keefe, SJ, is dean of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College; director of the National Center for Research in Catholic Education at the NCEA; and codirector of SPICE (Selected Programs for Improving Catholic Education), which hosted the national summit at Boston College, and is a joint venture in research and information-sharing developed by the University and the NCEA to assist Catholic schools. Additionally, as part of the University’s strategic plan, Boston College has begun to develop a Center for Catholic Education in the Lynch School of Education to study Catholic school systems, especially those in cities.

“On Topic” was recorded in Lawrence House, in Chestnut Hill, on June 22, 2006.

This feature was posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 and is filed under Audio.
Photo: Lee Pellegrini