A newly published, special issue of the Journal of Catholic Education sends a challenging message: The future of Latino enrollment in Catholic schools may be at a “critical juncture.”
Notre Dame political scientist Luis Ricardo Fraga, a driving force behind the journal’s project, suggested this crossroads deserves vigorous debate among scholars and merits attention from educators and Church leaders who must steward the Church through the demographic shift unfolding with the influx of Latino population growth in the United States. The project is “one of the first efforts to consolidate educational scholarship that critically engages the practice of Catholic education in Latino communities.”
In an interview, Fraga, who is Co-Director of the Institute for Latino Studies, Arthur Foundation Endowed Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership, Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Political Science, and Fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives gave several reasons for the issue of the journal:
- Little is known about the continuum of education for the Latino population that now constitutes about 38 percent of Catholics in the United States. The Latino community’s whole spectrum of experiences, from pre-K through college, needs to be studied so that we can implement for Latino students the most effective interventions to boost access to, and accomplishment in, K-12 schools and colleges and universities.
- Parish and diocesan leaders must consider values of solidarity, subsidiarity, and justice while advocating for greater educational opportunity for all Latino students, including those in public schools. The 2009 report of the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools found only about 3 percent of Latino school-age kids attend Catholic schools.
- Dual-language immersion schools, which Fraga wrote about in another of the articles, offer one answer to U.S. bishops’ call to build intercultural faith communities. In the history of Catholic education in the U.S., multiplication of schools and parishes arose partly from educating different ethnic communities separately; that model for yesterday’s immigrants is not appropriate to today’s circumstances, Fraga said, so leaders must customize innovations to unite and sustain Catholic schools’ advantages, including multicultural strengths.
Fraga hopes that the Journal’s breadth of perspectives will encourage education scholars and school practitioners to work together on the issues facing Catholic schools.
“None of this is easy or inexpensive,” Fraga acknowledged, but ongoing research and improvements will advance the mission of Notre Dame and the Church in general.
Raw numbers of Latinos in Catholic schools have shown only modest gains in the past several years, but Fraga said he is “fundamentally hopeful” because “I see how much good will, good work, and sacrifice drive so many people who work in this area.”
“Over the past four years, Latino enrollment has increased in Catholic schools nationwide by about 2 percent,” Rev. Joseph Corpora, C.S.C. wrote in his article in the newly published Journal. “It has gone up 8 percent in schools that have participated in [ACE’s] Latino Enrollment Institute.”
More exchanges of ideas and initiatives between Catholic schools and public schools constitute another evolution to discuss based on the journal’s new analyses, Fraga added. Any notions of Catholic schools “in competition with public schools” have to end.
“Maybe we need to think of building better cross-institutional understanding between public and Catholic education, to the mutual benefit of both,” said Fraga, “with the consequence of better educational attainment by all children.”
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