Policy Documents

Catholic Schools, Urban Neighborhoods, and Education Reform

Margaret F. Brinig & Nicole Stelle Gernett –

This Article explores the implications of a dramatic shift in the American educational landscape—the rapid disappearance of Catholic schools from urban neighborhoods. Primarily because of their strong track record of educating disadvantaged children, these school closures are a source of significant concern in education policy circles. While we are inclined to agree that Catholic school closures contribute to a broader educational crisis, this Article does not address well-rehearsed debates about educational outcomes. Rather than focusing on the work done inside the schools, we focus on what goes on outside them. Specifically, using three decades of data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, we seek to understand what a Catholic school means to an urban neighborhood. Our study suggests Catholic elementary schools are important generators of neighborhood social capital: We find that neighborhood social cohesion decreases and disorder increases following an elementary school closure, even after we control for numerous demographic variables that would tend to predict neighborhood decline and disaggregate the school closure decision from those variables as well. Our study—the first of its kind—contributes in a unique and important way to ongoing debates about both land use and education policy for reasons that we explore in detail in the Article.