Over the past few years, I've written several times about the Cristo Rey network of Catholic schools. Indeed, it's been the gift that keeps on giving as far as this freelance writer is concerned. I'm happy editors keep saying yes, because I think the schools are based on a great premise. In order to create affordable, sustainable private schools, high school kids in essence do a "job share" at companies in cities that have a Cristo Rey school. Four kids share a job, the company pays Cristo Rey for the equivalent of a full-time temp, and the money supports the kids' schooling. They are, in essence, working their way through school. They learn a lot about the adult world, and see what they can do later if they go to college. Most do.
I guess I won't be writing about these schools for the Wall Street Journal, since Daniel Henninger's Wonderland column today already covers them ("How About a Good Catholic Story?")
But I wanted to bring up some interesting points here, which I think have implications for education more broadly. Some folks have accused private or charter schools of getting good results due to "skimming" top performers away from the public schools. Cristo Rey specifically chooses kids from the middle of the pack, and then gets most of them attending college a few years later. But of course, this then raises the opposite point: if middling kids can, with a lot of good teaching and hard work, do quite well, does this mean that standardized test scores taken at one point in time mean nothing for a later time?
This is the argument many recent "myth of the gifted child" type articles have made. I (as you can imagine) don't think this is the case. The Cristo Rey schools do an amazing job preparing kids for college with rigorous course work. On the other hand, their standardized test scores are (as principals themselves have told me) not necessarily what they would like. Good but not great. Which suggests that a good school can boost scores, but in and of itself cannot get everyone from a 50th percentile level to, say, the top 5% of SAT scores. Like everything, test scores are likely a combination of hard work, good training, and some individual factors.
Sometimes these individual factors make schools not a good fit - which is one reason Cristo Rey encourages students who are scoring at the very top levels on standardized tests to apply to more elite prep schools that serve big cities. This enables these kids to have their academic needs met, and ensures that Cristo Rey schools are focusing on a group of kids with about the same level of preparation. It is ability grouping by admission, but it is one of the factors that make these schools work. Kids will be neither failing, nor bored.