by Darla Romfo, CSF President
If you didn’t see the editorial in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal criticizing the Ford Foundation’s $100 million gift to teachers unions, I encourage you to take a look. I’ve heard from quite a few people (both colleagues and CSF donors) who had the same reaction I did to hearing that yet another vast sum of money will be wasted on failing systems that are already swimming in money. One donor emailed me to ask if I could imagine what CSF could do with that $100 million. Yes I can.
This year CSF is giving away $43 million together with our partners to help the parents of almost 29,000 low-income children choose a private school education. There are so many new experiments in education today – everything from longer school days and new ways of recruiting and training teachers to better technology and high-stakes testing. But if the parents don’t have skin in the game and are not at least somewhat involved in their child’s education, can we really expect these improvements alone to change educational outcomes on a sustainable and widescale basis? Ultimately, schools (and government and foundations) cannot take over the role of parents, nor should we want them to. I am convinced that unless you place power in the hands of parents rather than government and unions, you will never have systemic change.
But the amount of money and the number of scholarships CSF gives away each year tells only part of the story. No doubt, receiving a CSF scholarship is a life changing event for the 29,000 children and their families. But there is more. In New York City, we are helping 9,300 children in 241 schools. In many of these schools, more than half of the children are receiving scholarships from CSF. This means that without our help, the school would most likely close. That would be a disaster for every child in the building.
Regardless of one’s beliefs about faith as part of an education environment, the inner-city and largely faith-based schools that our CSF children attend have played an invaluable role in America’s cities for generations. Decades of research tells us that no other subset of schools—charter, private, or public—has demonstrated such long-term, proven effectiveness for children most vulnerable to unsatisfactory schooling. Graduates of faith-based private schools are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to attend and graduate from college, are more tolerant of diverse views, are more likely to vote, are more likely to be civically engaged, and even earn higher wages. And yet these schools are typically educating students at less than half of the cost of neighboring public and charter schools.
Given all these benefits, it is remarkable they get so little attention. Their value and what they do rarely gets talked about and certainly isn’t the sexy new project of the day. But they are part of our national heritage and represent much of what is the best in all of us and for all of us—self-sacrifice for starters.