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Update: Vatican-Endorsed School Reform

image from www.vatican.vaSeveral of yesterday's news stories about the new Pope for the Catholic church made mention of the fact that the new Pope is a Jesuit. (The Jesuits are special order of Catholics known for their steely gaze and firm handshake, as well as their relatively rigorous brand of parochial education.)

But few if any noted that the Jesuits play a small but fascinating role in recent school reform history, via the Cristo Rey Network of schools, which is a 25-school model of education featuring a mix of Jesuit academics and work-study experiences that nominally help drive down tuition costs.  

Yes, that's right.  The new Pope comes with his own school reform model. I only know this because I wrote about the Chicago school for City Limits roughly a decade ago, and because Marvin Hoffman wrote about it again in 2008 for the Chicago Tribune.

Other reasons to want to know about this model? The Cristo Rey network has been supported for many years by the Gates Foundation.   And it's spreading.  See list of development sites here.  Image via Vatican.

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My understanding is that the model DRASTICALLY keeps down tuition costs. Here in SF the Cristo Rey school (I believe there's only one) charges a fraction of elite private high school tuition, with private philanthropy making up the gap. It seems to work really well within its mission. It's not taking working-class (or underclass) girls (it's single-sex) and turning them into Harvard material, so let's not overhype it.

I actually spent some time searching around for what this change means for US politics, and school reform. Opus Dei out, Jesuits in. Breathtaking. It would probably be wise to wait and see how this plays out in the very long run.

Last time I was a Catholic, John XXIII was pope and a large number of Jesuits and Maryknolls were already moving towards their eventual outright martyrdom, taking positions in support of the Liberation theology movement in Latin America. Francis I survived that interval through careful ducking and covering, but hundreds of Jesuit priests under his pastoral care didn't. The Jesuit problem in this century seems to be that the best of them are dead or excommunicated.

All my current insider knowledge comes second hand from totally-out-of-power people like current Dominican teaching sisters. Maybe change will come now for them.

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