- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There’s a Catholic school in Newark, New Jersey, named St. Benedict’s Preparatory School.

It’s an all-boys school that has been around since 1868, and it’s located on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Its notable alum include G. Gordon Liddy (think Watergate), NBA 3-point wizard J.R. Smith and The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart.

Here’s the kicker: “We see every child as an individual. We address our students’ nonacademic issues head-on, believing that ignoring them leaves many struggling students stuck in anger and depression that prevent real learning. We invest in both individual and group counseling that give our young men a chance to understand their personal challenges and learn to handle them effectively. We expect our teachers to be available to students, to encounter them as they are and provide the personal attention they deserve and need to grow. We instill and foster leadership and responsibility.”

That’s from the keyboard of St. Benedict’s headmaster, Father Edwin Leahy, who let the cat out of the bag in his November 2015 commentary piece in Education Week.

In that one paragraph, he twice used the word individual — i.e., St. Benedict’s emphasizes teaching the child, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all academic model employed by public school systems.

Also worth repeating is what Father Leahy said, that St. Benedict’s teachers are expected to be available to students, meet students where they are and give students “the personal attention they deserve and need to grow.”

In other words, St. Benedict’s has figured out what in a teaching and learning environment, and what measuring sticks, can be utilized to ensure that teachers are responsible and effective, and that students are learning as they grow.

St. Benedict’s accomplishes what average public schools do not. Traditional public school systems spend way more and get a far lower return on the public’s investment.

Some per-pupil examples from the Census: Baltimore, $15,050; Montgomery County, Maryland, $15,080; Washington, D.C., $17,953; New York City, $20,331; Boston, $20,502.

The dollar figures are debatable, as a new report by the liberal Brookings Institution reveals in new data from by its Hamilton Project, which looks at “high-poverty” schools, among other things.

For the most part, however, public schools are not “high-poverty” — the students inside the schoolhouses can be and sometimes are, and the neighborhoods where the schools are located can be, and sometimes are.

Hillary Clinton knows as much, which is why she rails against public vouchers.

Bernie Sanders knows as much, which is why he stridently opposes school vouchers.

These presidential candidates say giving public money to children so they can attend parochial school like St. Benedict’s takes money away from public schools.

Funny, isn’t it? Coffers for public schools bulge, but the return-on-investment for students isn’t rising as it should.

We continue to let schools teach to the test, raise teachers’ salaries, and build and rebuild schoolhouses to what end?

Remember what Father Leahy, who also is an alum, said about St. Benedict’s student-centered focus. He spoke truth to power.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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