A dispute on social media over the weekend gave school choice advocates the opportunity to clarify Catholic education’s value for urban communities.
The conflict had to do with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s push to open more charter schools, which some local Catholic school officials oppose. By flooding the market with charters and neglecting to invest more broadly in school choice, the government undercuts the religious education valued by so many, they argue.
“While we are advocates for school choice, introducing measures that would undercut Catholic schools as existing school-choice options would be a detriment to our students, whom we know thrive in a Christ-centered environment of academic excellence,” said James Tauzel, superintendent of the Diocese of Rochester’s schools.
In a social media thread on the topic, Emory Edwards, vice president of outreach at EdChoice, made disparaging comments about the New York Catholic schools, even though EdChoice supports such institutions.
“Those Catholic schools don’t want the competition,” he tweeted. “I personally would like to see an increase of Black and Brown led independent schools, especially in states with voucher/ESA programs, that will meet the needs of AA & Hispanic families.”
Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, replied by pointing out how Catholic schools outperform public schools in the same communities.
Vessely told The Lion that Catholic school students score higher in both reading and math than their public-school counterparts, and attending a Catholic school makes a minority student 26% more likely to graduate high school and twice as likely to graduate college.
Catholic schools also provide social benefits to their students and communities, like reduced crime and increased community services, she says.
“The demonstrable amount of evidence and research both cited by EdChoice and published by EdChoice, but also by school choice researchers across the country is that the Catholic school effect is huge especially on the urban population, which is why it was so flabbergasting that Emory Edwards … would make such claims about the impact of Catholic education on urban environments,” Vessely, who previously worked at EdChoice, says.
Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, also argued that charter schools aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison with parochial schools.
“It’s not even close to free market competition when one school type – charters – gets government subsidies to be free to families and the other – [Catholic] schools – does not,” he tweeted.
McCluskey has previously written about the strong support for school choice among African Americans.
On Tuesday, EdChoice issued a formal apology for Edwards’ remarks.
“We know these comments hurt many of our friends in the Catholic community, and for that, we at EdChoice are unequivocally sorry,” read a statement shared with The Lion and published online. “EdChoice remains firm in its conviction that the Catholic community is responsible for improving the lives of countless children, including children in black and urban communities.”
Shortly after, Edwards also apologized in lengthy Twitter thread, emphasizing he had “no malice intent.”
“This weekend, during a conversation on social media, I asserted somethings about Catholic Schools, especially their relationship to black communities, and some members of the reform community were rightly offended by what was said,” he wrote.
“This was both unintended and unfortunate, and I want to apologize profoundly for what I said and to those who I offended.”
In an email to The Lion, McCluskey reflected on what he felt contributed to the dispute.
“I think Mr. Edwards asserted things about the motives behind Catholic schooling without sufficient evidence to substantiate them,” McClusky wrote. “I think it is more an example of a very common problem in our political debates, of which Mr. Edwards, his accusers, and countless other people (including myself from time to time, I’m sure) are guilty: ascribing motives to people – almost always bad – that one cannot truly know.”
Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice, also issued a statement from his personal social account on Sunday, affirming the organization’s support of Catholic education.
“I believe strongly that Catholic schools are an amazing partner in parent freedom. Always have been,” he tweeted. “We all know the tough issues facing urban areas, but our Catholic partners are always part of the answer.”