The Power of Voice from the Top



The Power of Voice from the Top

Great leaders in history are often lionized for their “vision.” But are individual leaders, who are recognized for this vision of theirs, able to point the way for others to follow simply because they are able to see what others cannot? Is leadership really that simple?

Clearly, it is not.

Our own age, for example, seems particularly replete with leaders—regardless of their ability to see where to go—who are nonetheless paralyzed into inaction, overrun by a morass of competing priorities, or insufficiently resourced to lead their charges where they know they need to go.

It is in this situation that so much of the K-12 “education industry” finds itself today, but maybe no institution more than the Catholic Church. Instead of proudly building on her legacy of serving well those so poorly served by society as a whole, the Church continues to shutter schools that serve those very communities. Instead of newly discovering a sustainable business model to provide high quality low-cost alternatives to so many children in need, the Church appears to be waiting on the sidelines, watching meekly, apparently silenced by the complex of the situation surrounding her great educational legacy.

Now is the time for the institutional Church to provide transformational and entrepreneurial leadership by articulating the conditions needed for bold leaders at the regional and local level to act.”

At times like this, what is needed more than vision is “voice”—and what is needed most of all is voice from the top. People of goodwill will figure out what to do, but what they need from their leaders is encouragement, inspiration, and their “fiat” to pursue a path pointed in the right direction.

Although our team at Carter Research—and our client partners across the county—are very proud of what has been accomplished in certain cities, in certain markets, or in certain market segments in partnership with the Catholic Church, not nearly enough has been done either 1) to meet the need or 2) match the potential of what the Catholic Church has to offer those most in need.

In order to fill this void, now is the time for the institutional Church to provide transformational and entrepreneurial leadership by articulating the conditions needed for bold leaders at the regional and local level to act. What is needed is not deep insight to see a new way, but a clear call from the top to clear the ground below and pave a new path forward.

A few things we at Carter Research want to hear more Catholic bishops say and a few things that will follow upon our hearing their voice from the top:

We want to hear more about the fundamental importance of K-12 education to the Catholic Church.  Other than the family, school is the locus of our faith formation and the most decisive influence on the sound formation of the whole person. For the current generation waning in its practice of the faith, Catholic school children have already proven to be the most dependable evangelizers of their parents. If you want more seminarians and parishioners—you need strong Catholic schools first. In order to fill church pews in the next generation, you almost certainly have to fill school seats first.

We want the Catholic Church to teach that Catholic schools are worth it and to focus our attention on quality.  Catholic schools have long demonstrated their efficacy—especially in serving well those who have been poorly served by society as a whole. Continuing this work is critical to demonstrating the Church’s preferential option for the poor. But whatever may be the importance of their historic success, Catholic schools today need to be demonstrably worth what parents sacrifice to pay for them, and so leaders in the Church must stop apologizing for any declines in quality, educate themselves on today’s educational expectations, and begin demanding similar or higher standards of their own schools.

We want to hear Church leaders provide a full-throated voice for good governance, local oversight, and real accountability in exchange for more access to public funding.  This might sound like a mouthful and more than we can reasonably expect to hear anytime soon, but it is time for more leaders in the Church to assume the bully pulpit, demand change, and promote quality. Wherever the Church has made room for growth and innovation to take root, bold leaders have taken action and extraordinarily good things like the Cristo Rey Network, Seton Education Partners, Faith in the Future, and Partnership Schools have formed as a result. If more Church leaders do this, lay leadership will provide innovations that are worth the public’s investment in private religious schools.

At Carter Research, we believe the strengthening and growing of K-12 schools and Catholic schools in particular is essential to strengthening the fabric of our civil society. The United States needs more of what Catholic schools have to offer and Catholic schools—when they are well governed, transparent, and accountable for their performance—have demonstrated that they are tremendous stewards of the public’s trust. We are confident that in our lifetime we will see more authentically Catholic, genuinely innovative, and bold approaches to K-12 education coming out of the Catholic Church, but in order to accelerate that happening, we need to hear more voice from the top.