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85 Notre Dame L. Rev. 887 (2009-2010)


More than 1,600 Catholic elementary and secondary schools have closed or been consolidated during the last two decades. The Archdiocese of Chicago alone (the subject of our study) has closed 148 schools since 1984. Primarily because urban Catholic schools have a strong track record of educating disadvantaged children who do not, generally, fare well in public schools, these school closures have prompted concern in education policy circles. While we are inclined to agree that Catholic school closures contribute to a broader educational crisis, this paper shies away from debates about educational outcomes. Rather than focusing on the work done inside the schools, we focus on what goes on outside them. Specifically, using three decades of data drawn from the census and from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (“PHDCN”), we seek to understand what a Catholic school means to an urban neighborhood. We do so primarily by measuring various effects of elementary school closures in the Chicago neighborhoods where they operated for decades. We find strong evidence that Catholic elementary schools are important generators of social capital in urban neighborhoods: Our study suggests that neighborhood social cohesion decreases and disorder increases following an elementary school closure, even after controlling for numerous demographic variables that would tend to predict neighborhood decline and disaggregating the school closure decision from those variable as well. This paper discusses these findings and situates them within important land-use and education-policy debates.


Reprinted with permission of the Notre Dame Law Review.

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