This book examines how Catholic educators grappled with public educational policies and reforms like standardization and accreditation, educational measurement and testing, and federal funding for schools during the early to mid-twentieth century. These issues elicited an array of reactions including resistance, cooperation, and co-optation.
American Catholics had established one of the largest private educational organizations in the United States by the twentieth century. It rivaled only that of the public school system. At mid-century Catholic schools enrolled some 12 percent of the American school-age population and their enrollments grew in number through the 1960s.
The Catholic Church’s lobbying arm, the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC), used its well-earned stature to push for federal funds for students attending their schools. The NCWC succeeded in securing funds with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 for students needing special education services and students living in poverty attending Catholic schools. This signified a major shift in American education policy.
Despite this radical change, Catholic schools lost significant enrollment over the next several decades to public, private, and newly minted public charter schools. Catholic schools faced an increasingly competitive landscape in an ever-expanding school-choice environment that they helped create.
Ann Marie Ryan, PhD is professor and chair for the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching (ILT) at UTSA. She teaches courses in ILT and Curriculum and Instruction. Her areas of focus are teacher preparation, secondary education, the teaching of history and social studies, and the history of education and curriculum history. Her teaching and research concentrate on the connections between teaching and learning in P-12 schools, communities, and teacher preparation. Within the history of education, she specializes in examining intersections between Catholic schools and public education policy in the United States from the early to mid-twentieth century. Ann Marie has published in journals including Teachers College Record, The History of Education Quarterly, The Journal of Teacher Education, Review of Research in Education, and the American Journal of Education.
Ann Marie has served as a co-editor for the Review of Research in Education. She and the editorial team worked on a volume focusing on teaching practices in P-20 educational settings and a second volume examining the quality of research evidence in education. She served as the Program Chair for Division F (History and Historiography) of AERA in 2017 and the President of the Organization of Educational Historians in 2019. She currently is Co-PI on the IES UTSA Pathways grant project. UTSA Pathways supports undergraduate students preparing for doctoral studies in education research by providing opportunities to learn about research, engage in education research, and be mentored by experts in their fields.
1. What Is an American Public School?
2. A “Heterodoxical Spectacle”: Public Recognition and Accreditation
3. “More Than Measurable Human Products”: Educational Measurement and Intelligence Testing
4. “Secularization Would Never Be Worth the Price”: Federal Funding, Catholic Schools, and the Great Depression
5. The Sectarian Question: The National Education Association and the National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1930–1956
6. “Did We Break an Arm Sliding Home?”: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
7. What Is an American Catholic School in an Era of Choice?
About the Author
In American Catholic Schools in the Twentieth Century, Ann Marie Ryan uncovers the rich and surprising history of American Catholic schools in a country dominated by public education. From what was taught, by whom, and how, to recent struggles over voucher programs and school choice, Ryan shows, the relationship between Catholic schools and public ones has been remarkably formative to both. The tone is fair-minded; the scholarship is rigorous; and the writing is clear and engaging enough for a general audience. This is a timely and important book.
This insightful book serves as an invaluable guide to the long and complicated history of Catholic schools in the United States. Ann Marie Ryan expertly weaves together themes of religious conflict, policy agreement, and funding debates. Required reading for anyone who wants to look beyond the clichés about religion and public education.
By introducing readers to the phenomenon of the Catholic public school, Ann Marie Ryan takes us beyond the narrative of why American Catholics developed their own schools, and critically examines their strategies for structural pluralism throughout the twentieth century. Focusing on the City of Chicago as a case study, Ryan masterfully reveals Catholic leaders’ thoughts on educational reform movements and how their pursuit of public funds ultimately fostered an intertwined relationship between American Catholic schools and public education. Ryan’s work not only situates Catholic schools within the larger history of American education, it also provides valuable context to those seeking to understand Catholic schools’ current push for public funds.
While Ryan set out to present an educational history of Catholic schooling and its relationship to public education in the twentieth century, which she masterfully does, she also succeeds in enriching the field of American Catholic history by offering an account of the ways in which Catholic education and public education came into contact, often in surprising and unexpected ways, throughout the twentieth century.