The Archdiocese of Philadelphia schools and the public and charter schools of Philadelphia took what could be a major step forward in cooperation on April 23 when the Archdiocese formally joined the Great Schools Compact which seeks to provide increased access to higher performing schools throughout the city. Archbishop Charles Chaput signed the formal document at an afternoon ceremony held at St. Peter the Apostle School in the Northern Liberties section of the city in a ceremony attended by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and school officials.

“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is pleased to join in this Great Schools Compact and be part of this major education collaborative,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We support the vision of the Great Schools Compact believing that all children, when challenged with high expectations, can learn at high levels. By signing this Great Schools Compact we declare our shared commitment to providing the children of Philadelphia outstanding education that will prepare them for post-secondary education and successful entry into the workplace.”

The Archbishop emphasized this collaboration would in no way impact the Catholic mission and identity of the Catholic schools, saying, “We pledge our support to the parents and children of this great City of Philadelphia asking our patron, St. John Neumann, to guide us daily in this great mission.”

Mayor Nutter, who was introduced by St. Peter eighth-grader Ariana Dos Santos, said, “the City of Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission, charter school leaders and now the Archdiocese have made a commitment to work together to transform education through the expansion of high-quality schools, the improvement of underperforming schools, and ensuring accountability. Our five-year goal is to ensure a quality seat in a quality school in Philadelphia. We can only achieve that goal through the collective efforts of all of our city’s school providers.

“In order to have a great city,” the mayor said, “we must have great schools, we must have excellence in education, we must drive the high school graduation rate up, and also our college achievement rate. Education is our crime-fighting strategy; education is our health strategy; education is our anti-poverty strategy; it is central to everything that will move Philadelphia in the right direction.”

The Archdiocese has joined the Greater Schools Compact, which is funded mostly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at a time when the Archdiocese has announced the consolidation or closing of a number of parochial schools and the Philadelphia School District is poised to do the same thing.

While this is partly due to the rise of charter schools, it is also, as Mayor Nutter explained, due to families moving from the western part of the city to the eastern part or moving out of the city entirely.

An immediate goal of the Greater Schools Compact is identifying higher performing schools within the city, whether they are public, charter, parochial or private, and making this information available to parents so they can choose what is best for their family.

As part of this the Archdiocese will begin in the near future to release standardized test scores for all of its schools so parents can make this decision. A minor problem is that archdiocesan schools use the national Terra Nova tests rather than the Pennsylvania tests which are administered in the public and charter schools.

While the difference is minimal, archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools Mary Rochford emphasized that it is hoped in the near future a single set of standardized nation tests will be adopted by all the schools.