By Kathleen McCarthy
This fall, the Knott Foundation focused staff and trustee learning around the challenges and opportunities facing Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
“The greatest crisis facing Catholic education, and education in general, is the recruitment and retention of talented and committed teachers and leaders for our schools.” John Staud - Executive Director, Alliance for Catholic Education at The University of Notre Dame
Henry and Marion Knott, our founders, believed that access to quality education was a key building block for achieving success in life. Success in their minds was not to be measured against one’s bank account but rather against one’s character, faith, and civic engagement. Given their own personal faith and belief that Catholic schools provided an unrivaled academic grounding and opportunity for the development of self-knowledge and selflessness, it is no surprise that Education in general, and Catholic education in particular, have historically been the Knott Foundation’s largest funding areas. Over the past decade alone, the Foundation has awarded more than $10M to support this work.
As responsive funders, the Foundation allows organizations meeting our eligibility guidelines to approach us with their greatest need. In the context of Catholic schools, we have seen these needs change in ways both subtle and significant over the now 46-year history of the Foundation. Perhaps the biggest change we have seen has been the need for staffing. Gone are the days when Catholic schools could rely upon the services of religious men and women to teach in the schools. This loss of free, faith-filled, and highly qualified labor has created challenges both earthly and spiritual – salaries are now the largest component of a school’s budget and there is a scarcity of faith-filled teachers.
While enrollment in AOB Catholic schools benefitted from growth during Covid, the teaching profession suffered. Although notably lower than Maryland’s public school turnover rate of 18%, the 12.82% turnover rate in AOB Catholic schools is only slightly higher than the national average and cannot be ignored. Estimates place the cost of teacher turnover somewhere between $9,000 to $21,000 per teacher. While less quantifiable, rapidly changing social contexts including growing disaffiliation from religious practice among the population mean that it is harder to find teachers who, while not required to be Catholic, share the same mission as that of the schools' which is to “provide a Christ-centered education that is academically excellent and empowers students to reach their full potential –spiritually, intellectually, physically, socially, and morally.”
Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Operation TEACH (Teachers Enlisted to Advance Catholic Heritage), a two-year post-graduate mission-driven program, seeks to develop highly committed educators to meet the needs of students in Baltimore-area Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Similar to the public school-supporting program, Teach for America, Operation TEACH places young teachers in Catholic schools and supports them as they work towards a Masters in Education. To date, the program has graduated 175 educators, 50% of whom have remained with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Once recruited, individual schools and the Diocese need to begin to offer supportive and creative solutions to improve retention rates. While salary is often highlighted as the biggest driver for resignation, research indicates that it is not. Of course adequate compensation is important, but when surveyed, teachers responded that higher on their list of reasons to stay are having a strong and supportive principal, a positive and collaborative work environment, the ability to express themselves and influence curriculum, and for new teachers, access to a supportive mentor.
This academic year, there are 24,000+ students attending the 40 Archdiocese of Baltimore-managed Catholic schools (34 elementary and 6 high school) in Maryland. They are served by a teaching staff of more than 1,600. Together they will strive for academic excellence, build community, and grow in faith – carrying on a mission that is well over 200 years old and as meaningful in spirit and measurable in outcomes today as it was back then.