There are two big and seemingly unrelated trends in education. The first is hundreds of urban Catholic schools disappearing and leaving fewer good educational options for traditionally underserved children. The second is that technology—cheaper computer hardware and personalized software—is starting to change the way students learn. Rather than simply let these two unconnected trends continue independently, we can harness one to reverse the other. Urban Catholic schools have a long tradition of providing personalized attention to the poor, and now technology can be used to both build on that tradition and help these schools thrive.
The Catholic Blended Learning Network, piloted in 2011, uses technology, creative problem-solving, and nationwide collaboration to substantially improve the academic performance of students and reduce operating costs at urban Catholic schools. The network has grown from a start-up pilot to a thirteen school, nine city network (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Chicago, and New Orleans) that serves more than 3,000 students, more than 90 percent of whom are minority and more than two-thirds of whom live below the poverty line. During this time, network schools have posted academic growth results on the NWEA MAP test that match or surpass the nation’s most acclaimed urban schools, while simultaneously driving a collective 20 percent increase in enrollment, which is remarkable in a context of decline. Our model also made the sudden transition to remote learning in 2020 easier on teachers and families alike. Seton’s unique blended learning program has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Forbes, The Philadelphia Enquirer, Education Next, and The Cincinnati Enquirer.