This Article addresses previously unstudied implications of two dramatic shifts in the American educational landscape. The first shift is the rapid disappearance of urban Catholic schools. More than 1,600 Catholic elementary and secondary schools, most of them located in urban neighborhoods, have closed during the last two decades. The Archdiocese of Chicago alone (the subject of our study) has closed 148 schools since 1984. Since the economic and demographic realities underlying urban Catholic school closures persist, this trend likely will continue and even accelerate in coming years. The second shift is the rise of charter schools. In 2010 more than 1.7 million children were enrolled in 5,400 charter schools in the United States.3 During the 2009–10 school year, there were 104 charter schools in the city of Chicago, 24 of which opened during the period of our study.
Although we are intrigued by the questions raised by the extensive literature on Catholic and charter schools’ strengths as educational institutions, we do not address them here. Instead, we raise new questions about how Catholic and charter schools function as community institutions. These questions are important ones. Catholic schools are vanishing from the urban neighborhoods where they have operated for decades—in some cases, for over a century— and are being replaced by educational institutions that did not exist anywhere in the United States two decades ago. Yet virtually nothing is known about the impact the transition will have on urban neighborhoods, many of which already struggle with disorder, crime, and poverty.