Religious Charter Schools

Constitutional? Desirable?

Date & Time: Thursday, October 24th, 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Place: Amado Room, Irvine Auditorium, University of Pennsylvania

DESCRIPTION: Charter schools, as controversial as they may be, have exploded across the landscape of American public education in the last few decades. By introducing competition among schools, choices for families, and rigorous custom-designed learning environments for students, these institutions conceive of themselves as a least partial solutions to the notorious economic achievement gap in elementary education. They also re-introduce classic problems of constitutional law: if each school has its own distinctive mission that students are free to select, then why not a religious mission? Among voluntary institutions, would it be unconstitutional to single out distinctively religious missions for discrimination? Even if so, who might want a religious charter school? What academic needs might they be able to fill that a non-religious school cannot address? What new concerns might they create? At least one thing is clear — they would not emerge in empty space: would they not be resisted by parochial and religious private schools as much as by secular advocates of the Establishment Clause? These questions will guide our panel of distinguished speakers as they discuss the ramifications of the neoliberal turn in public education.


Aaron Saiger: Professor of Law at Fordham University and Author of a recent article, “Charter Schools, the Establishment Clause, and the Neoliberal Turn in Public Education.”

Dr. Saiger graduated from Harvard College and then completed his JD at Columbia University. Before earning his PhD for Princeton University in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Dr. Saiger clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States. He is now Professor of Law at Fordham University where he specializes in issues surrounding religion, school choice and government/constitutional challenges in education. His recent essay, “Charter Schools, the Establishment Clause, and the Neoliberal Turn in Public Education,” was published in the Cardozo Law Review last April.


Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode: Former Mayor of Philadelphia.

Wilson Goode was the first African-American to be elected Mayor of Philadelphia, where he served two terms beginning in 1983. He remains active in both public and private education, serving as a board member of the Cornerstone Christian Academy, Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School, and Communities in Schools of Philadelphia, Inc. Dr. Goode is CEO of Philadelphia Leadership Foundation (PLF) and director of the Amachi Program, a national faith-based mentoring model for children of incarcerated parents. Because of his innovative and ground-breaking work in 2006, he was named the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Citizen of the Year. He is an ordained Baptist Minister with 54 years of service at the First Baptist Church of Paschall in southwest Philadelphia.

Joan Goodman: Professor of Education, Culture, and Society Division in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and Co-author of The Moral Stake in Education: Contested Premises and Practices.

For thirty years, Dr. Goodman combined teaching with clinical psychology at children’s hospitals in Washington D.C., Oakland, and Philadelphia. Her primary interests now have shifted to moral education, both theoretical and applied. She addresses such questions as: What is a moral value? How do values develop in children? How do we foster values and, more important, a moral identity? How do we understand and reconcile conflicting values? These issues are the subject of two books she co-authored with Penn law professor Howard Lesnick, The Moral Stake in Education: Contested Premises and Practices and Moral Education: A Teacher-Centered Approach. With Usha Balamore, a kindergarten teacher turned principal, she co-authored Teaching Goodness: Engaging the Moral and Academic Promise of Young Children.


John J. DiIulio, Jr.: Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society, and Professor of Political Science, at the University of Pennsylvania and served as the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from 2001-2002.

Dr. DiIulio is the Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society. He has developed programs to mentor the children of prisoners, provide literacy training in low-income communities, reduce homicides in high-crime police districts, and support inner-city Catholic schools that serve low-income children. He has been a research center director at the Brookings Institution, the Manhattan Institute, and Public/Private Ventures. During his academic leave in 2001-2002, he served as first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

This event is sponsored by Penn’s Fox Leadership Program, the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, and the Collegium Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture.
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