Christian Schools and Religious Liberty

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Without going into a long history of the interpretation of this amendment, and particularly of the religious freedom clause, I’m going to say that I agree with the idea of separation of church and state, and of the “wall” that Thomas Jefferson used to explain what it means.  I can consider myself an expert on this topic, not as a lawyer, but as a teacher, educator and school administrator who has taught hundreds of high school students in American History, US Government and Economics.  You’re entitled to disagree, but I believe the establishment phrase is a specific prohibition against the American government against establishing a state-sponsored and tax-supported church.  I think all of the corroborating evidence points to that interpretation.  The primary piece of evidence comes from one of the major authors of the constitution itself, former President Thomas Jefferson, who wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, providing assurances that there would not be a state church in America.

The second phrase is much broader in its interpretation, in spite of court rulings that have attempted to narrow it.  I believe it is quite clear, and very easy, to distinguish between what is the free exercise of religion, and what tries to look like free exercise for selfish benefit.  So I’m going to cut to the chase.

The cultural clash between those who hold a literal, conservative interpretation of the Bible, when it comes to the issue of homosexuality and transgender identity, must be resolved by the first amendment.  And from where I sit, as a Christian school administrator, it must be resolved in a manner that is fair, and that does not prohibit either myself, or the institution I serve, from the free exercise of our religious beliefs.

A Religious Perspective is not Bigotry

Christian faith has a long heritage, rooted in ancient Judaism, going all the way back to the Abrahamic covenant.  The theology and doctrine comes from a very unique blend and interpretation of the Jewish scriptures with the writings of the Apostles of Jesus which reflect his teachings and their experience with him.  The practices and interpretations of the church are not always accurate to the intentions of God, because of human imperfection, but the most common thread linking almost all of the world’s Christians together is reliance on the Bible as the written and authoritative word of God.

One of the unique aspects of the Bible is that when it is correctly interpreted, with the new covenant in Christ in its proper place as scripture is studied, points to perfect justice, perfect mercy, perfect grace and perfect love.  The higher principles of the Bible are the means by which concepts such as bigotry, injustice and inequality are defined.  Sin is defined as separation from God, and redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus is offered as the resolution, and as a means of being restored to God.  There is no degree of sinful behavior that is excused from judgment, or denied grace.  There is a standard of purity that is taught as the model for redemptive behavior in the Bible, and it is that God intended for sexual expression to be part of a marriage relationship.  So any kind of sexual expression that finds itself outside of a marriage ordained and blessed by God is sin, regardless of whether it involves a man and a woman, two men, two women, or persons who aren’t certain of their gender identity.  In that regard, we are all treated equally, and we all need grace (Hebrews 4:16).

As a Christian, I understand that I live in a free society, and I understand that the diversity of the population means that not everyone follows the same religious principles that I do.  I also realize that many people are really not guided through life by any religious beliefs at all, and under the law, particularly under this first amendment, I realize that they have the same rights as I do.  Under this particular constitutional principle, I should be allowed to organize a church, or any kind of religious institution, including a school, that functions according to religious principles, and determines who it will admit, and who it will employ, based solely on those religious principles.  That’s not bigotry, that’s a choice of conscience.  The same standards for behavior are being equally applied to all, and the same expectations are also being applied, and there’s no basis for discrimination.  If I want mature Christians who model the lifestyle that the Bible says is the essence of the Christian faith to be the teachers of the students in my privately supported school, that’s not discrimination, because the same standard is expected of every applicant, and I would turn away someone involved in pre-marital sex, or adultery, for the same reason I would turn away someone who was openly gay or lesbian, or transgender.  That’s not a sign of hatred.  You’d have to meet some kind of qualification for any job you were seeking, this one, in this place, has this set of them, based on our interpretation of our faith.

The law, through a series of interpretations of court rulings and executive orders, sees the issue of homosexuality and gender identity as a legal definition, not a spiritual definition. Believing that the open practice of their sexuality is a sin, in the same way that adultery, or any sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin, is now considered bigotry, not a protected religious freedom.  The law has made it possible for two persons of the same gender to legally marry, because marriage has been absorbed into our culture as a legal arrangement, and not necessarily a spiritual ordinance.  The implications of that practice go well beyond the rights of the two individuals of the same gender who want to marry.  That’s a legal interpretation, and it differs from Christian teaching.  “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”  If we can figure out a way to allow Native Americans to smoke peyote as a protected religious practice, then we should be able to figure out how to avoid causing Christian institutions, including Christian schools, to violate their conscience by openly practicing a religious principle that they held long before there ever was an America.

 

 

Utilizing Information from Exit Interviews: “We’re Leaving Because…

There’s not really much comprehensive information available from Christian schools, collectively, which sheds a whole lot of light on why families decide to make a commitment to the financial sacrifice necessary to enroll their children in one, and then why, just a few years later, they decide to leave.  There are many practical reasons why families do not re-enroll, including finances and tuition increases, moving, or circumstances which make getting kids to school difficult.  But sometimes, considering the commitment and ministry that is represented by a Christian school, the reasons defy explanation.  It might be helpful for school leadership to know why a family with a tenth grader decides that public school, with its humanist-influenced curriculum and negative social atmosphere, is more suited to meeting their needs than the Christian school they’ve been in since kindergarten.

So we asked some Christian schools if they conduct exit interviews, and found two or three out of a dozen that do.  This isn’t a scientific survey by any means, but it provides us with a way of getting a good discussion started.  We looked at about fifty different responses, and put them in general categories.  The responses have percentages of the total.

What is the main reason you made the decision to leave our [Christian] school?

Affordability, i.e. tuition increase too high, income reduced, parent laid off of job, scholarship no longer available (70%)

Social reasons, i.e. “My daughter had trouble making friends,” “too much gossip,” “students not that friendly” “school too small”  (15%)

Academic problems or issues, problems with individual teachers, content too difficult, too much homework (10%)

School is “too religious,” school is “not spiritual enough,” not compatible with our faith, too many parents of children not committed, not attending church  (3%)

Other reasons (2%) which included the following:

  • We always planned for our child to be well rounded by going to public school after they finished 8th grade.
  • We found a charter school that supports our values and will help us be better stewards of our resources.
  • The school has too many rules and restrictions.  The dress code and conduct code aren’t realistic expectations of school-aged children.
  • Our son plays football, and the school didn’t have that as an option.
  • The school didn’t offer much in the way of technology or computer education.
  • The choices for elective courses, particularly foreign language, was limited

To what kind of school did you transfer?

Public 80%, Cyber or Home 10%, Charter 5%, Other Private Christian 3%, Other private 2%

So, let’s draw some conclusions…

The Christian school enrollment in this country has been in decline for almost two decades now, after an initial burst of growth that lasted well into the 1980’s.  A significant amount of the decline is clearly due to the increased cost of education outpacing the ability of families to have the income to pay them.  Attempts to equalize the burden of the cost by investing some of what families pay in taxes into the alternative schools that they choose for their children are sporadic.

Churches are going to have to recognize the value of the contributions that Christian schools are making to their ministry, and then collectively come together to provide support for them as ministries.  Right now, families who want to put their children in a Christian school are, for the most part, on their own and must bear the burden of support.  The church reaps the benefit of gaining some very faithful, committed, and well trained members, but it needs to recognize that the Biblical model for supporting ministry like this, which is found in Acts 2 and 4, and I Corinthians 7 and 8, among other places, is the only way to ensure the future of the schools, and expand this ministry, rather than see it die a slow death.

The Catholic church came as close to having a school ministry in a Biblical context as anyone has.  At one time, over 80% of the students in Catholic schools attended because of the support provided by the church, and in turn, the schools supplied the churches with a steady supply of clergy and dedicated servants who used their years of training to advance the cause of the church.  Though small in number, the Quakers also established a school system which promotes and teaches their values of peace, integrity, community, simplicity and equality to Quakers and non-Quakers alike, with the expense of operating the schools falling solely on members of the congregations which own and operate them.  The value of simplicity makes it possible for many Quakers to give to their schools sacrificially, and the value of equality means that those who can afford it pay their own way, leaving the community resources to provide for those who can’t.  There’s also an expectation that those who can afford it, and who gain from the advantages of a Quaker education, will help out with those who don’t have the resources.

Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, haven’t reached that point yet.  We’re experiencing the problems of declining attendance and membership in our churches, and the increasing departure of people under 30 years of age, mostly when they graduate from college, mostly as a result of the conflict in philosophy and principles between their home and church, and the school system in which they gained their educational experience.  Christian schools stand in that gap, and the students who graduate from them are much more likely to stay in church as they grow into adulthood, and serve and support it.  Offering a valuable asset, like the years of discipleship opportunities in a Christian school, is worth the support of the Christian community, and shouldn’t have to rely solely on political attempts to shift state funding for education.  Evangelical churches spend close to a fourth of their contributions on the interest and debt on buildings that are empty most of the week, while less than a twentieth of the offering plate dollars go to Christian education, and even less than that to Christian schools.

It’s time to claim some territory, folks.

 

A Broad Vision for Christian Schools

The Christian school movement in America can trace its origins back to colonial days, when churches were the primary means by which children were educated in basic skills.  Many of the most prestigious universities in the country were started as schools for training ministers.  And while the movement has this long heritage, the growth of the movement exploded after the sixties in the wake of Supreme Court decisions which finalized the secularization of the public education system.

But that’s changed in the past twenty years.  While the growth of Christian schools in the United States exploded in the 70’s and 80’s, it seems that a saturation point was reached in the 90’s, and we have entered an era where hundreds of Christian schools are closing their doors each year.

Why?

The Christian school movement has achieved some notable accomplishments during the past few decades.  More than any area of ministry, particularly among Protestant Christians, schools have unified believers around a specific cause, and have brought people from different denominational backgrounds together in a unity that is not found anywhere else in American Christianity, nor among Evangelical Conservatives who make up a large segment of the Christian school population.  Most Christian schools have laid an academic foundation for their students, and provide a level of academic rigor and excellence that far exceeds the achievements and expectations of public education.  And there is evidence to show that students who are enrolled in Christian schools are more likely to remain faithful to the church, and to engage in ministry service as they become adults.  With those kinds of accomplishments, why are schools closing, and enrollment declining?

1.  The majority of Christian schools are still tuition driven, and are not reaching a majority of their potential constituency because of the gap between affordability and income. 

Depending on the area of the country, between 60% and 80% of families who are involved in Christian churches are not able to afford the price tag of tuition at a private, Christian school.  And as educational costs increase, the number of families who can afford tuition decreases.  Part of this is, of course, because every family pays part of their income in taxes which support the public school system, and that money doesn’t benefit children who attend schools outside of that system.  But there are other reasons.

Christian churches and ministries collect billions of dollars from members contributions and tithes, and spend billions on things which they consider necessary for their ministry.  The United States accounts for about 80% of all of the money spent on Christian ministry.  And here are some remarkable facts about those expenditures.  Churches in this country spend more money on interest on loans borrowed to construct buildings than they spend on international missions.  And most of those buildings are empty six days a week.  We have invested billions of dollars in auditoriums build around the preaching of a pastor, used for maybe four or five hours out of a week, and not usable for any other purpose except, perhaps, some Christian entertainment in a music concert, but we are not willing to share in the expense of providing a solid, foundational Biblical education for our children.  We expect parents to pay for that themselves.

And we spend about three times as much money on conferences and conventions, books, music, including both recorded music and concerts, and other forms of Christian entertainment, than the combined budgets of all of the Christian schools in America.  The revenue generated by one well known, weekend-long Christian music event in my state is equal to the annual budget of the Christian school that I serve as administrator, and that doesn’t count the sale of on-line music, CD’s, t-shirts and other trinkets.  We have a mentality that has developed that is contrary to scripture when it comes to footing the bill for Christian schooling, and we’ve allowed the burden to rest almost completely on the parents of children, ignoring principles laid down by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15.

Much of the burden for the financial need of operating a Christian school is placed on its employees, including its teachers.  The average salary and benefits package paid by Christian schools is about half of the median income for individuals in similar professions with similar qualifications and requirements.  These are people who understand what it means to work in a ministry environment, and who are committed to what they do, but that doesn’t mean that they should be the only ones who make this kind of contribution, any more than parents should be left to fund their own children’s Christian schooling without the support of the church.

Christian schools are contributing much more to the church than they receive from the church in support.  Instead of directing resources inwardly, to incur more debt, and build more facilities to accommodate a dwindling membership and attendance, the church needs to invest in its children, and its future, and find ways to support and undergird a Christian school system which is capable of providing the kind of leadership it needs to reverse the downward spiral of decline, and generate kingdom growth.  Churches need to be less selfish with their facilities, and open up space that sits empty most of the time for the use of Christian schools, not to generate funds, but to help the schools do their job and bear some of the responsibility for the cost.

2.  Tax supported alternatives, such as charter schools and cyber schools, are competing for students by offering “free” education. 

Clearly, government has recognized the demand for alternatives to the public education system.  People don’t want to send their children to public schools for a variety of reasons, from the social atmosphere to the poor quality of education that is provided, to the “one size fits all” approach of most classrooms.  Tax supported alternatives, like charter schools and cyber education, offer alternatives, and have some appeal to those who can’t consider a Christian school because of the cost.

These alternatives, unfortunately, do not have a good track record when it comes to expected student outcomes, or academic achievement.  Nor do they provide the Biblical integration and spiritual foundation that account for the results that Christian schools are getting.  In fact, some charter schools, which are mission driven institutions, are built around objectives that are antithetical to Christian beliefs.  And they can do that with your tax dollars.  Most cyber schools have an abysmal record of academic achievement, and while they do offer the advantage of having students stay at home, they have limits on what they can offer, and on providing students with support and help when they need it.

So where do we go from here? 

We need some prophetic voices, and a paradigm shift in the way we approach Christian school education.  The church, as an institution and as a whole, must embrace our mission and purpose, see the value of what we provide on its behalf, and begin to find ways to support Christian schools that extend the available resources, and open up access to the front door to a majority of the potential constituency.

We need to take the principles that are put forth in 2 Corinthians 8, and in Acts 4:32-37, and adopt them as the “business model” for Christian education.  If schools are truly an extension of the church’s Christian discipleship and education ministry, which is one of the five Biblical functions assigned to the church in the scripture, then the church needs to support the schools like they are a ministry, and not place the burden for supporting them solely on the shoulders of the parents who enroll their children, and the teachers and staff who earn far less than their work is worth.

There is overwhelming evidence to support the academic excellence of Christian schools.  If we’re doing that kind of job teaching basic skills, doesn’t it stand to reason that we are also doing an excellent job teaching the Bible’s principles, and helping students become disciples of Christ?  It’s time for the church to recognize the work that Christian schools are doing, and get on board.

What are you Looking for?

Employment practices across the spectrum of Christian schools vary as much as the schools themselves.  By observation, and experience, schools that want to be intentional in their Christian expression can often be much less than that when they are looking for employees, particularly teachers and administrators.  Since the instructional team is probably the closest, and most vital link to the school community, it is not a good idea for schools to abandon Christian principles when hiring staff.

One of the worst offenses that Christian schools commit in this area is placing everything in the “must have been God’s will” basket.  The fact of the matter is that it is entirely possible for God’s will to be avoided in a perfectly arranged, prayerfully considered search and hire process, and for a Christian school to both miss out on the person God was calling to serve them, as well as hire someone that God wasn’t really moving in that direction.  The issues that schools face, and the number of schools that seem to fold up and close are both clear evidence that human failure can easily interfere in the process of hiring staff at a Christian school.

Here’s some advice, from experience.

1.  Do not integrate secular business practices into your personnel policy.  So you’ve got this board member who is the human resources director at a large company, and he’s going to solve all of your personnel issues, right?

Probably not.

There are a couple of complications with this idea.  First of all, business and educational institutions are quite different, and even in the secular world, personnel practices which work for one are usually not very effective in the other.  One of the major problems that the public education system has now is that there’s been too much of an emphasis on running schools like businesses, when they’re not businesses.

That becomes even more complicated when the school is Christian, and is a ministry to its students and families.  Mid-level management degrees do not provide courses in understanding positions that are ministry callings, and not merely jobs, nor do they provide an understanding of a “bottom line” measured in expected student outcomes based on a Biblical worldview, rather than a profit margin, or meeting minimum academic standards.

2.  Your school administrator needs to have the particular skill set required to train the school staff in Biblical integration, since most of them will likely come to their position without being equipped for this aspect of Christian school education.

The Biblical integration and Christian atmosphere of your school is its most important core value, and that’s what makes it a Christian school, rather than just a private school with good values and good academics.  It is the most important distinguishing characteristic of the education you offer.  Since it is a unique perspective, and represents a relatively small segment of the population, including the Christian population, it is probably not very likely that teachers and staff members come to you without much training or exposure to your educational philosophy.

Few colleges incorporate training for teachers specifically interested in private, Christian education into their degree programs.  A few Christian colleges do, but not many.  So your school’s administrator must be the facilitator of staff development along these lines.  It’s more than just running a Bible study.  It’s more than just going through a curriculum guide and adding Bible verses, or striking out objectives related to evolution.  In order for your school to integrate Biblical truth into its curriculum, your teachers must be able to know how to do so.  And in most cases, it will be the administrator who needs to have the skills to provide the training that will make that happen.

You’ll find that most of your board members, and most of your parents, don’t know what that really looks like.  So as the process is ongoing among the staff, an education process of sorts must also take place in the whole school community.  Your administrator is the key to that happening.  Here’s an observation:  Your administrator needs to have been a classroom teacher in a Christian school, and have formal educational background in both educational studies and theology in order to be able to do this.

When you hire an administrator, is this something that you ask about?

3.  Seasoning and maturity come with age. 

The old addage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” isn’t Biblical truth, by the way, and you can’t prove it by observation in Christian school education.  We are in a period of time where, unfortunately, we are finding out more about what causes Christian schools to close, than what factors are present when they are growing.  Major Christian school organizations are looking at things that schools which close might have in common, in order to come up with a solution.

The “golden age” of Christian schools in the US began in the 1970’s, and carried into the 1990’s, when enrollment increases were almost automatic annual occurrences, and schools were being started everywhere.  Here’s a common factor:  Many of the school leaders who started out in the movement in the 70’s and 80’s, and who were responsible for the building and growth which took place during that period of time are reaching retirement age now.  Across the United States, as about 350 Christian schools now close each year, could it be that the loss of all of that experience, training and commitment is a contributing factor?  I’ll wait until there’s conclusive research to make that as a confirmed pronouncement, but I think there’s something to be learned here.

4.  There are two kinds of compensation.  One is compensation for performance of job duties.  The other is compensation for sacrifice. 

While conditions are improving, the fact of the matter is that most teachers and administrators in Christian schools make well below the median pay scale of their counterparts in the public and charter school system.  Comparatively, across the board, salaries in Christian schools average almost 40% lower than those in public education.

But since your school is a ministry, or at least, it better be, and your staff are all trained in seeing their role as a minister, the sacrifice they are making, especially when it comes to payroll, is expected.  It is also, according to a Biblical principle, grounds for genuine blessing.  And blessings, at least, from what I see in scripture, are rarely financial in nature.

How does your school bless its administrator and its teachers?  What are some things that you can provide, as blessings, that will be just compensation for the sacrifice they are making?

I don’t like to bring everything down to a financial level.  But if your Christian school is typical, then every student benefits from the sacrifice your teachers are making by about $2,000 per year.  That is the average amount, in a class that averages 15 students, that tuition would have to be raised to compensate teachers at a rate that the lower paying public school systems provide.  Add that to an additional $800 in compensation divided up among other employees of the school, including the administrator, and you get the idea that teachers are making as much of a sacrifice, when it comes to their family and home, as any family in the school who pays tuition.

So it would be good to figure out how you can bless your school staff.

So what do you look for?  You look for people who are called to the ministry of Christian school education.  They are rare, but they will make a huge difference in your school.  You look for a seasoned administrator who has been in the classroom and knows what that’ s like.  You look for one that has a ministry background, a calling to serve, and the ability to teach because the staff will need to sit under his teaching and learn from him.  And you look for people who are willing to adapt and change what they’ve learned and how they have been trained to fit the ministry to their students that is required in a Christian school environment.  It is a matter of prayer and discernment to figure out first, what you’re looking for and second, what that looks like in a person.

Intentionally, Distinctively Christian

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper.  Every  branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that does produce fruit so that it will produce more fruit.  You are already “clean” because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in Me, and I in you.  Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”  John 15:2-4

I was appalled to read, in an article that someone sent to me via social media, an interpretation of this principle applied to making staff changes in a Christian school.  I guess the person who sent it thought it was good advice, something to reference when there are personnel issues and separation seems to be where things are heading, a Biblical-sounding word or phrase to justify what is probably a very subjective decision.

If we carried out that kind of act to its logical conclusion and interpretation, it would mean that in this particular passage, Jesus was equating branches and vines to individual believers, so in order for his church to be more productive in its production of fruit, “pruning,” or removing individuals who seem to not be productive will make room for new growth.  Likewise, according to the article, Christian schools might be more successful in accomplishing their mission and purpose if they were more deliberate about “pruning” their staff and teachers.

That’s not even close.

This is a unique example of an illustration used by Jesus, and is found only in John 15.  There are other places where plants or inanimate objects are used as examples to illustrate principles, but not in this context, and not in reference to this particular principle.  Interpreting it in the same way the article author did is false, and pretty close to what the book of Revelation defines as adding to or taking away from the scriptures.

In this illustration, Jesus uses the vine as a representation of the human soul, and the fruit that it produces is spiritual growth brought about by the indwelling Holy Spirit through the process of sanctification.  I’ve heard it applied to personal evangelism and witnessing, with the “fruit” being souls who are saved, but that’s not correct, either.  The branches that Jesus talks about are rooted in both he and the Father, and the fruit of the spirit is the product of the relationship between the indwelling Holy Spirit and the individual who is rooted in Christ.  Spiritual fruit (see Galatians 5:22-23) is the product of the branches of the vine which are nourished by the Spirit.  Those branches which are “cut off,” represent the flesh, and the works that it produces (Galatians 5:19-21).  The works of the flesh must be cut off,  so that it is not preventing spiritual growth from taking place.

There’s also a distinct difference between cutting off the unproductive branches which represent the flesh and the sinful nature, and “pruning” the branches which do produce fruit.  Pruning isn’t a process of extraction and removal.  It’s a process which involves providing a pathway down which a branch can grow, removing obstacles and helping the vine reach a point where fruit can grow.  There is only one vine, which represents both the flesh and the redeemed spirit of one individual, and no concept at all which indicates that a vine represents a community of individual believers, some of which must be “pruned” by being excluded from the community in order for it to produce fruit.

Can you see the potential problems which would arise from that kind of interpretation of this principle?

The only provision for exclusion of members from the body is when there is unrepentant sin.  Paul lays the groundwork for the church to discipline its membership in this way.  If leaders were allowed to “prune” based on subjective judgment, there would be no one left.

In the church, how would the subjective definition of the “flesh,” or the branches that are cut off, be applied?  Since all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, who makes the determination of which branches are producing enough of the right kind of fruit in order to remain, and which ones get cut off?  And in a Christian school, it’s pretty clear that use of the term “pruning” would simply be a justification for terminating employees on a purely subjective basis, depending on what was used to define the term “fruit” and what wasn’t being produced, something that Christian school parents find as particularly distasteful and objectionable in the public school system.

After a decade or so of growth, Christian schools are now closing at an alarming rate, for a number of reasons.  Personnel policy, and treatment of staff, who are already way underpaid, is a contributing factor to some of the reasons the quality of education declines, and a particular Christian school comes to the point where it closes its doors.  It is not productive when a group of parents, called a “school board,” attempt to exercise subjective personnel policy, something most of them know nothing about, evaluate teachers based on their own children’s experiences, or their own experiences, and put dedicated, committed teachers through stress and grief and then attempt to couch what they’re doing in a Biblical concept to justify it.

Christian school teachers, administrators and staff members are serving where they are because they are called to this ministry.  They have made a sacrifice to serve their fellow believers, including those parents who have children in the school where they serve as leaders on a school board.  Christian schools which have recognized the value of this commitment have backed away from policy and procedure which puts the board in the position of evaluating its employees, and have developed a written covenant arrangement through which employment is both extended, and consistently evaluated objectively.  A school board can’t evaluate a Christian school staff, either professionally, or from the same perspective of sacrifice that the staff has made.  It’s unfortunate that a lot of generous, committed believers have been terminated from employment at Christian schools, and in many cases not willing to return, because of subjective short-sightedness on behalf of a school board that didn’t have a strong gasp of Biblical principle.

Being true to scriptural principles in the operation of your school starts with understanding what the Bible says and means.  The Bible has all the wisdom of God available.  When we fail, it is usually because we don’t take advantage of what we have.

 

 

We’re Back!

I appreciate those who continue to visit this site, and who continue to respond to posts.  Hopefully the information gathered has been helpful.

Circumstances being what they are, the job responsibilities will allow the Kingdom Educator to begin making posts again, and hopefully build up the readership as well as provide information on how to bring a real, live, Christian educator and expert in the field to your school for in-service.

Over the next week or so, I will update the information and links, and clean things up a bit for you.  I hope you find this helpful.  Enjoy reading!

How to Fix America’s Broken Public Education System

You’ll hear resistance to that statement, that it isn’t broken.  If you think that, you’re not observant, and you haven’t looked around at it very much.

By the way, I did watch Glenn Beck’s presentation on Common Core.  Beck is a radio announcer, with limited expertise in, well, in anything really, and it was pretty clear that his intent was to turn this into a political issue and use it as another means to attack the current presidential administration.  I found a lot of mis-information, and nothing really useful in his comments.  He’s clearly not an educator nor an expert on education, and his cause would be much better off, at least as far as this issue is concerned, with his silence.  Politics will not resolve this issue, ever.  Common Core follows right along in the pathway that was set, not by liberals in government, but by the Bush Administration when it laid the groundwork for federalizing educational standards by initiation of No Child Left Behind.  Compare that with Common Core.  There’s really no difference in either the approach, or the objectives in the curriculum.  NCLB didn’t work, either.

Common Core is not the answer.  State departments of education have been revamping curriculum objectives and initiating extensive testing programs to resolve the issue that is created by the increasing gap between the achievement and accomplishment of students in other countries, primarily Western Europe, Japan and China, and that of American students.  The result has been that not much changes, except that the achievement levels of American kids drops as the emphasis in the classroom becomes teaching to the test, and not on teaching students.  Common Core is just a nationwide effort doing basically the same thing, setting forth objectives, many of them without the backing of solid educational research, and putting a test in place with a specific score as the expected student outcome.  It won’t get the kind of results that are being sought.

There are successful schools in America.  Most of them are not part of the government monopoly system, but are privately owned and operated, and most of them are Christian in influence, if not in basic philosophy.  If you want to observe “best practices in education,” shouldn’t you go to the places where the practices are succeeding in educating students, and reaching the desired outcomes?  But I even encounter Christian school organizations that pull their members in the direction of the “newest and latest” that comes out of the public education system, and encourage them to incorporate it even though it hasn’t been proven effective yet.

I’ve come to accept several practices and principles which have proven to set an atmopshere which encourages academic achievement for students:

1.  The teachers and staff of the school understand their position as more than just a facilitator or instructor, but they are genuinely “teachers” who mentor their students, including morals and values, and teach from the perspective of having a relationship with the student, and their parents, and not just as a job.

2.  The mission and purpose of the school directs it toward a primary student outcome of citizenship, setting an example, and understanding the need for positive leadership, not toward a test score.

3.  The school is founded on a values system, most notably a Biblical, Christian values system.  Christian faith is a primary motivator for achievement and success, since it moves people toward pleasing God, and expressing gratitide for the salvation they have received in Jesus Christ.

4.  Education cannot occur in a vacuum in which human reason is considered the highest form of intelligence in the universe.  Failure to understand the creator means failure.

5.  Standards cannot be set to minimum acceptable performance, as most state curriculum standards are set now, they must be aimed at the goals that students should aspire to achieve.

6.  Failure is not an option.

7.  The educational system must take into consideration the fact that they are teaching individuals, not a group, and that each individual brings a unique set of abilities and needs into the classroom.  The class must be small enough for students to have relationships with their teachers, and so that their individual needs and abilities can be assessed, and useful in tailoring their educational program.

8.  There are dynamic elements related to a full knowledge of God’s redemptive plan for humanity that empower educational processes.  These elements can’t be excluded from the educational process without something being taken away from its effectiveness.

Most successful schools will find that the common core standards represent minimum achievement, and are already exceeded in their own curriculum.  When schools are allowed to operate out of a complete sense of independence and autonomy when it comes to their standard setting, can tailor an education to the needs of their own student population, and are given the resources to do this through parental choice, not government regulation, the achievement level of American students will increase.

Look into it.  You’ll see, I’ve done my homework, and I’m right about this.

What is a “Distinctively Christian” School? (Part Two)

Much of what I learned about the Bible, I learned in Sunday School.  Yes, I did.

Attending a church in which the Sunday School ministry played a primary role in the church’s discipleship ministry was part of the reason for that.  During the time I was growing up, Sunday School provided the church with an accurate record of its membership and potential members.  Classes and departments kept records of enrollment, attendance, and some other things which gave leaders a clue about the spiritual life of the class members.  Departments had directors who used the class roll for outreach purposes.  When you missed a Sunday, you got a phone call or a card, and maybe a visit.  And it wasn’t just an organization, you felt that the people who were involved really cared.  They were gifted and called to ministry.

For most of my childhood, it was a memorable experience, and it was something that I wanted to do every Sunday.  I was, of course, motivated by the recognitions for perfect attendance given each year, but I wanted to be there.  I learned something, a lot, from the experience.  It was foundational, and important, and it had a significant impact on me, as well as most of the other fifteen or so kids around my age that more or less grew up there together.  And I discovered just how much I learned when I went off to a Christian college, and took Old and New Testament History, using textbooks authored by H.I. Hester.  Most of those other kids also found out that they gor a lot out of Sunday school, including a strong faith in Jesus.

So why was it so effective?

1.  The teachers and leaders saw their responsibility as a calling from God, and their work as a ministry.  They used their spiritual gifts.  Most of them were dedicated students of the Bible, and they did a lot of extra study to pass along what they knew to us.  It wasn’t just the hour on Sunday morning, they spent time figuring out how to make the class worthwhile and effective, and they studied the scripture in order to answer our questions.  From the earliest time I can remember, there were four women who had a foundational impact on my life by teaching me in Sunday School from pre-school through middle school, and a young, married couple who took care of the youth department when I was in high school.  There was rarely a question about who was going to teach what class in that church.

2.  The teachers met together, prayed, and prepared for every lesson.  The weekly worker’s meeting was on Wednesday night, for an hour before prayer meeting.  If you taught a class in that church, you were there for the weekly meeting.  We had a volunteer Sunday School director who was committed to seeing the Sunday School ministry work the way it should, and it did.  They reviewed objectives, lesson plans, and did a study of the scripture for the week.  Each department met together.  They planned with the class members needs in mind, prepared.

3.  They used a curriculum guide, high quality materials that supported the objectives, and a high level of personal creativity.  The Sunday School director had Southern Baptist denominational roots, and so utilized every plan book, teacher guide and quarterly produced by what was then the Baptist Sunday School Board, now Lifeway.  In the children’s departments, bringing your quarterly and your Bible each week was the only way you could earn points toward prizes given at the end of each quarter.  I took care of my quarterly like it was a school textbook.  The quarterlies utilized a six year curriculum plan that covered virtually the entire Bible.  So you got specific objectives related to the content, and the lesson activities supported the objectives.  It was written thoroughly, so that a person could, technically, pick up a teacher quarterly and teach a lesson with minimum preparation.  But we always had the best.

Not only that, but the curriculum materials were thoroughly reviewed, both at the Sunday School board, and by the Sunday School director in our church before we could use them.  He read through the content of each lesson to make sure we got teaching that was consistent with our doctrine and beliefs. Then we could use them.

4.  The Bible was always at the very center of every lesson.  The content was Biblical.  It was also at the center of every teacher’s life.  They weren’t perfect people, by any means.  But they were committed followers of Jesus, and members of his body, the church, and they were faithful.  They had received grace, and they gave mercy.  Most of them were not professional educators, they were just normal, everyday people who had been blessed with spiritual gifts they wanted to use.  And they did.  So I learned a lot in Sunday School.  It was planned that way.

I hope that the Bible classes we teach in our Christian Schools are as effective as the Sunday School in my home church used to be.  If they are, then we are going to see real results, and our school will reflect its Christian distinctiveness because our students will be learning and applying what they learn.  Planning, a good written curriculum, and committed, Christian teachers are important elements which principles of scripture pull together.  Those are the elements that make a school distinctively Christian.

Re-Activating the Ministry of the Kingdom Educator

Now, more than ever, Christian educators need inspiration, and information.  The Kingdom Educator is here to help provide this for  you.  It is a blog written by an experienced Christian educator who currently serves as head administrator of a Christian school in the Northeast, with a PK-12th grade enrollment of approximately 270 students.  Prior to that, he was a middle school and assistant principal, and a high school social studies teacher, with all but three years of over 30 years in education spent in Christian schools.

You are invited to read, explore the topics, comment, and contribute.  If you have something you want to say, this is the place, and you can contact the author via email.  I hope you will visit here frequently, and that this site becomes an information exchange for Christian school employees, parents and even students.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Complicated World of Home Education

Home schooling has become a relatively common phenomenon in our culture.  It has also become a highly controversial issue generating a lot of passion.  It is perhaps the ultimate expression of the right that parents have, one that is, in my opinion, God-given, to educate their children.  After all, if God is going to hold you accountable for that, as the scripture says, you ought to be able to choose to do it on your own.  The fact that most parents don’t choose to do this on their own doesn’t negate that basic responsibility.

There are a lot of options for home education, from the traditional approach using textbooks and individual instruction, to cyber classes on line, or software with instruction and assessments.  There are cooperatives and programs and “schools” in which you can become involved, or you can do it on your own.  Since education is a state regulated enterprise, there are fifty different sets of regulation related to home education, from completely hands off to extremely regulated and monitored.  Navigating all of that can be complicated.

There are some myths associated with the practice of home education.  One is that it is a relatively cost-free option among several choices.  The amount of money you spend depends on the program you choose, but it is never cost-free.  Some cyber school programs are state funded, and are considered as charter schools, but opting to use one of those exposes your kids to the same secular humanism and educational philosophy under which the public schools operate, and the class content is not of high academic quality, since it must be “one size fits all.”  Private cyber programs cost about as much in tuition and fees as private schools do.  And even if you are enrolled in a certified program, there is a cost involved, not to mention the time that you invest as a parent in instruction.  And if you’re doing this right, you’re investing four to five hours a day, five days a week.

Another myth is the success rate.  There is an automatic assumption that if you educate your children at home, one on one, with individual instruction, they will do much better than their counterparts in the public schools, or in private schools.  There is no doubt that some kids excel and reach their full potential in such an educational environment, provided that their parents know what they are doing, and invest the time and resources into doing it right.  Unfortunately, only about 10% of the families involved in home education actually see this kind of success.  Generally, either parents do not invest the time and resources, or they simply don’t understand education enough to think of it as more than just a little bit of “book learning.”  Most don’t have the patience to spend the kind of one on one time each day with their children that is necessary for success in home education.  Too many families simply put the kids in front of a computer screen, and hope for the best.  The end result is that the students lag behind their peers in educational progress.  In thirty years of Christian education, this is the scenario I have observed the most, a family bringing their child to my Christian school to “fix” several years of attempted home education.

There are a few cases where the disconnection is the result of some sort of learning disability on the child’s part.  Hopefully, most parents recognize those things early on, and get help.  Otherwise, success is possible with some key elements applied:

1.   You must be prepared to invest the time.  The temptation, with a flexible schedule, is to play too much, and work too little.  Your child will need to spend five to six hours a day on guided and independent practice, and you, as his instructor, will need to spend several hours a day of quality instructional time in order for this to work.  That means more than just assigning a chapter to read and questions to do at the end.

2.  You need to find someone to help you with accountability.  Home school cooperatives are usually good for this, or a local school district will provide a monitor for you.  You should set goals, test for benchmarks and make sure your child is experiencing the expected grade level outcomes.

3.  Avoid cyber education as much as possible.  You can use some of it for support, but generally, it is not worth the amount of time it demands.  You should use it as a tool, not be dependent on it as the primary means of instruction.  Unless you want to deal with the humanist philosophy, and an anti-Christian bias that is apparent in public education, you should avoid the “free” charter schools altogether.

4.  Schedule a regular school day, and have a regular school calendar.

5.  Study to sharpen your own skills.  Stay ahead of your child’s learning curve.  If you feel that you are getting in over your head, especially in math or reading and language skills, get help.  Many Christian schools welcome home school students on a part time basis and that’s a good way to get credit.

6.  I strongly recommend planning toward enrolling your child in a solid, fully accredited Christian school to finish, either 11th and 12th grade, or just 12th if the finances are tight.  The uncertainty of what college admissions will do with home educated students is growing, and that avoids the risk.

Home education is a difficult job, and a huge responsibility.  Before you undertake something like that, be prepared for it.