It’s Time For the Church to Stand Up For its Christian Schools!

For about five years, now, I’ve served as an advocate for Christian schools, representing our position to the state legislature in Pennsylvania, and for two years, through the legal/legislative conference of ACSI in Washington, DC.  Though both of these positions are voluntary, and the time that I can give to participation with job responsibilities is small, I have seen the needle move on the dial, so to speak.  In Pennsylvania in particular, allied with other religious-based private school groups, we have succeeded in getting the legislature to increase the capacity of the tax credit scholarship programs, and give consideration to legislation that would allow a much greater degree of school choice.  It’s been different in Washington, where the needle keeps moving the other direction, though we have been able to sit down with our legislators, and show them what the face of private, Christian-based education looks like.

All of this activity has been aimed at helping to equalize the expense and financial burden of support for Christian schools, against what is the most pervasive government bureaucracy that exists in the public school system.  In no other area of government does a monopoly exist that requires citizens to pay taxes to support it, and limits their access for the services those tax dollars provide to a single provider.  Whether students attend the public schools or not, the tax dollars set aside for their education go to the public school in the district in which they reside.  If the service isn’t good quality, parents have a choice, but they can’t re-direct the tax dollars, some of which they’ve contributed, anywhere else.  So in effect, only those who earn enough money to pay for private education actually have a choice.  That’s one of the things we’ve been working to change.

The problem is that a new obstacle has been put in our path.  At a time when state governments seem to be getting interested and creative when it comes to school choice and school finance, after years of hearing complaints about the poor overall performance of the public education system, there is also heightened interest in a social agenda that includes eliminating discrimination against persons involved in a lifestyle not consistent with Christian principles that are taught, and practiced by example, in our schools.  In Pennsylvania this week, we got the news that the Department of Community and Economic Development, which is the primary state agency responsible for the tax credit scholarship program we use, will no longer distribute those funds unless the organization receiving them agrees to a statement of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in hiring practices.  While we are attempting to exercise the option of a religious exemption that has applied to all such rulings in the past, the outcome is still uncertain.  And while there is a high level of support for school choice, there is also a high level of support for codifying into law the non-discrimination practices, including among most conservative politicians.

The fact is that conservative politics do not always square up with a Biblical worldview.  It takes genuine Christian convictions to understand why opposition to sexual orientation choices outside of traditional, heterosexual marriage, and questions about gender identity are outside of God’s created order, and are part of the sinful human nature.  Many of the politicians who support our school choice initiatives see the value of private education, and how it contributes to the overall quality of education within the state, and to the introduction of values and morals into the culture.  They have a cultural acceptance of Christianity, but they are not Christians in the Biblical sense that they have acknowledged Jesus as Lord, and have been through the process of conviction, repentance and restoration to a relationship with God through Christ.  The number of politicians who actually hold Christian convictions, and understand our position, is a small minority.  Don’t expect help from this quarter, you’ll be disappointed.

So what does this mean for us?  Do we throw up our hands, accept defeat, and let the brunt of this decision be carried on the backs of the families who depend on financial aid to place their kids in a Christian school?

It’s time for the church, collectively, to stand up for us.

What Christian Schools do for the Church

Our small, rural Christian school in Pennsylvania, with 235 students in grades K-12, has students enrolled who represent over 60 different local congregations from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds and Christian traditions.  Though it is affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, there are only 11 students in the school whose families attend an Alliance congregation.  Students come from non-denominational megachurches, including one that is Charismatic in its tradition, and from small town and rural congregations affiliated with various Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran and Wesleyan denominations, including United Methodists and Church of the Nazarene.  There are students from Assembly of God congregations, Churches of Christ, Church of God (both Anderson and Cleveland, TN), Disciples of Christ, independent Bible churches, Episcopal and Anglican churches, and Catholic churches.  In this Christian school ministry, as in almost any other, people come together united in Christ, set aside the secondary and tertiary doctrinal and practice issues that create denominational and theological walls behind which we wage philosophical wars with each other, and work to accomplish a specific discipleship ministry of the church, based on Biblical teaching.

We are providing the churches with solid, regular, systematic instruction in the scriptures for their students, accompanied by practical application, mission service, and we are undergirding the church’s future membership with a daily emphasis that focuses on their personal relationship with Christ, and their role and responsibility as a member of his local body.   Research shows that students who have spent as few as five years in a Christian school environment are much more likely to remain faithful in attendance, and take a leadership role in a local church than those who are raised in church, but attend the public school system.  We have become the primary basic training ground for pastors and church staff, missionary volunteers and those who serve in vocational ministry.  We are doing for the church what it has not necessarily been doing for itself over the past two or three decades when it comes to developing a committed, loyal membership with the knowledge and skills to lead.

We have been doing this for decades on our own dime.  Denominational and church budget funds committed to “Christian Education” do not, for the most part, go to Christian schools.  As supportive and directed as the ministry of Christian schools have been toward the church, we have largely been left to seek our financial resources almost exclusively from the parents who send their children.  Very little thought has been given, on the part of church and denominational leadership, to providing direct support to schools so that we can continue to educate their children in a Christian environment with a Biblical worldview.  Churches do not realize that a Christian school education is really only possible for about 20% of their congregants, when the cost of tuition and fees is considered.  Consequently, the church invests a small portion of its budget into Christian education in general, and collectively, almost nothing gets from the church budget to the Christian school, except in a situation where a school is directly operated by a church.

Church and Denominational Support is Vital to the Future of Both

After generations of church growth in attendance, membership and baptisms, conservative Evangelical congregations and denominations have entered a period of increasing decline.  Membership of congregations is aging, with the median age in a typical conservative Evangelical church now being about 60, meaning that half of the membership is actually older than that.  The number of baptisms, representing new believers added to the kingdom, has declined among Evangelicals by more than 50% in a decade, and most baptisms nowadays, 80% of them, represent children of adults who are already church members.  The number of self-identified “Evangelicals” in two recent surveys done by church research groups has fallen 15% in a decade, a figure that is consistent with the drop in the number of people who claimed to be “conservative Evangelicals” who voted in the 2016 election, compared to 2008.  All of the major denominations considered to be classified as “conservative, Evangelical,” report declines in both membership and attendance for at least the last 5 years.  The largest Evangelical group, the Southern Baptist Convention, has lost a million members in a decade.  The Assemblies of God, which was once one of the fastest growing, has lost 10% of their membership in the same period of time.

While not spending anything on any real effective or significant Christian education, churches are spending gigantic amounts of money on other things that are clearly not productive in terms of enhancing their ministries.  Billions goes into the construction of buildings with increasing seating capacities for shrinking congregations that are used for just a few hours a week, and sit empty most of the rest of the time.  What a blessing it would be to a Christian school to have a church willing to host classes in its educational facilities, and make their five day a week use of the building the primary priority, requiring their once a week classes and groups to work around the school, rather than make the school adapt.  It would be a major help if a church did this rent-free, and paid the utility bill as their contribution to Christian education.  Why not establish a special offering scholarship fund, or just a special offering Sunday, to give to the Christian schools represented in your congregation?

Christian schools now need the churches to stand up and fill in the gaps.  We need to continue to provide financial aid to families who need it, and which supports a Biblical worldview.  If churches do not support the schools that are raising up generations of young people who stay committed to them, then their future will be much more bleak than it now is, as empty pews and abandoned buildings will be the legacy left behind by their failure to see this blessing, and capture this vision.

Stand up for Christian schools, church!

Lee Saunders is the head administrator at Portersville Christian School in rural Western Pennsylvania north of Pittsburgh.  He has thirty years of experience in Christian school education, and currently volunteers with ACSIPA, a group of administrators who serve schools in Pennsylvania by meeting with state legislators and advocating on behalf of Christian schools  

 

 

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The Crisis in American Christian Education

The last weeks of May and the first weeks of June will be celebrated by students all over the country as school years come to a close.  For students, school won’t really be much on their minds for weeks, perhaps months.  For administrators and teachers, planning has already started on the next school term, and textbook orders, class schedules and budget planning has already taken shape.

At over 400 private, Christian schools where the school year is winding down, there are no plans for a “next year.”  Once the last bell rings, the last student leaves, and the last staff member turns off the light, the school will cease to exist.  In some cases, arrangements have been made to transfer students to other schools, while in others, parents have been left on their own to find an alternative to the education their children had been experiencing.  In most cases, students will go to the public education system.  Over the past decade, the closure of private, Christian schools has left many communities without a viable, Christ-centered, Biblical-focused option anywhere nearby.

Christian education experienced a boom in enrollment beginning in the early 1970’s.  Through the mid-1990’s, Christian schools were being started at almost an identical rate to the closures now being experienced.  Enrollment soared, and at one point, almost 15% of the students in grades K through 12 were enrolled in a private school with a religious-based philosophy of education, and more than 45% of those students were under the daily influence of Evangelical conservatives with a high view of the Bible as the written word of God and a strong, Biblical worldview.  The percentage of students enrolled in an educational alternative outside of public schools has remained fairly steady, at 15%, as alternative forms of education, such as cyber and charter schools have grown and developed, but the percentage in private, religious based schools has fallen to less than 7% total, including Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish, Quaker and any other type of religious based educational institution.  That is a significant drop.

For the conservative Evangelical Christian school organizations, the drop in enrollment and school closures is considered a crisis for the movement.  The largest organization in the US, ACSI, which has been seeing the number of member school closings approach the 300 mark each year, is conducting research and looking into factors which are behind the decline and the closings.  Along with other groups, there are some factors which have been identified to explain the drop.

A Shrinking Constituency

Evangelical churches and denominations have, over the past 60 years, developed a system of schools which reflect their emphasis on personal salvation, evangelism, a high view of scripture, and development of a personal worldview rooted in the truths of the Bible.  It stands to reason that the vast majority of students who are enrolled in these schools come from the churches that are like-minded, and similar in theology and practice.  Christian schools have developed a remarkable unity, bringing together people of various denominational backgrounds in support of a common ministry goal.

But the denominations and churches that fall under that which defines being “Evangelical” are experiencing a decline in membership that is affecting the enrollment of the schools.  Many of the schools are selective in their admissions process, requiring students to come from families that are members of churches which share similar convictions and doctrine.  After decades of growth, church membership in over 80% of the churches that identify as “Evangelical” plateaued in the mid-1990’s, and began to decline by the beginning of the 21st century.  Over the past decade an a half, the decline has steepened, and since these churches are where most of the Christian school students come from, enrollments in many schools have also been declining at similar rates.

Church leaders, who thought that the emphasis on personal evangelism was the main factor in church growth, and would always sustain the numbers, are alarmed.  The drop in numbers is occurring among the age groups of the population that are most likely to have school-aged children.  Recent studies show that over the past half-decade, only 8% of self-identified “Evangelical” churches are growing in attendance and membership, and over 90% of that growth is coming by transfer rather than evangelism.  Churches, and by extension some Christian schools, that are fortunate enough to be located in communities in the suburbs and city fringes where there is population growth, are growing.  But there is nothing in the research to indicate that the trends of declining membership, and the loss of a significant portion of Generation X and Millennial generations, is slowing down.

A Leadership Crisis

There aren’t a lot of experienced, long-term leaders who have made a career in Christian school leadership.  That’s unusual, for a movement that has made its own niche as a ministry.  Seasoned veterans, those with experience, education, and who are steeped in a clearly defined philosophy of education that supports the work of Christian schools, are rare.  Turnover rates for administrative-level personnel are high, and many of those who started out as teachers, and advanced to administrative positions in Christian schools have left Christian school education, citing a variety of reasons.  Some have drifted into public or charter education, and others have found their way into the higher education field, but one of the most serious issues identified by virtually every Christian school organization in the country is the failure to develop, and retain, a senior leadership core.

It’s natural to conclude that low salaries, with a diminished ability to save for retirement, combined with a demanding work load, is the main reason for this.  It is a factor, but it is far from being the main reason for leadership attrition.  The average tenure of a Christian school administrator at any specific Christian school is 5 years.  And most of the reasons behind this, according to those who are in the field, have little or nothing to do with compensation and benefits.  According to a recent ACSI study, the average administrative tenure at schools that have closed over the past decade is even less than that.  Comparatively, the average tenure of administrators in all other types of religious-based schools is 12 years, and among independent, private schools, the average is 15 years.  So it is clear that administrative tenure and stability is a major factor in school sustainability.

Burnout is one of the leading causes for the departure of experienced, senior administrators.  In attempting to curb costs of school operations, many Christian schools add long lists of duties to administrator’s job descriptions.  Schools that are careful to ensure that salaries and benefits are kept competitive can get careless when it comes to the expectations they place on their administrator when it comes to work that needs to be performed.  In many cases, an administrator also serves as a principal, but there should be a recognition that these are two different jobs in many ways, and that it doesn’t take a very large school for the work of a school head to get demanding and time consuming.

Administrators are also not development officers.  I can’t tell you how many postings of Christian school administrator positions I’ve read each year where there is a clear expectation that the administrator is going to come into the school, grow enrollment and raise thousands of dollars for school operations.  If you are in a school of 200 students, raising the kind of money necessary to supplement operations and expenses in the way that most school boards expect is a full time job, as is that of a principal who is supervising and managing the school’s academic program.  So if you have 200 students, you should have three administrators.

Different Expectations from Parents Regarding Christian Beliefs and Influences

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”  I Peter 3:15-16 ESV

You would be shocked, I’m certain, to discover how few members of your school community have a working knowledge of the core principles of Christian faith, and are committed to making sure their children are also steeped in these principles.  Christian schools, where the Bible is taught through mainly expository methods, engage fewer than 20% of the members of conservative, Evangelical congregations, and an additional 3-5% may be involved in some form of cooperative home education.  During the 70’s and 80’s, most parents would tell you they were putting their children in a Christian school because they understood the chasm of difference between the education offered in the public school system, which operated under a secular, humanist philosophy of education, and where existentialism was the driving force behind the instructional methodology that was taught, and a Christian philosophy of education recognizing the existence of an omnipotent, omnicient, omnipresent God as the source of all knowledge, with education as the process of developing wisdom to discern and interpret all that God reveals about himself.  According to surveys across the board in Christian schools today, you’d be hard pressed to find very many parents who cite that as their reason for having their children in a Christian school.

As things like expository preaching, Sunday School, and formal Bible study groups have declined significantly in practice, people have become philosophically illiterate when it comes to the core doctrines of the Christian faith.  The fact of the matter is that most parents want their children in a Christian school in order to protect and shield them from what they see as negative social and behavioral influences, not because the Christian school teaches that God absolutely exists, and the public school says that you can’t know that for sure.

Christian schools are only affordable to about 20% of the conservative Evangelical community that has organized and supported most of them.  Having a publicly supported educational monopoly that everyone has to pay for up front contributes to this being the case.  However, many Christians have come to believe that having your children in school with others of the upper middle class income bracket is as beneficial as some obscure “foundational” principles or commitment to a Christian worldview.  This is evidenced by a “pick and choose” attitude that has developed in Christian school constituencies, in which participation in football outweighs the value of a Christ-centered education in the classroom, or a family chooses a high dollar SUV or an extra vacation over a year of Christian school for their children.

Research done by some of the larger Christian school organizations points to evidence of a different set of values used by many parents as opposed to the stated mission and purpose of the school.  Even in schools where a profession of faith in Christ, and membership in a local church is required, with a pastor recommendation, a percentage of families, in many cases as high as 50%, would not be considered “regular” in their church involvement or attendance.  Schools are dealing with increased issues from social media involving student behavior that is considered outside the boundaries of expectation for families who claim to be committed to raising their children in a Christlike environment.  Schools are under increasing pressure via complaints from parents about dress codes being too “strict,” limits and rules on activities like “dancing,” or the “intrusion” into student privacy through monitoring of social media and rules which stipulate consequences for behavior that the school observes and considers to be outside the boundaries of acceptable representation of a Christlike demeanor.  During the past decade, Christian schools have been sued for dismissing students for behavior like being drunk in public, or engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage because the incidents “weren’t any of the school’s business.”  Let that sink in.

Board Conflict

If your school hasn’t experienced board conflict, you are lucky.  Christian school organizations like ACSI have done a lot of work in recent years with groups that develop models of board governance to help alleviate this problem, but it is still very easy for a school board to run off track and into a wreck.  Board conflict, involving control of a school by agenda-driven parents, is the second most often cited reason for schools declining in enrollment leading to a closure.

School boards are intended to be made up of responsible people who have a strong vision of Christian school education, and who realize that cooperative ministry and working together for common benefit outweigh their own personal interests and perspectives when it comes to the way a school should be managed.  But there are many schools whose method of selecting board members opens the door to those who have personal agendas, or vendettas, whose interest in running interference for their own child is as far as they can see, and is the sum total of all of the vision they possess.  Tightly written governance policies, and strict adherence to them are the solution to this problem.  Otherwise, every board meeting will contain a litany of complaints and require wasting hours in order to resolve them.

ACSI has recommended that its schools employ a policy governance model of board leadership, similar to the Carver model.  The recommendation includes ensuring that all school policies are written, and that all board decisions are consistent with the written policy.  Unanimous approval is required to change policies, which prevents agendas, even those pushed by a majority on the board, from taking root.  A policy model can be developed in which various aspects of volunteer leadership can be incorporated into the way the board directs activity.  Primarily, the educational and spiritual aspects of the school, its extra-curricular activities, personnel and admissions policies are placed in the hands of an administrator, and policy is written to provide clear direction and evaluation of that person’s compliance with policy in running the school.  The link between board and administrator prevents direct intervention or interference of the board and requires adherence to written policy in order to evaluate effectiveness.

If there aren’t a lot of volunteers stepping up to serve on the board, that can also be a problem, or at least, an indication of one.  Having to accept a board member because they were the only one who applied to serve can lead to disunity and lack of effectiveness.  It’s OK to be selective, and to say no to someone who seems to be more interested in their personal agenda than they are in the well-being and unity of the school.

A Financial Crisis

Cost per student in a Christian school in this country averages just under $10,000 per year.  The median family income required to sustain such a cost, for the typical household with two children, is higher than that which is earned by more than two thirds of the entire constituency of conservative Evangelical Christians.  When two thirds of a shrining constituency of families cannot afford to send their children to a Christian school, it will have an effect on the enrollment.  Financial issues, and financial crisis, is the top reason cited for the closure of Christian schools in this country.

It is difficult to consider measures to reduce the costs.  Most schools are now “bare bones” operations as it is, and teachers salaries among Christian schools are an embarrassment to the entire ministry, and affect the quality of education when they are too low.  The tools of the operation, like textbooks and supplies, technology, building and utilities, are pretty well fixed costs.  Parents, of course, must pay tuition for their children to attend, while still paying tax dollars to support the public education system they are choosing to leave.  And in spite of an atmosphere of hopefulness to change the system, it is very unlikely that public money will ever be available in sufficient qualities for school choice to be available to everyone.

Evangelicals have been, among all of the Christian groups in this country with schools associated with or attached to their churches, the least supportive when it comes to financial resources, and the most resistant to consider anything that would shift away from a tuition-driven model.  Catholic schools have historically been based on a diocesan model of support, with the lion’s share of the church’s Christian education budget going to its schools, and they motivate their own church members to get their kids in the church’s schools with tuition rates that average less than half of what a parent pays to send a child to an Evangelical school.   The Episcopalian and Lutheran churches operate schools through associations of churches, and the students whose families are members of the sponsoring churches get significant tuition discounts, and in many cases, attend for just a small fee.  Quakers schools draw their entire budgets from congregational support, and provide full tuition for those whose income levels fall below the ability to pay, while charging tuition to others based on their income.

There are few Evangelical churches that share in the expense of a Christian school, other than, perhaps, one that their own church operates.  And there is a lot of resistance, because of the conservative economic views most of them hold, to any kind of plan that requires a higher level of financial support from those who can afford more, even though that is the Biblical model for something like this.  The result of this line of thinking is that Evangelical Christian schools tend to be more expensive than other private school options, less hospitable to a segment of students who are really the only place growth will come from, and as costs go up, enrollment goes down proportionately.

Church resources and support for Christian schools is an untapped resource among the Evangelical community.  American churches literally spend billions of dollars a year on church facilities that stand empty six days a week.  The debt service on church property for one year in this country is greater than the combined budgets of all of the several thousand Christian schools that are currently operating.  If Evangelicals are going to continue to have a system of Christian education that assists with their discipleship ministries, they are going to have to work together, share space, and come up with the money to operate schools at minimum expense to the members of their congregations.

The Bottom Line

Since the late 1970”s, researchers who study religious groups in the US have noted that a large segment of the younger generations seem to be stepping away from faith-based institutions, especially the churches, at some point during their young adulthood.  In the 70’s, the lament was that more than 70% of those who were raised in an Evangelical church, and were active in their church’s youth ministry would not be found in church following their graduation from college.  Some denominations, like the Southern Baptists and Assemblies of God, came up with program approaches to try and stem the tide, and both denominations had groups of individuals within who recognized what a Christian school education contributed to student discipleship.  By the late 1980’s, with the departure of young people approaching the 80% mark, research indicated that students who attended a Christian school for at least 5 years, were far less likely to be among those who left the church.  In fact, the longer a student attends Christian school, the less likely they are to leave the church when they are adults.  Spending 5 days a week in discipleship and Bible study alongside basic skills works.

Do the math.  If 80% of the students who attend, or graduate from, a Christian school, are likely to remain in the church, and take an active ministry role as either a volunteer, or a vocational minister or missionary, then doesn’t it seem that the best way for Evangelicals to arrest the steepening decline in attendance and membership in their churches, especially among the younger generations, would be to find ways to get more of their children and youth in a Christian school somewhere?

 

 

 

 

 

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.