Thursday, January 9, 2020

Why We're Here: The Blessings of a Christian School Ministry

To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth---Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:2-7

Following our Christmas musical presentations this year, a relative of two of our new students made a point of coming up to talk to me about what happens in our school every day.  He had noticed a significant change in the attitude and behavior of these two students, the children of family members, a positive change that included evidence of their response to the influence of the Christian atmosphere of the school and of their personal growth when it came to their faith formation.  The changes had been noticed almost from the very beginning of their enrollment here.  It's really a blessing to hear that the work done by the school every day, which often appears to be routine for us, is making a difference in the lives of the children who come to school here and that is also being passed along to their family members.   

That's why we're here.

As a Christian school, we bring the light of Christ into the education of his children.  A Biblical philosophy of education is built on principles revealed by God in his written word.  And while the primary responsibility for seeing that children are educated, not only in faith formation but in knowledge and skills necessary for fulfilling God's purpose for their life, belongs to the parents, the complex requirements associated with educating children in our society requires the Biblical community, namely the local Christian church, to help.  

The educational system that has developed in our culture is secular.  Because it is taxpayer supported, it must adhere to the interpretation of laws which require schools to be "religiously neutral."  That is to say, because it is a government-supported institution, a public school cannot show that it favors the practice of one religion over another or that it favors those who practice a religion over those who do not.  

How much of a difference does that make in the education of a child? 

Taking God out of the process causes a spiritual vacuum to occur in the expected student outcome.  Morality and a system of teaching behavior and conduct based on values that are taught and brought to light by the Bible are left out of the curriculum.  That creates a vacuum that is filled by the secular ideas of a humanist philosophy that is at odds with Biblical teaching on everything from the sanctity of human life to gender identity and sexual preferences.  It is this philosophy which forms the basis of the public school curriculum which has children under its influence seven hours a day, five days a week.  The public school appears as an educational authority.  After all, it is giving students knowledge and helping develop skills.  If teachers can't teach about the existence of a Creator God, then "salvation" as we know it becomes the result of human intellect alone.

The results of this vacuum, over the course of the time in which the schools have been required to be "religiously neutral" is that a large number of the children and youth who are being brought up in church wind up leaving it right after high school and most don't ever return.  Christians are now a significant minority among the members of both Generation X and the Millennial generation in this country, fewer than 10% of those in the latter group attend or are affiliated with a church or denomination.  If the aim has been to create a secular society, it is being accomplished with each succeeding generation of American adults.  

Placing your child in a Christian school is not a guarantee that they will follow their faith and grow into a mature believer and follower of Christ.  But it certainly improves the odds of that happening.  When the primary objective of their school's educational philosophy is to connect each element of knowledge, and each skill they learn, to Biblical thinking and faith formation, it does achieve the goal of helping a student find their way to the spiritual maturity God desires us to have.  The difference while they are students is noticeable, the outcome is measurable.  

There are sacrifices involved in sending your children to a Christian school.  But everyone involved is making them, from the parents who have to pay tuition to the teachers and staff who are working for less money because that is a balanced sacrifice that keeps costs low for parents.  At MCA, we have an open enrollment policy which doesn't require placement testing for students.  We don't offer a lot of special programs.  Yet our students, for the most part, love coming here and wouldn't want to go anywhere else.  If Christian faith formation for your child is a priority for you as a parent, then you understand what it means to sacrifice for their education in a Christian school.  

There is a perception that some sacrifice is also made when it comes to academics.  That is a mistaken impression.  While we do not have the resources of the public school system at our disposal, there is considerably research on virtually all levels, national, state and local, to show that Christian schools provide an excellent academic environment for their students.  Though at MCA our students tend to do well on standardized tests, that is only part of the measurement of achievement.  One of the things we try to impress on parents and get them to understand is that we are not a public school.  Content is just one of the things that you will find to be different.  

Our instructional methodology is going to be different.  There are Biblical models of instruction that you won't find in many public schools.  One of the most often mentioned differences is the amount of memorization that we do.  It's a carry-over from Bible class instruction, one of those "old fashioned" things, right?  Someone noticed that kids who memorize scripture gained some advantages in skill development in other subject areas as well.  There is research which shows memorization also increases attention span and focus and improves concentration.  So memorizing Bible verses can, theoretically at least, improve your math skills.  

Do you want to talk really old-fashioned?  The classical model of education has seen a recent expansion among Christian schools that is really gaining in popularity.  A "classical" Christian school emphasizes Biblical teachings built around a model in which the teacher instructs based on both authority and gifting as a teacher and as a facilitator.  Curriculum is based on the "Trivium," which includes grammar, logic and rhetoric and all subjects are taught from that order of advancement.  Learning the Latin language is an essential part of the core curriculum.  It took a while, but classical Christian schools have become very popular, especially among Christians in the Reformed Protestant tradition.  

Likewise the "back to the basics" movement among Christian schools has gained in popularity since schools first adopted that model in the mid-1990's.  In areas of the country where "open classrooms" were introduced as innovations in public education, parents flocked to these "basics" academies, most of them Christian schools, which took the social agenda out of the curriculum, blocked instruction in language arts, social studies, science and mathematics, added Bible classes and integrated instructional objectives with Biblical truth.  These schools appealed to parents because of their highly structured and ordered classrooms, elimination of "clutter" from the course objectives combined with increased time spent on skill development in math and reading in a blocked schedule interspersed with fine arts, PE and other elective courses.  We had to come up with a better way of enrollment at the school where I taught, because parents would literally camp out on the parking lot the night before registration opened in order to grab a spot for their child.  

The value of what you are providing your child here at MCA will become very clear to you in that moment when you observe your child praying to God for an answer regarding a decision or personal choice they are making.  You'll understand what all of the time they spent here was about when they prepare to go off to college and they take their Bible and their faith with them.  You'll appreciate those dollars you spent on tuition when they choose a marriage partner that shares the Christian values you taught them at home and we reinforced here at school.  You'll appreciate the blessings you receive when your child decides they're going to serve the Lord as part of his church, whether they become a plumber or a preacher.  And you'll realize they didn't really miss out on the social ladder or the football team.  

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.  Romans 8:10-11 ESV

Friday, December 20, 2019

Glory to God in the Highest!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.  Luke 2:14

It's the Friday before students are dismissed for Christmas break.  All morning, our teachers were engaging their students in some form of activity as a group which points to this season of the year as the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  There are Christmas lights, trees and other decorations around each classroom, all of which reflect a traditional symbol of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Most of our students can tell you the meaning behind the symbolism and they have learned from their class experience that there is a connection to the belief that Jesus was sent here by God to be our savior from sin.  That's something worth celebrating.

For four weeks prior to this time, the chapel messages have focused on the names of Jesus found in the New Testament and why those names were applied to him as the Christ, the savior of the world.  The Bible curriculum has directed students to objectives which lead them to an understanding of God's purpose in sending Jesus as our savior and to the prophetic messages which pointed to this event occurring that were written long before it happened.  As part of their school experience, we want to make sure our students connect Christmas to the birth of Jesus so everything we do here is aimed at helping our students understand who Jesus is, why he came and how that relates to them. 

This is an exciting time of the year for most school-aged students.  We think it is important for their school, where they are learning knowledge objectives which will eventually be developed into wisdom and real life skills, to make the celebration of Jesus' birth the primary focus of the season.  And on this last day of school before we go home for the holidays, we're having some fun as part of the celebration. 

May you have the peace of knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior this Christmas season! 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Making the Life of Jesus Visible

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our bodies.  For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  For death is at work in us, but life in you.  2 Corinthians 4:7-12, NRSV

The book of II Corinthians is hard to study, not necessarily because it is difficult to understand, but because it is a letter from Paul to a church he loved and cared about that was going through a tough time.  Corinth was a very worldly, pagan place, a crossroads of trade and travel because of its location.  Some Bible scholars have compared it to Las Vegas as a place where, because so many people who passed through were from different places, they could pursue worldly passions not inhibited by their own beliefs or culture.  It was also a place of extremes when it came to religious practices of the paganism of the time.  The church in Corinth, which for the most part had emerged from the Jewish community there, also had to endure the derision and persecution of Jews who saw Christian faith as a deviation from the truth.

Paul had invested a lot of time and work helping the Corinthian Christians develop into a body of Christ so that the church there could be a light in the middle of spiritual darkness.  But after he left them, a whole series of events occurred which created conflict, diminished the church's witness and testimony, divided its members into factions who fought with each other and completely disrupted its ministry.  A group of people whom Paul sarcastically calls "superapostles" were influencing the church and teaching false doctrine while at the same time attacking Paul and his character to diminish his influence with the church.  So as you read and study this book, you can sense Paul's frustration and disappointment with what was happening.  You can also sense the strength of the Spirit that inspires him.  He does not hold back in the discipline he instructs the church to follow, doesn't cower in front of those who oppose him and calls out the sin that is happening.  He never gives in to his own feelings, but continues to emphasize the Holy Spirit and pushes the members of the church to move forward instead of backsliding.

In that regard, it is one of my favorite books in the New Testament.

Our school has been a light in a dark world for a long time.  So many things have changed around it over the 63 years that it has existed and yet, it is still here, still teaching children and ministering to families.  It has experienced periods of time, including recently, when factions based on self-interest have erupted into conflict that diminished the school's effectiveness in carrying out its mission and prupose.  We are recovering from one of those periods now.  There are days when recovery seems far away and almost impossible to attain.  There are days when progress is made and a victory can be celebrated only to have another conflict or problem rear its ugly head and create a new sense of frustrating circumstances.  But, as the verse I cited above says, "We have these treasures in jars of clay...."  Yes, indeed we do.

The ministry of Christian schools in the American education culture has changed considerably over the time that MCA has been in existence.  The whole culture has changed, influenced by a secular philosophy known as "humanism" which has been advanced primarily through the expected outcomes of a public education system that has been legally committed to "religious neutrality."  In the generations since the Second World War, the influence of Christian churches has waned, undermined by the humanist belief that humans are capable of "saving" themselves through their own intellectual power.  The practice of Christian faith has been separated from the educational process by the secularization of the school system and placed in a different domain apart from intellectual development.

So does what we do in our Christian school every day make a difference?  Is it worth it for our parents to continue to make sacrifices to enroll their children, for our teachers to work long hours at diverse, difficult tasks for low pay and what seems like very little appreciation at times, for our school to agonize over keeping our budget affordable and yet  seeing the need for technological advancement and keeping up with professional development, maintaining facilities and getting the word out about what we have to offer?

I think it is.

Sunday morning, just before worship, a relative of one of our new students this year came up to give a compliment about the Christmas musical our students in Pre-K up to 3rd grade performed on Friday evening.  While I was worrying about logistics, order and time, this person saw a group of kids who were singing about Jesus with their classmates.  He also pointed out the difference in attitude, behavior and motivation that the students he knew had exhibited since they had been in our school.  They have become increasingly polite, he noted, and yes, that is an important difference between what we teach and what they are taught elsewhere.  But beyond that, he was amazed by the knowledge of the scripture they had gained in just the four months they had been in school, their ability and desire to talk about it and have their questions answered.

So we are making a difference.  It's a difference that we should never take for granted.  If we were not here, it would indeed make a difference to those students who are here.  We may be struggling on a tight budget and our tuition doesn't cover all the bells and whistles we'd like to have but we have students whose time here has put them on a different path than the one they were on when they came here and their presence here is keeping them on that path.  Academic outcomes are important, and I think it is very important to note that all of the measurements we use to determine our academic progress show that we are doing an excellent job in this area as well.  Our goals are aimed at maximum potential, not minimum standards and the results we get show our students do indeed work to that potential, based on their own ability.  But when someone notices the spiritual progress one of our students in elementary school is making and can point to the visible growth and maturity they are showing as a practical result of that, then we have succeeded.  And that's a good day.

The world around us has changed considerably.  In my lifetime, our society has changed from being one that was influenced by a majority Judaeo-Christian perspective, with significant Christian presence, to one that is completely secular and relativistic in nature with a tolerated but non-influential Christian church as one of many philosophies in the marketplace of ideas.  If you've read Dr. Erwin Lutzer's book, The Church in Babylon,  you have a good idea of what I am talking about.  It is becoming more difficult for a Christian school to survive in this culture and the unfortunate fact is that many of them are simply giving up and closing their doors.  That's contributing to the crisis that the Evangelical church is now facing, as it loses membership, attendance and influence, and as it struggles to find the kind of leadership Christian schools are committed to produce.

MCA needs students who come from families who see the difference that being in a Christian school makes in their children, and are willing to support that difference with their prayers and their commitment to this school.  Sure, you expect good grades, but beyond that, when your child comes home talking about their Bible lesson, or reciting from memory a whole section of verses from the scripture, or when their "winter musical performance" at their school is made up of Christmas music celebrating the birth of Christ, you'll understand that all of the sacrifices you make to be here are worth it, as are the things we sacrifice in order to provide it for you.  We need your prayers.   Every day is a battle against "principalities" and the darkness of this world that is all around us.

We have a vision for MCA that puts it on the road to recovery, in God's time, and develops it into the ministry He has appointed for us to have.  If we're not here, there isn't another school to take up the slack and there will be kingdom work that does not get done.  So we have to be here and you have to help.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Necessities for a Future-Ready Education

It's always good for a laugh if you want to give it a try.  Find a 1970's model, rotary dial telephone and put it on a table in a room full of middle school students.  Without prior instruction, ask someone to volunteer demonstrating how to make a phone call.  Some kids will try to act like experts, like it's no big deal while others look at it with curiosity and with a facial expression that says, "Really?  You can make a phone call with that?"  Most of them are shocked when they find out that you pick up the receiver first, dial the number with your fingers in the holes and wait for the line to ring on the other end.  The facial expressions are priceless.

It's the 21st century.  Making a phone call on a rotary dial phone is obsolete.  So is walking over to the television and changing the channel manually.  The "technology revolution", which began when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type and the printing press was born, is still in full swing.  So many things have become obsolete in just a few decades. 

American education is one of those things.  The public education system was designed to provide widescale, standardized preparation for industrial-age workers.  It's a "factory system" illustrated well by a 1982 video of a song called "Another Brick in the Wall."  It's only good (and even then marginally so) with batches--cramming kids into arbitrary age groups and doing its business on an arbirtrary calendar schedule.+  It hasn't changed much.  It has integrated technology into the schools in some cases, not all, but even with that, has not succeeded in improving the measurable quality of education and in many cases, has proven to be nothing more than an expensive distraction. 

It was intended to bring about culture change.  Initially, what was standardized in public education were the influences, customs and culture of Protestant America.  Protestant Christianity had such a strong influence, in fact, that in the early part of the 20th century, the Catholic dioceses began creating an extensive, church-supported school system as an alternative to public education because so many of the children of their members were being converted in public schools.  As the secular humanist movement recognized the incongruence between Protestant influence in a publicly-funded, government owned institution, they succeeded in getting the courts to rule out Christian influence in the schools, opening the door for them to gain control of public education and subsequently to use it to bring about culture change compatible with secular humanist philosophy.  When conservative Evangelicals finally realized the public education system was a humanist "factory," converting upwards of 80% of their church youth out of the churches by the time they finished college, they started their own system of Christian schools, a movement that hit its heyday in the 70's and 80's.

Habits are hard to break.  Christian schools have had a unique opportunity to develop an educational model counter to the "factory mentality" of public education, but in many cases, instead of taking advantage of the opportunities we have, which include a high level of parent involvement, small class sizes, facilities that demand a more creative approach to learning, budgets that demand a more innovative approach to integrating and using technology which changes more rapidly now than ever, and the ability to connect Christian faith to a student's vision for the future, we have developed a "bunker" or "silo" mentality, hunkering down in defensive mode or protecting our pet personal preferences in education and cultural perspective. 

A Christian school is positioned to bring some ideas and innovation into the world of education that a "factory" school can't do.  We have the opportunity and ability to "focus students on developing a rich context for life-long learning" and provide students with authentic growth, discipleship, mentoring and real-life application of their faith.*  What we do is provide them with the tools they need to think critically and make their own decisions and directions in life based on the knowledge and skills they acquire in our schools. 

We need to do an excellent job teaching foundational skills and knowledge in the lower grades and then balance that with instruction that takes static knowledge and turns it into useful wisdom.  It is a big risk to teach students skills, set a good, strong Christian example and then put them in a position of responsibility where they have choices about determining their own path and making their own decisions based on the critical thinking ability that was part of your instruction.  They are going out into a real world with thousands of ideas that will compete for their attention, time and money.  Most of what they will face will be counter to the Christian faith they've been raised with.  If they've been given critical thinking skills and prepared for what they will face, chances are good they'll make the right choice. 

In a bunker, you're protected from exposure to whatever it is that put you in the bunker in the first place.  If it's bombs or shells being lobbed at you by an enemy, you're protected as long as you're in there.  If your Christian school has a bunker mentality, then its students are safe only as long as they are in the "bunker."  Venturing out exposes them to ideas that come as surprises because they've never been exposed or taught how to respond.  But if you give them the life skills they need while they're in the school and the opportunity to learn about what's "out there," then they can learn how to react or interact on their own, while they're still in your school under your supervision because you gave them the safety they need to make their own choices and the opportunity to make them. 

A word about technology. 

There isn't any educational research which points to improvements in student learning that are triggered by the use of technology.  That's because technology is simply a tool to efficiently and effectively deliver an educational objective.  Technology does not improve learning capacity.  In theory, it makes the process more efficient. 

You won't find many teachers who would trade their classroom smartboard for a slate chalkboard.  Having software available to put up video examples, film clip illustrations, or to give a test by having the questions come up on the screen and the students with a push button remove keyed to their student number in your gradebook click the correct answer, give automatic feedback on their score and then load it into your electronic gradebook.  But no smartboard will improve the tests actual scores.  Nor do the video examples lead to increased learning.  Your visual learners will love it and respond but it will drive the tactile learners crazy. 

At a school where I previously served as administrator, a parent who owned a tech company wanted to donate I-Pads so that every student could have one.  The idea was to upload e-editions of their textbooks so they wouldn't have to carry books or notes or anything but their I-Pad.   So we tried it one year with ninth grade. 

First of all, not all of the textbook series had e-editions or uploadable versions.  Of the three that did, the math text would not load very well because it wasn't compatible with apple.  The screens on the Apple TV in the classroom were distorted.  When I observed one class period, I found that two students had somehow hacked out of the restrictions on the pad and were visiting gaming sites while instruction was being given.  One I-Pad battery died during class.  Information on two other tablets was slow to load.  One student forgot to turn off his speakers.  Within the same school year that the tablets were ordered, a newer version came out making them obsolete and parts and repairs were difficult to get.  It was a nice thought, but just not practical.  We saved the personal tablet experience for juniors and seniors in Physics, Chemistry, Pre-Calc and Calculus AB.  By the time they finish college and hit the career field, the computer they were using in high school will be obsolete anyway.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Academic Strength of Midwestern Christian Academy

You're paying for a "private" school.  You have certain expectations about the strength of the academic program.  Those are reasonable expectations.  You want to make sure that your child is learning at a pace that keeps them on track for achieving the expected benchmarks of students in order to move on to each successive grade level, graduate from middle school, go to a high school where their talent and ability will be challenged and be able to move into college or into a career field and have the necessary skills.

When you enroll at MCA, our understanding and hope is that you understand our mission and purpose is unique among the academic choices which exist in our society.  No other kind of school works to make the connection between a child's development of knowledge and practical life skills that will enable them to develop a career or handle a job which will support their family and fulfill God's purpose for their life and the development and formation of their Christian faith.  We acknowledge God as our creator and in so doing, we acknowledge that each child has been given a mission and purpose in life that they begin to develop when they trust Christ as their savior.   We see the school experience as discipleship and instead of separating faith formation from academic achievement, we put the two things together so that students not only learn valuable, marketable skills but they also understand that life's problems are only resolved by trusting God, not by depending on human intellect alone.  Christian schools are the only educational institutions which operate under that educational philosophy.  We hope that this is the priority for each family who enrolls their children at MCA.

MCA does not screen students by requiring an admissions test to enroll.  Academics are important to us but we believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn in a Christian school environment and that their faith formation is a priority.  Many "private" schools, including some Christian schools, exclude students who are not able to pass an entrance exam from enrollment.  We believe that faith formation of our students is the most important achievement coming out of their school experience.  Not everyone will be a valedictorian, salutatorian or honor student when it comes to their math, history, science and verbal skills grades but our desire is that every child who graduates from our school does so with a love for God, an understanding of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for them and the example for living that he taught and set and a commitment to serve as a "citizen of the Kingdom" through their local church.  Some of them will be doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers and business executives while others will be plumbers, construction workers, truck drivers, waitresses and a few will be pastors, children's ministers and missionaries.  But our desire is that all of them be servants of Christ's kingdom in the church and Christians who make their ministry to others a priority.

That doesn't mean our academics are inferior to that of other schools.  The measurements and assessments we use to measure student progress are based on standards required of all schools, specifically those in the same city and state.  By comparison, the academic program at MCA is equally as rigorous as that found at other Christian, parochial, faith-based schools in our city.  MCA's students, collectively, rank in the top two "quartiles" when compared to students nationally in mathematics and language arts (grammar, writing, vocabulary, spelling, reading).  We use an achievement test that is based on national standards and while each individual student's score varies widely depending on their ability and effort, our school scores indicate that we do better than two-thirds of all the schools nationally who use this assessment.  This includes all kinds of schools, public, charter, private, religious-based, academic-oriented and on-line.  Considering that we are an inner-city school, with a third of our students coming from non-native English speaking families and from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds, those results indicate that the academics at MCA are excellent.

The results of our assessment can be broken down into three specific ways of measuring achievement:
  • The Percentile Rank measures how the students on each grade level scored in mathematics and language arts compared to the other students who took the same test.  MCA's percentile ranks range from 65% to 75%, meaning that our students did better than 65 to 75 percent of the students in the other schools who took the same assessment.  Generally, the smaller the class, the higher the percentile.  
  • The Grade Level Equivalent measures the progress that students made in advancing toward the next grade level.  For example, a class that meets the academic standards of the test would advance one percentage point, or 1.0, during the course of a school year if they had met the expectations of their grade level progress.  MCA's classes advanced an average of 1.6 points, meaning that our curriculum and instruction effectively prepares students for work that is advanced above the grade level expectations of the test's standards.  
  • The Curve Equivalency measures mastery of the essential learning objectives.  This is really an indication of the quality of instruction by teachers as well as the quality of the curriculum materials that are used in the classroom.  On a graph, curve equivalency is measured by the famous "bell curve."  The mid-point of student achievement is based on the percentile point where the "peak" of the curve represents the score that is in the exact "middle" of the students scores, with half getting scores higher than the middle, and half getting scores lower than the middle.  The middle point for all the students nationally who took the same assessment was 52%.  The middle point for MCA's students averaged above 90% and we had two grades where all of the students were above the middle point.  
So how does that compare with other schools in our area?  

Comparing our academic achievement to that of the public school system, especially in Chicago, is not only difficult, but produces a distorted perspective.  Because we are a private school and we charge tuition, we have virtually 100% parent involvement in their children's education.  The public schools don't have anywhere near that luxury.  They must take all students, including those who require special educational services.  While there is a "top" group of selective school programs in CPS that show high academic achievement, it is because they test their students and in most cases accept only the highest achievers as students, usually fewer than 10% of those who apply.  Compared to the assessments used by the public schools, MCA's academics would be off the charts in virtually all cases except the selective programs.  

There are several Catholic schools in our area, as well as a couple of parochial schools operated by a Christian denomination.  MCA actually compares very favorably to the schools in the Catholic diocese who publish their student assessment information.  Most Catholic schools, like MCA, do not turn down students based on an entrance exam or academic ability because their main purpose is to train students in the Catholic faith and tradition and they don't exclude students from that opportunity based on academic performance.  Looking at the data, it can be confidently stated that MCA students do a little better overall than their Catholic school counterparts.  The same can be said of those in other parochial schools in our area.  As far as I know, the other denominationally-affiliated schools in our area have similar admissions policies.  Some have developed a reputation by promoting themselves as strong, academic achieving schools but MCA is equally as strong when it comes to actual assessments.  

We have some real advantages here.  Small class sizes don't help the budget, but they lead to accelerated student progress which we are currently seeing materialize even as the first grades came out this week.  We primarily use Abeka textbooks in grammar and language arts and their phonics-based reading program is top notch.  Almost all of our students are reading ahead of expected grade level in guided reading.  We now use Purposeful Design for mathematics through sixth grade and that helped make some dramatic improvements in mathematics achievement last year.  It is noted for its rigor and for its hands-on approach to teaching math concepts.  MCA is an excellent school and you made a good choice when you sent your children here.  Don't make a bad one by moving them based on rumors or gossip that you might hear.  Get your information from a reliable source.  

We know there is room for improvement.  We have a long list of things that we are working on as we move toward full accreditation--something that no other private, parochial school in our area has yet done--to boost our academic program.  For the benefit of our middle school students, we have made some changes in mathematics, including designating 7th grade math as "Pre Algebra" and eighth grade math as "Algebra 1".   We are developing a much more comprehensive program of integrated technology into our instruction.  Our science curriculum needs a boost of STEM objectives at all grade levels.  We are introducing collaborative research projects in both science and social studies.  

A word of caution.  There are no guarantees.  Not every student will be an "A" student or a high achiever.  But they may not be called or equipped for that.  Education, by its nature, is geared toward measurement of accomplishment.  There are plenty of students who are underachievers, whose aren't motivated by their potential.  But there are plenty of others for whom a "C" is representative of their best work and who may have aptitude and interest in things other than what can be achieved in a classroom.  Every student needs to be encouraged to find their purpose in God's will.  

Monday, October 14, 2019

Because We Care...and Want to Make a Difference

Our students got the benefit of a nice "fall break" this week while our teaching staff spent a couple of days being students themselves at a professional development event sponsored by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) at Aurora Christian School last Thursday and Friday.  Teachers get to listen to keynote speakers and participate in small group discussions aimed at helping them get information to do a better job than they already do.  They get the opportunity to fellowship and visit with other teachers from Christian schools all over the Midwestern region.  Teachers came from schools across Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan and there were even a few from Ohio.

Spending time with other Christian school teachers is motivation and encouragement for our own staff.  It is good to spend time with fellow Christians who make similar sacrifices to teach children.  It helps "charge your battery" when you spend time with people who share the same commitment to teaching children in a school that places faith formation right alongside academic achievement. Christian school teachers see their job as a ministry vocation and a spiritual calling.  It's about doing a a good job with academic achievement so that students are prepared for the future as they enter higher education and a career field.  But it is also about faith formation, connecting everything students learn in the classroom to a Biblical perspective and teaching the soul from the point of leading students to Jesus and helping them grow in their faith.  It is impossible for education to take place in a vacuum.  Thanks to teachers who see the value of helping students connect the knowledge they learn in class to a spiritual source and who are willing to sacrifice to teach, your children can be in a school where excellent academics go hand in hand with spiritual growth and Christian discipleship.

A conference like the one we attended helps dispel common misconceptions about Christian schools. The qualifications and requirements to teach in a Christian school are rigorous.  Not only must teachers have proper credentials, certification and experience but they must also have a strong, mature Christian faith.  It takes a mature Christian to understand all that teaching in Christian school requires.  Many of the people sitting in those conferences last week already have an advanced degree in their field and are willing to provide for additional education, most often at their own expense, since few Christian schools can afford to help much with the cost of additional education.  In addition to educational requirements, most Christian school teachers have also taken Biblical studies courses at the college or graduate level in order to ensure their competence as a student's spiritual counselor.

Giving up personal time for students is also a requirement and a sacrifice your child's Christian school teachers make.  As I write this, at 7 P.M. on a school holiday, no doubt your child's teachers are either preparing for tomorrow or have already taken time today to do it, or they're grading papers or entering grades or coming up with lesson plans or any of a dozen things to get ready for tomorrow.  It's "off the clock" but it is expected and our teachers are willing to invest the time to get the results.  No doubt many of the materials and items your child will use in the classroom tomorrow were provided out of the teacher's personal pocket.

Tuition and fees are always a big discussion item when parents get together.  The salaries Christian school teachers are willing to accept in order to serve are sacrificial compared to the life that most of the students are living.  Those salaries make it possible for you to afford to send  your child to a Christian school.  Every one of your child's teachers has personally made it possible for your child to attend by working for wages which allow the school to keep tuition costs affordable for most parents.  In order to pay our teachers at MCA the average salary of a teacher in the Chicago public schools would require us to more than double the current tuition and fee structure.  Every teacher at MCA is qualified and experienced enough to teach anywhere else, and many of them have come from jobs in the public school system to work here because they know they are making a difference, and they care. 

So when you come back to school tomorrow, keep all of this in mind.  Your child is getting a strong academic education paired with Christian faith formation because of the work that their teachers and the school staff is willing to sacrifice in order to do.  We hope you enjoyed your time off as much as we enjoyed our time together with other Christian school teachers and staff.

God's blessings to you!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Educational Facts and Myths: Christian Schools vs. Charter Schools

Every parent that makes a choice to sent their child to a school other than the neighborhood public school or district school to which they are assigned is making an "educational choice."  There are significant, multiple reasons for parents to make these choices.  For most of our parents here at MCA, the choice is based on the fact that as a school, we support and undergird an Evangelical Christian perspective of education that recognizes parental responsibility and involvement.  We are mission driven in our approach, committed to connecting every learning objective to a Christian view of life, supporting institutions of home and church as partners in the growth and development of children. 

The growth of private, Christian schools up until the 1990's created a competitive market in the educational sector.  Schools appealed to various constituencies for students based on the mission that motivated their existence.  What you had to do as a school to "compete" was a big part of the image that you projected.  Most Christian schools added fine arts, specialized electives and athletic programs to "compete."  But the main attraction to most Christian schools was, and remains, the mission driven approach to education that emphasizes connecting learning objectives to a Christian perspective and providing an education for the "whole" child, including support for their personal Christian faith.

One of the biggest competitors for students over the past 20 years has been the Charter school segment of public education.  Charter schools brought a mission-driven approach to public education, along with selective enrollment, specialized programs, smaller class sizes (in some cases) and since they receive a tax allocation for each student enrolled, the cost of attending one of these schools is much less than paying tuition at a Christian school.  The one significant difference is that, because Charter schools are still public schools, they are still secular in nature and they are still under the public system's mandates with regard to the content of their curriculum.  Philosophically, they still must follow the principle of "religious neutrality" by removing references to anything "religious" from their curriculum.

As you might expect when federal and state tax money is made available with limits on the restrictions of its use in education, Charter schools became synonymous with fraud.  And while most of them do a good public relations job of promoting their special programs, emphasis and the mission that motivates their work, with relatively few exceptions, Charter schools are not showing evidence that they are a viable academic alternative to the public education system.

"A well-publicized study of charter schools by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) in 15 states and the District of Columbia studied 70% of the students enrolled in charter schools in the U.S. They found 17 percent of charters posted academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, 37 percent of charter schools were significantly worse, and 46 percent were statistically indistinguishable. Another recent study by Zimmer et al. found that charters in five jurisdictions were performing the same as traditional public schools, while charter schools in two other jurisdictions were performing worse. "(National Conference of State Legislatures, Podcast September 2019) 

If the spiritual values that are at the core of your Christian faith are the most important part of your child's education, then a charter school won't help you with that.  They operate under the same secular humanist philosophy of education that the public education system does.  Consequently, you will not find them to be supportive of those values in your home and church which reflect your Christian faith, nor will your children who are enrolled in them be taught that there is a connection to the revealed knowledge of God in everything they are learning. 

While we can't speak for all Christian schools, there is research available which shows that Christian school students consistently achieve at higher academic levels than their counterparts in the public school system virtually across the board.  Here at MCA, we use a nationally-based achievement test to measure our average yearly progress.  While we don't have a direct comparison by which to measure our progress against that of students in charter schools, the measurement we do use shows that 90% of our students score in the top half of expected outcomes, compared to just 50% of students in the public school system.  Since the research shows that charter schools generally fall within the range of public school expectations, we can conclude that the strength of our academic program exceeds that of charter schools. 

Enrolling in a charter school doesn't generally cost you more than public education, though there may be additional fees for sports or fine arts participation. There is no tuition, but since charter schools do not get property tax dollars, they are not able to pay their teachers at the same level as public schools can do.  But it is not an equal exchange with what you get in a Christian school.  They cannot offer you a school with a distinctively Christian atmosphere, Biblical truth connected to each curriculum objective, a teaching staff made up of born-again believers in Christ and the kind of academic excellence you will receive here.