Monday, June 10, 2019

Improvements at MCA: Increased Use of Technology by Students and the Introduction of STEM Objectives

School's out!  The last student departed around 2 P.M. on Thursday and most of the teachers got rooms ready by Friday's end.  Summer camp starts Monday.

Planning for next year has already started.

Through Title IV funds, MCA was able to acquire a set of Chrome books to add to those we already have.  This purchase, and another one that is planned for next fall, will enable us to have enough chrome books on hand for whole classes to use them for assignments.  They are lightweight and portable, so they can be used in the classrooms.  We will also have a dedicated computer lab set up in the room that has been serving as a resource center.

Computer Applications Objectives
Use of the chrome books on writing and research assignments or on completing specific objectives and projects meets the objectives for Computer Applications, a required course.  This applies to grades 3 through 8.  Our computer curriculum is Google Ed and using the chrome books makes it easy to teach as students use the computers to complete class work in core subjects.

From third through eighth grade, students will have two computer projects per semester.  With the additional chrome books we purchased this year, added to those we already have, three classes can have a complete set of chrome books at the same time.  The lab will be set up for students to have access to a chrome book to complete the project if they haven't done so when the class use of the equipment has been completed.

Science, Technology, Mathematics, Engineering Objectives=STEM
Expanding objectives for science and math has been something schools in the United States have been working on for several decades.  It isn't that we haven't been teaching these subjects but that we wait until high school to provide practical applications for their use.  For science, students are generally not exposed to lab experiments until high school.  In math, the practical applications are generally limited to a business class or economics. 

A "STEM" curriculum provides elementary and middle school students with course objectives that demonstrate the practical use of science and math concepts and through the use of a project approach to learning, introduce concepts related to engineering, yes, engineering in a simple but practical way. 

So with our expanded computer inventory, you will be able to walk into a third or fourth grade classroom next fall and see students working on a project using the chrome book that is sitting on their desk.  They may be doing something as simple as figuring out the capability of a device they are building with string and cardboard to move a basketball from the floor to the top of a table without touching it, or something as complicated as building a model bridge for a competition with other students. 

And yes, our teachers are qualified instructors in these areas.  It's simply a matter of taking objectives they already have in their curriculum and finding projects which allow students to practically apply the principles.  The teachers become facilitators, the students learn by finding the information and completing the project.  Their Google Ed platform allows them to store their work and then find it on their own device later. 

Correcting a False Perception
Private, Christian schools do indeed operate on a limited budget.  Sometimes parents get the perception that because we don't have the resources that public schools do, our students don't do as well.  But that isn't the case.  Not by a long shot. 

While an achievement test isn't the only way to evaluate student performance, it does tell you a lot about what your students have learned in a year.  At MCA, we give the Terra Nova Achievement Test.  This is a test designed to measure average yearly progress (AYP) in order to determine if they are learning what is expected of a student on their grade level. 

The scores are divided into quartiles, or fourths, evenly on a 100 point scale.  The responses of the students are recorded based on the percentage of questions they answered correctly and what specific concept in the subject area that the question measured.  Since the standards for achievement vary from state to state, the Terra Nova measures students on a national scale for accuracy.  The expected outcomes are measured on what is known as a standard "bell curve." 

92% of MCA students finished with a "high average" or "above average" percentile rank in two of the three core subject areas of mathematics, reading skills or language skills.  

As a private school with small class sizes and the expectation of higher student achievement, we would expect the class average composite scores on the Terra Nova to fall between the 60th and 70th percentile.  Ours are a little higher than that, ranging from the 65th to the 75th percentile.  But that puts us achieving scores which are about 15% higher than those of the public school system.  The test is based on national standards, so those numbers are excellent numbers. 

In addition to this assessment, our third grade students took a standardized math exam in October and scored about 15% higher than the national norms.  So if you wanted proof of the academic excellence of the curriculum and instruction at MCA, there it is. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Catch This Vision

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is within him?  In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who comes from God , so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God.  We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.  I Corinthians 2:11-13

About a hundred years ago or so, give or take a few years here and there, the public education system in the United States was developing into its current form of schools supported by various levels of public funds including state and federal funding.  The reasoning behind that was to expand the reach of public schools so that equal opportunity existed in rural areas as well as the cities, so that business had access to a trained and educated workforce and because the preservation of the American Republic depended on an educated electorate.

The Catholic Church discovered that the public school system wasn't ideally suited to provide education to its children because it was overwhelmingly influenced by Protestants in its approach to education and in the daily routines for students which included prayer and Bible reading.  So the Catholic church in America set out to establish and develop a school system of its own, in which Catholic students would be taught the principles and beliefs of the Catholic faith alongside the objectives for math, science, social studies and language arts.  Over time, the structure of the church through its parishes and dioceses dedicated huge amounts of money to what they termed "Christian education" which meant the education of the church's children.  They determined to make it possible for every Catholic child in America to attend a Catholic school if they desired, and they strongly encouraged that desire.

The impact of Catholic schools on the church in the United States has been remarkable.  Church schools not only stemmed the tide of conversions of Catholics in the public schools to Protestant faiths, but they laid a foundation for support for the church that sustained it through generations of growth and expansion of ministry.  The schools helped themselves by generating volunteers to serve in the clergy and as Nuns who returned to the schools to teach, providing instruction at a very low cost to the schools, enabling more students to enroll.  It is estimated that over 80% of the volunteers for positions of ministry and service in the church came from their schools.  The Catholic church in America enjoyed its greatest period of expansion as a result of their commitment to educating children in schools operated by the church.  The vision for educating children with the goal of their becoming faithful members of the church was supported as a ministry function of the church by a considerable portion of the church budget.

Evangelical Christians began to wake up to the turn of the public education system toward promoting a more secular and humanistic philosophy in its teaching in the early 1950's.  By then, humanist philosophy was already well embedded in the standard curriculum of the public school system.  Awareness of the shift came as the removal of publicly recited prayer and the daily reading of scripture was removed from the schools in actions supported by the federal court system, declaring such activity as a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.  Since that time, the prevailing philosophy of public education has virtually eliminated any religious influences in the schools at all.  The goal of the humanists who gained complete control of public education by controlling the curriculum of colleges and universities where teachers are trained is to bring about societal change through education.  They see the church as a negative influence, darkening minds, perpetuating bigotry and prejudice and they are systematically working to eliminate its influence on society

The response of Evangelical Christians to this turn in public education was similar to the approach of the Catholic church.  Realizing that the school has major influence in the lives of its students because it has them for seven hours a day, five days a week, and the church is lucky to have them for more than a couple of hours a week if they are really faithful attenders, Evangelical Christian schools began to pop up starting in the mid-1950's.  Midwestern Christian Academy was one of those early schools.  Christian schools have been very successful in supporting and undergirding the purpose and ministry of the church, in providing a steady stream of well trained, well educated, spiritually equipped people to minister and serve.  The Christian school movement peaked in the mid-1990's when as many as 7% of all school aged children in the US attended a Christian school operated from an Evangelical perspective.

Unlike the Catholic schools, however, Evangelical Christian schools have not had nearly the impact or affect on the mission and ministry of the church.  That's because, unlike the Catholic church, Evangelical churches failed to unite together in support of the schools which were being started and left financial support and provision of resources largely up to the parents who wanted to enroll their children.  They operated like the academic private school sector and as a result, only those families who could afford the tuition could send their children to a Christian school.  Those who were unable to do so were left either to do their best with public school or find a way to educate their children at home, which relatively few parents comparatively are able to do in a way that allows their children to be academically competitive.

At one point, as many as 80% of the children whose families were members of any given Catholic church had their children in one of the church's schools.  Among Evangelicals, the percentage of children of church members in Christian schools has never exceeded 10%.  What the Christian schools have done in terms of support, such as producing a stream of vocational ministers, missionaries and church volunteers in relatively large numbers, has been remarkable and is proportionally much larger than the size of the schools in its impact on the churches.  But unlike the Catholics, whose hierarchical church structure made it easy for the church to unite around support for its schools, Evangelical Christians have not united around their schools.  Many of them see the problems in public education but their pastors and church leaders have a "turf protection" mentality when it comes to Christian schools.   It is very short sighted, but it is a fact that many Evangelicals will not financially support something they are not able to completely control.

The lack of ability to provide resources has created problems which have caused a drop in Christian school enrollment and a decline in the number of Christian schools in America.  Teacher salaries, kept low because of tuition costs, have reached a point where students graduating from college cannot make student loan payments on the salaries paid by Christian schools.  Lacking the ability to reasonably staff their schools with quality instructors, Christian schools are forced to close.  Increasing tuition, which is the only way 90% of the Christian schools in the US are supported, only decreases enrollment and puts the schools further out of reach of those who can't afford them.  Evangelical Christian schools at their peak in the mid-1990's enrolled about 10% of the children and teenagers whose families were church members.  That figure has dropped to 6% as of 2015.

The decline in Christian school enrollment has come at a time when the effect of the secularization and the humanist agenda in the public education system is causing a decline in Evangelical church membership and attendance.  Major denominations considered part of the "Evangelical" Christian community in the US are showing declines in membership over the past decade that are staggering in their scope.  The drop in the number of individuals baptized in churches when they profess Christ as their savior is also down over the past decade.  Since 90% of all baptisms among Evangelicals are children under 12, some of the decline can be attributed to a drop in the birth rate.  But how much of it is a result of the fact that the parents of most school-aged children now are Millennials, who were taught in school that churches have no value to society and among whom less than 20% are active and involved in the church?

We need Christian schools now more than ever and we need churches to catch that vision, see the value of Christian school education and the potential impact it can have on the ministry and mission of the church, unify around that purpose and provide support so that the schools can provide the ministers to reverse the trends.  Evangelical Christians in the United States spend 6 billion dollars a year on books, media and music, and 4 billion on interest on the debt they owe for buildings that sit empty six days a week.  They give just under a billion to overseas missions, and spend just under $200 million on "Christian education," most of which is buying some kind of curriculum materials.  They leave the parents of children to pay the tuition bill at the Christian school they attend which, in turn, provides the church with much of its leadership.

What kind of an impact on the ministry of the church could Christian schools have if they had the kind of financial support and church unity behind them that the Catholic schools did for over a hundred years?  Just imagine that.  What could happen if we spent $6 billion on education that counters the lie that the church isn't a benefit to society instead of on moves or music?