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. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Spiritual Truths and the Education of Children

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him--these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.  For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person which is in him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person judges all things but is himself judged by no one.  For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?  But we have the mind of Christ. 

I was reading an article in a professional development publication for teachers that contained the following quote from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, written in 1990:

"Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.  Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books."  (Bishop 1990) . 

The quote was used to support the inclusion of books which reflect experiences from authors who write from a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) perspective in public school classrooms.  The author of the journal article is a fifth-grade teacher in a Chicago-area public school who believes that all classrooms should have a collection of books which reflect the LGBTQ perspective as a means of connecting students to the "windows of reality" in the wide world that exists outside of the classroom.  Reading them will "help students build empathy for those whose experiences might not match their own.  Hearing these stories can be a better way to understand others, to have their questions answered, to be prepared for the people they will encounter in this world." (Liftshitz, 2019)

I agree that hearing the stories and experiences of others increases our understanding of their perspective and promotes the kind of mutual respect between us that God requires us to have for each other.  The question isn't about ways to help students gain this kind of understanding, or even whether they should have it.  The question is who decides when they are able to develop the kind of discernment that leads to understanding and when are they mature enough in their life experience and in their thinking to develop the expected outcome?

Those choices do not belong to the government or to the school.  They belong to the parents, who have been given the authority and responsibility for educating their children by the God of the universe who created them, as well as all of the other very diverse and unique human beings on the face of the earth.  And the fact of the matter is that your children are already exposed to many of these things through the media where there is no filter, frame of reference or control.  School should not be another place where information is given out where students aren't provided with any spiritual frame of reference or ability to discern.  The article that I am referencing describes a setting where students in the fifth grade class either read the book on their own or the teacher reads it and opens up for questions to follow.  The public school position of "religious neutrality" makes it a certainty that the answers that are given will not reflect the principle of "interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual".

The decision regarding when to talk to your children about these things is also up to parents.  The access they have to media may already take the timing out of your hands, but at least you have some control over that as well and you have control of the content of your answer.  You don't have a guarantee that your child will always accept everything you say at face value but you at least have the opportunity to decide when they will hear it.

Leaving these decisions up to parents doesn't mean that kids will wind up developing bigotry and hatred toward those who are different, who have made different lifestyle choices and decisions.  As John 3:17-18 say, Jesus didn't come to the world to condemn it, because it was already condemned, he came to save it.  The gospel is a message of salvation and redemption, not judgment and condemnation.  Where do students in fifth grade find those books?

And here's another problem with this whole issue.  What do you think the chances are that a fifth grade classroom's choice of books for students to read also includes stories and experiences of those who have found God's grace and experienced his redemption?  If you are truly inclusive and you genuinely believe that reading is a means of self-affirmation and that readers often seek their mirrors in books, shouldn't your classroom collection contain books by authors who describe their experience of redemption through Jesus?

If your child is in a publicly funded school, either a public school or a charter school, the curriculum objectives related to LGBTQ studies is integrated into the curriculum.  In spite of the fact that your objection to their study of it appeals to religious freedom, you will likely not know when it will be discussed or when your child will be reading a book related to the topic.  That takes the choice out of parents hands and places it in the hands of a government bureaucracy.  There is no discretion or discernment of a child's spiritual or emotional maturity in being able to form a personal choice based on their Christian faith.