Monday, December 28, 2020

MCA Moving Forward Toward Full Accreditation: What That Means to Our Ministry

A little over three years ago, MCA applied to be accredited by the commission of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).  MCA is a long-time member of ACSI, which is the largest organization of Evangelical Christian Schools in the world, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  ACSI provides Christian schools with fellowship, professional services and professional development for staff, textbook series in core subject areas for students, student activities like band festivals, Math Olympics, Fine Arts competitions, district speech meets and a creative writing competition.  It conducts Christian leadership conferences for middle school and high school students and holds an annual professional development event for teachers in various states and regions across the United States.  

The ACSI accreditation commission is fully recognized to grant accreditation by the education departments of all fifty states.  It is modelled after the private regional accreditation agencies that provide this service to all schools, public, charter or private, across the country and has dual-accreditation arrangements with at least three of the other regional agencies, including Middle States, North-Central and Advanced Ed.  What that means is that when a Christian school is accredited by ACSI, the accreditation is recognized by the other agencies.  

Why Seek Accreditation

"Accredited schools are excellent schools and excellent schools seek accreditation."  

I'm not sure of the origins of this statement, but it is one that I've heard since becoming involved with ACSI over thirty years ago.  Private schools in Illinois can seek state recognition, which indicates that they have met a specific set of standards with regard to curriculum and instruction, school operations and quality of the academic program.  Recognition ensures that the credit students earn in their classes meets the minimum standards required by the state, so that the school can grant diplomas that are recognized by other schools.  MCA easily meets the standards for Illinois recognition which is all that is required to operate.  

But as  a private, Christian school, we believe we have a mission and purpose that obligates us to make sure that our students are getting what their parents expect from a school that is distinctively Christian in its educational philosophy and approach to education.  We are not here to imitate what the  public schools do, in fact, we exist because we have recognized that there are major philosophical differences in our approaches to teaching, especially in defining what is truth and recognizing that God is the source of knowledge and education is the process of helping students connect God's truth to the skills and objectives they learn each day in class.  

With humility, we are able to clearly see a major difference not only in how we define truth, but in the quality of the instruction and the curriculum as we lead students to understand and measure all of the subject content they learn using the Bible as a "ruler" and measuring rod.  Accreditation is a signal to parents that we are achieving our mission and purpose with our students and they can trust the results.  

Academic Excellence

Accreditation recognizes the quality of  the instruction in the classroom and the strength of the school's curriculum.  There are minimum standards expected.  MCA is able to document our academic achievement in several ways.  We evaluate our curriculum objectives against the state minimum requirements.  One of the measurements we use tells us what percentage of our students on each grade level are achieving at least the minimum benchmarks required in core subjects on their grade level.  At MCA, collectively, in mathematics and language arts/reading, over 90% of our students meet or exceed those minimum benchmarks.  That's compared to less than 50% of the students at one of the designated "scholastic" public schools in our part of the city, and less than 35% of the students in most of the public schools around us.  

We also compare favorably with other religious-based private schools in our part of the city, mostly the Catholic and Lutheran schools in our area.  Among those schools which publicize their scores, including three Catholic schools and two Lutheran schools, MCA students are slightly higher in their achievement of benchmarks.  Our academic offerings are limited because of our size, but the curriculum materials we use are of high quality and our course objectives are aimed at mathematics skills development and phonics-based reading.  All of our grade levels achieve percentile ranks that are over 20 points above the national average and in our last round of testing, we had three grade levels that achieved beyond the 80th percentile in both math and language arts.  

Distinctively Christian

Not all of our families are at MCA because of the school's Christian philosophy of education.  Christian schools meet parents' need for a safe environment for their child, both physically and intellectually, by focusing on the academic objectives and leaving out instruction in social issues and perspectives that isn't consistent with what families want their children to learn in school.  But measuring the school's effectiveness as a discipleship ministry is part of the accreditation process.  What is the expected spiritual outcome for students who graduate from MCA?  

Students in public schools are exposed to a progressive philosophy of secular humanism every day in every class.  Science, English and composition classes and Social Studies are specifically loaded with objectives which acknowledge human intellect as the highest power in the universe, ignore or deny the existence of God and which see education as an agent of social and political change.  Moral relativism, individual choice are seen as goals which lead to individual success and achievement and fulfillment of life's purpose.  In Illinois, objectives related to instruction of students in defining and understanding homosexuality and transgender identity have been moved out of the category of sexual education, where parents can object and have their students exempted, and into science, social studies and communication skills.  

Our philosophy of education is based on Biblical truth, centering on the existence of God who is the creator and sustainer of the universe.  We do teach morals and values in our school, all based solely on a literal-historical context of the Bible, which is the revealed word of God and which has truth for its content without any mixture of error.  Our students have a Bible class every day of every school year as a core, required subject and the school community worships corporately in a chapel service each week.  Biblical truth is incorporated into the course objectives of every other subject.  Our goals in this area are to support and undergird the work of the local church, leading students to see that church membership is part of their Christian identity and the church, the body of Christ, is the vehicle for their ministry calling and service.  We believe God has given them a life ministry, purpose and calling and it is our responsibility to help them find out what that is.  

MCA's Candidacy for Accreditation

The process has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Restrictions on gatherings and the nine-weeks period of E-learning with which we finished the spring created a setback in the schedule for all accreditations.  Everything was delayed and put on hold for all schools accross the country.  Because our period of E-learning in Illinois was longer than most states, our accreditation team visit was delayed indefinitely.  We have scheduled a tentative visit for November of 2021 which will complete our process by December 31, which is the current deadline.  

What does this mean to you?  

An accredited school is an excellent school.  Of course, we already know this.  But there are always people who need to be convinced with hard facts.  During the three years of our candidacy, MCA has consistently been fully compliant with the majority of standards in the Reach Accreditation Protocol we are using.  Our academic achievement is particularly strong, our spiritual life and Christian distinctiveness exceed the expectations.  Our school operation ranks high on financial efficiency.  The educational and experience strength of our faculty and staff is high and our measurable academic goals also exceed expectations.  So accreditation means that you have your child in an excellent school that is instructing and inspiring the "whole child."  

An accredited school has a high success rate in achieving its expected student outcomes.  This is visible in every aspect of our program.  "Best practices in education" are the driving force behind our instruction.  Best practices does not always mean rooms full of video, computers, and visual and auditory stimulation.   It means a room where the teacher has figured out how to motivate their students to learn, provides them with differentiation in their instruction to appeal to their learning style and achieves results rather than entertainment.   

An accredited school provides your child with teachers who see their presence in the classroom as a ministry calling, not just a job.  Teachers in an ACSI accredited school understand that teaching is a ministry calling.  They are here primarily to provide a measure of Christian discipleship to their students which leads not just to academic success, but to connecting Biblical truth to the way they look at life so that each student has an opportunity to sense God's calling in their life and be ready to make that commitment when prompted by the Holy Spirit.  

The Future of American Evangelical Christianity Rests on Catching a Vision for Christian School Education

Progressive secular humanists succeeded in gaining control of the teacher training curriculum in the colleges and universities in American in the 1920's.  Led by John Dewey, a professsor at the University of Chicago, their aim was to bring about social reform and political change in America through control of the curriculum of the public school system.  Long a domain of Protestant influence, over the course of two generations, American colleges and universities turned out hundreds of thousands of humanist-trained teachers.  Students were exposed to their philosophy and social change aims in the school where they spent seven hours a day, five days a week.  

The church, where children and youth who are active in attendance and participation, has the students in its possession for maybe two or three hours a week, if their family is regular in attendance.  There is no way that they could compete, ideologically, on that bases.  Church researchers began to notice in the late 1970's and early 80's that Evangelical Christian churches were seeing a decline in attendance and membership that was unusual, taking place among its 20 to 30 year olds.  

The influence of secular humanism in schools was having an effect.  By the early 1980's groups like Lifeway Research and Barna were noticing that 80% of young people who were active in their church during high school had dropped out altogether by the time they finished college.  Enrollments in college-aged church ministry groups was dropping substantially.   In the venerable Southern Baptist Convention, college and young adult Bible study enrollment fell to historic lows in the 1980's and 1990's.  

The one consistent statistic in what was happening was that students who were educated at home by their parents, or who spent five or more years in a Christian school environment were not leaving their churches, and were fulfilling the leadership roles in both vocational and lay-led ministry.  One study done in the early 2000's showed that fewer than 10% of the students who were active in their church while attending a Christian school every day actually dropped out of church.  

We feel the work we are doing on accreditation, which is part of our effort to revitalize the ministry of MCA, is worth it.  We hope your family benefits from our efforts.  We'd love to have you affirm our work by re-enrolling your child for the 2021-22 school term.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Legacy and the Future of Midwestern Christian Academy

The COVID-19 pandemic is, without a doubt, the biggest disruption of life in the United States since the Second World War, and since there are few Americans alive today who are old enough to remember the Second World War, it's become the crisis of a lifetime.  Health care services are in a crisis mode and the effects of the uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19 have affected everything from the economy to church services.  

The Effect of the Pandemic on MCA

Like other schools in Illinois, MCA shifted from in-person instruction to E-learning in mid-March 2020.  We made the shift as smoothly as we could, learned some lessons along the way and finished the school year strong.  Our teachers worked especially hard to make sure that their classes achieved their expected outcomes in every subject area at every grade level.  We were grateful to be able to return to in-person instruction this fall, even with the limits and restrictions that were put in place.  

Christian schools everywhere have seen enrollment drops and have had to make budget cuts and adjustments to cope with the effects of the pandemic, and MCA is no different.  Many of our parents work in retail or own businesses like restaurants and immediately felt the effects of the stay-at-home orders while layoffs and job loss came more slowly for others.  On the plus side, the CPS decision to go with E-learning through the first two quarters did bring us some new students.  Our experience has been very similar to what most other private, Christian schools are going through in terms of a drop in enrollment and subsequently, tuition dollars which support the budget.  The pandemic is the difference between where we planned to be and where we are now.   

However, as Mark Twain once said, the reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated. 

Most Christian schools operate on a very tight budget with little wiggle room for unexpected expenses and a very small reserve.  There's a delicate balance between the resources, most of which come from parents who pay tuition for their children to attend, and the expenses, which are kept low by a variety of ways, including staff members who make sacrifices to work for salaries well below that of their public school counterparts in order to keep expenses low.  But the bottom line is that we are a ministry in which we acknowledge that God supplies all our needs.  

Before They Call, I will Answer

This school has been favored by the Lord through sixty-six years of ministry and it has faced all kinds of crises that have threatened to close the doors.  As Peter says, our enemy is always prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour and a Christian school with a mission and purpose committed to preparing students to go out into the world testifying to salvation by grace through faith in Christ and serving in the church does not suit his purpose.  But God's power comes through Peter's words.  He cares for you.  Humble yourselves.  Cast your cares on Him.  Be sober minded and watchful.  Stand firm in your faith.  

We have no plans to close the school.  Like most other private schools, we have contingency plans and the ability to adjust our expenses to accommodate short-term emergencies and situations that we didn't anticipate.  The viral pandemic wasn't something we could plan for.  So we are reaching out to alumni, former students and friends of the ministry for help.  This is something we have rarely done in the past, but it is part of what most other Christian schools do to make ends meet all the time.  And it is proving to be a means by which God is answering prayer and providing for the school's needs.  

Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.  Isaiah 65:24

The Legacy and the Future

There aren't many Christian schools around today who can trace their history back to 1954.  MCA has had the blessing of sixty-six years of ministry on the northwest side of America's third largest city, but the impact and influence of this small school has spread around the world.  Christian schools support and undergird the work of the church by teaching students to connect everything they learn to Biblical truth.  Through the classroom, students are directed to fulfill the purpose for which they have been created and called by God.  Students who once walked the halls and occupied the classrooms of MCA are not only serving in Christian vocational ministries around the world, but they are also salt and light in the communities where they live and work.  

We need to ask ourselves the question, "If our school were gone, would it be missed?"  

The need for schools which support and undergird the work of the church has never been greater.  Most churches would consider themselves fortunate to have those children who come to their services and programs under their care and teaching for a couple of hours a week.  The public school system has most children in their classrooms seven hours a day, five hours a week.  The curriculum is derived from a set of "religiously neutral" objectives which do not make any acknowledgement of the existence of God and which increasingly has removed the influence of any kind of Christian faith from the classroom, even to the point of ignoring the role of Christians and the influence of the church in history.  

This ministry is in God's hands.  It has served faithfully and remained true to its original mission and purpose.  If you look back at the school's legacy, there are many, many places where its ministry would be missed if it were gone or had never existed in the first place.  God puts visions like this in the hearts of his children in order to accomplish his will.  Looking ahead, it is not hard to imagine all of the places where students whose spiritual foundation and growth was strengthened and matured because of their daily exposure to a Christian atmosphere and solid Biblical instruction would be missed if our school wasn't here.  

We're grateful for the opportunity to be part of the effort to make sure Midwestern Christian Academy continues serving students and their families in Jesus' name for many more years.