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.  

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