Source: ben in CHI via Flickr
If Christian schools are formed to bring honor to God through the education of children about God’s Word and world, then why don’t some Christian schools ask others to come in to see if they are doing just that in the best possible ways? Why aren’t they asking for help from fellow educators and holding themselves accountable to identified standards of excellence through an accreditation process? This question has disturbed me over the past several years as I have worked with schools to help them improve what they are doing through school accreditation.
Here are several good reasons why Christian schools should be seeking accreditation:
- To connect what you say with what you do – A lofty mission is a wonderful thing, but not worth the paper it is written on if it is not lived out. If we are to offer our best we must know what the best is and connect our missions that talk about excellence to practices of excellence. We need to ask others for their objective opinions to see if we are connecting mission and practice.
- We ought to submit to one another – We ought to, especially as Christians, be willing to approach one another in humility and seek wisdom from each other. If we think we have it all together and don’t need what we might learn from others, then we are perhaps manifesting a spirit of arrogance that is not Christ-like. We all have things to learn from each other and we are accountable to each other as fellow workers in Christ’s kingdom.
- To offer our best out of love and gratitude – If as followers of Christ we seek to offer our lives as living sacrifices and offer our best efforts as praise, then we must seek out marks of excellence – what is the best and how can we work toward it? In both Old Testament and New Testament we see examples of God’s displeasure with offerings done out of tradition or cognition and not from the heart. He was pleased with those who gave their best from the heart and was not concerned with the size of the gift.
- We should not operate from a spirit of fear or inferiority – Sometimes we may be reluctant to open our schools to others because we don’t “have it all together yet.” The truth is that every school is operating on its own journey of situations and circumstances, working with the people and resources God has blessed them with. I have done multiple visits and have yet to find a school that has everything in place. We are all working with strengths and weaknesses and so this awareness should not hold us back.
- We should use our time and resources wisely – Some may feel accreditation is spending extra time or resources that the school does not have to find out things they already know. The accreditation process does take some extra time and energy but it is a valuable thing to do because it has the possibility to affirm and/or redirect current practices and future visions, to focus many ideas and goals down to the most critical ones, and to help give guidance to further improvement steps. It can be a critical lever to help move improvement efforts forward with board, staff, and stakeholders. The process can help the school take a comprehensive look at what it is doing, how it is meeting its mission, and how to best use its resources to move forward.
Source: Andreas-photography via Flickr
A set of key questions has arisen as schools in the CSI community, founded largely by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, have moved from schools that served an immigrant community to being schools that serve the broader community. That question is: “What is our identity and given that identity, what type of student do we serve? What kinds of services should we be providing?”
Schools have taken several approaches to answering that question. In the early days (pre-1970’s), students with special needs were often sent to public schools, to self-contained boarding schools (Elim Christian School being one example), or kept at home in the case of more intense special needs. For the purpose of this discussion we will define special needs as those students who, due to physical, cognitive, emotional, or social/behaviorial issues demand additional services and support beyond that of the average student. This could include students on either end of the academic spectrum whether impaired or gifted.
The current approaches fall into these categories:
- The Christian school community in a given area should share the extra cost to educate children from Christian families to the greatest degree possible.
- The Christian school draws an arbitrary line as to what services can be offered and borne by the larger parent community. This may vary from school to school; the line typically may include students with mild cognitive impairments, for example.
- The Christian school operates with a selective admissions policy in the academic and behavioral realm and only allows students within a prescribed band to be admitted.
- The Christian school community accepts students with special needs, but the additional cost for services is borne entirely by the parents of the students.
My hope in writing this post is that we might have a broader discussion of this issue, not to provide answers. As you read the four categories above, you may have found yourself raising certain questions:
- How can schools make it financially feasible when they take all students? Doesn’t that raise tuition to an unaffordable level for the average parent?
- But, aren’t we supposed to be our brother’s keeper? Isn’t it the job of the entire Christian community to function as a whole, as a body?
- How do we draw an arbitrary line that doesn’t feel arbitrary to parents? What about parents of students who are just on the other side of the line? When do we make exceptions?
- Was Christ’s ministry just to the best thinkers or to all? Shouldn’t we be emulating him in our ministry to students?
- But, isn’t it more honest to say we are not equipped to take on students that we can’t service? Isn’t it unethical to take students for their tuition dollars and then not service them appropriately – on either end of the spectrum?
- Do we need services for gifted students? Won’t they just do well anyway?
- Is it fair to penalize parents for the needs of their students? Why should a Christian education be less possible for those who are blessed with children who have special needs?
- How does the broader community view our schools in the light of the categories that were described above? Does it challenge or affirm the stereotypes they may already have about Christian schools?
- What would Jesus do if he were the head of your school?
What do you think?
It seems appropriate to celebrate the positive results of Protestant Christian school education that we see through the research contained within the Cardus survey. As Christians we sometimes have difficulty celebrating the goodness and grace of God in our lives.
Yet here are many things worthy of celebration! Compared to their public school, Catholic school, and non-religious private school peers, Protestant Christian school students do the following:
- Show a higher level of commitment to their families, churches, and larger society
- Donate more money despite having lower household incomes
- Are more generous with their time
- Participate more in service trips for relief and development and in mission trips for evangelization
- Make family a top priority and consequently divorce less frequently
- Are more thankful for what they have in life
- Do not feel helpless when dealing with problems in life
- Report greater direction in their lives
- Are committed to progress in their communities
- Practice spiritual disciplines more frequently
- Are more committed to their churches
- Follow church teachings to a greater degree
- Use Scripture more to make moral decisions
- Believe religion should be a part of the public debate on social and political issues
- Demonstrate a theological sense of vocation
Christian educators should feel a sense of joy and satisfaction when thinking of the hours of prayer, instruction, correction and direction that go into being a part of producing students with the kinds of qualities listed above. We are also grateful for God’s grace in the lives of students in our schools. Who would not be proud of students displaying these wonderful qualities? Certainly our students make the world a better place and contribute significantly to daily life through their “faithful presence” and their obedience to Christ in living out their faith. We have much to be thankful for!