Education policy in the United States has moved from a period of change into a time of chaos. The predominant policies and actions of the past fifty years have been turned on their head through federal government legislation, private money, and exceptions to nearly every pre-established rule. In a sense, we are exiting what I call the “Teacher Union Era” of American education into something yet to be determined. Throughout all significant era changes in history there comes a period of chaos, just as there was in the 1960s when the AFT led teacher strikes brought a final end to a former era in education.
Short Summary of Main Factors in Ed Policy Disruption:
The earthquake that began the disruption was in 2001 when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was renewed by Congress under the title of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was the most significant legislative policy of the Bush presidency outside of the War on Terror and Homeland Security. This was significant because conservatives began to use federal money through the Department of Education as a tool for wresting educational power away from the established power of public school unions. If you were alive in the 1970s, you’ll remember that the NEA pushed for the development of the DoE at the objections of the AFT as Shanker opposed giving bureaucrats power over the teaching profession. You’ll also remember that Reagan’s educational platform was to disband the DoE altogether. The Bush policy shift united conservatives with progressives in the attempt to use the federal government to reform public education, which has continued throughout the Obama presidency.
NCLB solidified the standards and accountability movement in education that allowed for incredible disruption in established beliefs about public education with the addition of charter schools and alternative teacher preparation programs like Teach for America, the development of the Common Core and nationalized testing, and the opening of the public education to the influence of private foundations like the Gates Foundation. Other events had a great impact on adding to this policy chaos including Hurricane Katrina and the rebuilding of the New Orleans public schools under Paul Vallas as charter schools, the 2008 financial crisis which allowed the Obama administration to use the ARRA to incentivize change in public schools through “Race to the Top” funding, and the current court rulings that have eroded union power by limiting the collection of funds and diminishing teacher tenure laws. These changes don’t even take into account the disruptive power of technology and the movement to de-accredit religious institutions that are seen as discriminatory (Conn Article and Jones Response).
Christian Schools: Why does this matter?
In the Christian school tradition over this same period of time there have been two primary branches within the Christian school movement. The Dutch-Reformed Christian schools generally were an alternative to public schools and were usually modeled after the local public school. These schools were more accommodating and tended to follow the trends of teacher professionalism and education practice that came from the local public school district. The Evangelical Christian schools, especially those started after 1960, were often reactionary and tended to be opposed to public school policies and trends. If you find yourself within the tradition of either camp or another tradition completely I believe it is important for Christian schools to begin to work their way through the current policy chaos and into a place where Christian schools can be a model of professional practice, a guarantor of student learning and development, organizations that are intentionally Christian, and a professional community prepared to withstand the coming de-accreditation crisis.
Three Questions for Consideration and Development:
My desire is not to provide a political stance on education policy, but rather for us as Christian school leaders and proponents to better understand the political and professional world in which we live and work. Likewise, I hope to develop the following questions in future blogs, but I think these four questions will allow for Christian schools to navigate a course to future quality and sustainability.
1. Why does your school exist?
2. What makes your school distinct?
3. How does your school measure student learning, institutional success, and organizational health?
4. Who are you connected to and aligned with as part of a local and national professional network?
Erik Ellefsen has served in education for 21 years as a teacher, coach, consultant, Grievance Chairman for the American Federation of Teachers, Dean of Academics at Boston Trinity Academy, and as Principal at Chicago Christian High School. He currently serves as an Academic and College Counselor at Valley Christian High School (San Jose, CA), a Senior Fellow for CACE, a Senior Fellow for Cardus, podcaster for Digical Education, and as Vice President of CCEI. Erik regularly organizes Christian school leadership seminars and speaks on issues pertaining to academic program, student leadership, and organizational development. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.