Tony Kamphuis, Director of Niagara Association for Christian Education, sent CACE a link after reading More Than Scores – An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools, the Friedman Foundation’s paper documenting their findings on why parents choose private schools. A similar discovery paper was funded by the Society for Quality Education and published by The Fraser Institute , an independent public policy research and educational organization with regional offices throughout Canada.
This paper, published in 2007, asked some excellent questions that I believe Christian school leaders must be able to provide research-based answers to. What are the characteristics of my school? Why are parents choosing my school over the public school? What kinds of parents are choosing my school?
Could you answer these questions for your school? With real data as well as the wonderful anecdotal responses we also need to have in our back pocket to share with prospective families? The first time I, as the head of school, was able to answer such questions with valid data was during a capital campaign process we had entered into. We contracted with a development organization that collected and analyzed the survey data for us. What an investment this turned out to be! These data certainly helped us conduct a successful capital campaign but there were unintended consequences (reminded me of the “hidden curriculum” that exists in schools) that changed our school in ways we had not anticipated. Two significant benefits come to mind. First, the research helped us identify some of the strengths of the school that we did not realize parents readily identified. This led to a change in the way we marketed our school , allowing us to develop a profile for the kind of parents who might choose our school. Second, the research uncovered some areas of improvement that we probably knew needed to be addressed but the data spotlighted these areas so that there was no hiding them any longer.
While both benefits were significant, the second benefit was definitely the hardest to accept. I am guessing your school has a couple of such areas of needed improvement that the teaching faculty and administration realize but, for a slew of different reasons, not much is being done to begin the change process. Some of the issues we were able to identify and address through the research were a human resource issue with a longtime employee; the need to make a decision on whether to merge with a 6-12 Christian school; and the need for a new facility in a different part of the city. I can envision lots of possibilities – a curricular decision on whether to go 1:1; a coaching change; how to provide college credits during the high school years…the list is unique to the culture of each Christian school.
We need to know the answers to these questions for Christian schools to flourish. The next generation of parents is looking for alternatives to public education but these alternatives need to be of the highest quality and worth the return on their investment. CACE is here to help. If you are interested in Christian organizations who want to walk alongside you to find these answers, please contact us. We are building a list of trusted companies that can provide these services, with references that you may already be connected with (or might want to be connected with!).
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.