Ed Policy Chaos: Why it Matters to Christian Schools

Erik EllefsenSchool Leaders, The CACE Roundtable1 Comment

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

    Erik Ellefsen is a CACE Senior Fellow and the Director of Networks and Improvement at the Baylor University’s Center for School Leadership. He also serves as Senior Fellow for Cardus, hosts Digital Education (a podcast providing engaging conversations with some of the most innovative education leaders), and is a leading collaborator and author of the Mindshift and Future Ready projects.

One Comment on “Ed Policy Chaos: Why it Matters to Christian Schools”

  1. Erik, very well said. What deserves some more comment (and discussion) is the current tension between the upcoming ‘chaos’ period and the current ‘Teacher Union Era’ where the teacher was (and in some places still is) the de-facto customer of Christian education [not the student, not the parent (who as the story goes doesn’t know the teacher’s job], and not the mission of the school. It stands to reason that while this shift happens, the teacher (the related ‘union’ mindset) will makes some last minute bold efforts to retain the power and focus…sometimes at the expense of the administrators, sometimes the parents, and sometimes the student. Some schools, of course, have a faculty lounge that is much more progressive and willing to change, but on the whole, chaos means that the Board tries to instill one thing, the administration another, and the teacher another… with the parent wondering “what is going on down there at school?” ~RS

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