A few months ago, I proposed that each Christian school and Christian school leader must answer the following questions about their institution in order to navigate a way through these turbulent times in education policy:
- Why does your school exist? (Part I)
- What makes your school distinct? (Part II)
- How does your school measure student learning, institutional success, and organizational health?
- Who are you connected to and aligned with as part of a local and national professional network?
Like all quality institutions we need to know who we are, where we are going, how we are going to get there, and with whom we are in this venture. The biggest difficulty I see for the success of Christian schools within a world of inconsistency is that most school leaders can’t explain their quality outside factors that can be attributed to the demographics of the student body.
When NCLB was new and the ideas of accountability through assessment had entered the conversation I was asked whether my students were succeeding. I gave the traditional measures of hard work and behavior and then began to pontificate anecdotally. To my benefit I was challenged on my answer, which is a question/statement that has remained with me ever since in my pursuit for better classroom learning, school culture, and institutional success. My inquisitor asked, “How do you really know when you’re work and student effort has been successful?”
Let’s be forthright though and acknowledge that we can never fully know the completeness of our work; however, I rather know as much about the incompleteness than take an anecdotal stab in the dark. When working within the Christian school movement, I find that we are a decade behind our professional counterparts in public, charter, and independent schools in measuring success, and I desire that Christian schools become places where data is collected and analyzed. These are basic areas of data collection schools should use in order to discern measures of success:
- Academic Success
- Spiritual Development
- Student Engagement
- Institutional Culture and Organizational Health
- Fiscal Viability
- Market Research and Enrollment Analytics
- Alumni Outcomes
- Each of these could entail a blog of their own, and I hope others will write on how they gather data on each; however, it is important to collect as much data as possible to begin to put together some semblance of understanding of mission success.
A key to understanding your own success is being able to compare that success with local public and private schools as well as national trends or guidelines for healthy schools. You may not find all of the comparable information that you would like, but you will begin to develop a data set that allows you to make greater judgments in regards to the quality of your school and the educational product it delivers.
You cannot keep this information private, but you don’t necessarily need to share all of the information with everyone. However, when you do use the data in an honest way it can catalyze change and innovation, provide a real marketing narrative, and create opportunities for celebration within the institution. In comparison, most schools change on a whim, market the blessings of demographic quality rather than areas of institutional quality, and bemoan inadequacies while rarely celebrating successful initiatives.
Strive for Greater Mission Success
This data development will allow you to navigate the “Ed Policy Storms” with greater clarity and success because you will have better information on your own institution and where it fits within the larger educational community. Knowing where you are at in regards to mission success will allow you to make more informed and tactical decisions as to changes, initiatives, and improvements that seem to constantly bombard us from education researchers and policymakers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.