For years Christian Schools International has been sending out notes of congratulations to member schools who celebrate milestone birthdays. Since 1980 we have been sending out congratulatory notes to schools who have celebrated their 100th birthday. On a more sobering note, far too many schools who celebrated their 100th birthday over the past thirty-five years are no longer in existence today.
Back in the 1950s when my parents were selecting a school for their four children, there was only one question that mattered, “Was the school Christian?” All they needed was “Christian” in the school name and some evidence that Christian teachers where in the classroom.
Today it’s rare to find Christian parents whose search for a school is guided by only one key question, “Is the school Christian?” Today’s parents want to know about teaching practice, learning outcomes for their children, teacher evaluation practices, and how the school will respond if their child is not challenged in the classroom. If the school’s response to those questions captures confidence, then the questions move on to spiritual formation. If parents are going to spend all that money on tuition, they want to be able to quantify the “value add”.
Chester Finn Jr. wrote a sobering piece in The May, 2013 Atlantic, entitled “Why Private Schools Are Dying Out.” Finn suggested that private (including Christian) education is becoming unaffordable, unnecessary, or both. If his premise has validity, it’s critical that Christian schools take note. Unlike other private schools, Christian schools have primarily been middle class schools. The stream of middle class Christian school alums who are now parents who say “I’ll go to good public or charter with a strong Young Life program” is on the increase.
It’s no secret that many public school options offer parents attractive pedagogy, instructional excellence, and expanding opportunities for kids.
Having said all of this, I do believe reports of the eventual demise of the Christian school are a bit premature. Christian schools around North America are paying attention to critical matters of sustainability. A sharper focus on faith nurture and faith nature practices are much more apparent in Chritian schools today. A much sharper focus on standards of excellence in the classroom is being developed. School principals and learning coaches are better equipped to observe for excellence. Christian schools are in the early stages of retooling to offer pedagogical and program choice within the context of Chrisian education. The use of technology has opened new opportunities for expanded opportunities and personalized learning in the context of school community, while flattening the rising cost trend line.
Christian schools that are flourishing are those who are retooling to address the needs of tomorrow’s learning. That number is increasing dramatically. That leaves me optimistic about their future.