Good questions for sure! And, ones I have been asked a few times this past month. My personal response reflects two thought paths. The first comes from Philippians 2:1-4:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Paul gives a very powerful charge to the people of Philippi as well as to us. If the Roman jailor, Lydia the Jewish purple fabric-loving merchant, and the now un-possessed slave girl (Romans 16) can get together around this believing-in-Jesus thing, there is definitely unity to be found within our organizations that exist to provide Christ-centered education for our children! CACE is “other-centered” at our core, hoping to provide a marketplace of ideas for those like-minded in the task of Christian schooling.
The second urgent reason for CACE comes from the “state of Christian schools” that I have heard directly from many Christian school administrators and read about from researchers such as Chester Finn, a well-known author and educator. Finn notes the decline in the private school world in an article in The Atlantic. Private schools, after experiencing steady growth in the 1990’s, have dropped a full percent (11% of the percentage of total students in 2005 to 10% of the percentage of total students in 2010). While one percent does not seem like a big deal in our world of readily available statistics, it represents almost 1 million students!
We have some real challenges ahead of us as those who support, administrate, teach, or send our children to Christian schools. As the traditional model of private education (P-12 and college/university) becomes unaffordable or seemingly unnecessary, and more viable options for students and families begin to pop-up, private schools need to re-examine the return on investment that families are looking for. What are parents looking for? Check out the Friedman Foundation’s recent report, Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools, available on our website. CACE encourages you to spend some time with your faculty, school board, council, friends, etc. examining this report. We provided a discussion guide, based on the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative’s review of this research, with some questions to help get you started.
Finn also states that elite private institutions are “doing just fine, besieged by more applicants than ever before.” Generally speaking, Christians tend to shy away from the word “elite” as a descriptor of our Christian schools, most likely because this word is typically associated with the wealthy or upper social classes in North America. What if we would put to good use another definition of this word, “the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group.” Let’s choose, as a group of people passionate about Christian education, to make our schools elite (not elitist!). Let’s not shy away from this word and continue to create elite Christian schools, seeking to become the best at fulfilling our mission to walk alongside parents and the church to equip children to create culture, lead innovation, and serve well in God’s Kingdom.
Why CACE? We see the need to provide a marketplace of ideas for Christian teachers, school leaders, pastors, church leaders and parents to consider as the engage in Christian education. We see the need to provide targeted assistance to Christian schools that are looking to improve and innovate.
Why now? The time to do our work as isolated Christian schools and “pockets of excellence” has passed. Christian schools need to unite, share resources, publish best practices, and lead. We are passionate about graduates of Christian schools becoming part of the cultural remedy that our society needs.
Join us! Take resources, share resources, become “elite” in the way that gives God the glory!
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.