Photo Above: Courtesy of Karen Moore and Susan Schwab
Grace Academy, Georgetown, TX
The education of worshipers
WORLD Magazine’s Joel Belz published an editorial on Christian schools in the U.S., “Glory Days
Behind Us” (September 03, 2016). Frequent supporters of classical Christian education, WORLD
and ACCS President David Goodwin discussed charter, Christian, and classical schools, as well as
education’s cultural force.
Interestingly, the one growth area in Christian education is classical Christian schools. Joel Belz’s “Glory Days Behind Us” editorial brings to light the decline of conventional Christian schools in the U.S., and compares education in America with that of other countries.
The “glory days” of Christian schools in America, if history is any indication, might just be in our future — but possibly not in the same form as Christian schools of the recent past. Conventional schools today (including most Christian schools) were built on the “progressive educational model.” Christian parents are left with a choice among schools that are variations of this same basic model. Add to this the expense of private schools, and the choice becomes even more difficult. It reminds me of the days when GM sold “premium” Oldsmobiles and Buicks that were at root, variations of a Chevy.
But there is another side to the story: new Christian schools of a distinct type are being started, if not every day, every few months. While mainstream Christian schooling declines, the number of classical Christian schools grows, even during tough times like the great recession. Classical Christian schools o er something “new” — they are based on the oldest educational model known. e model’s big vision and distinctive methods are targeted directly at culture formation in America, and within the church. e original inventors of this form — the ancient Greeks — are still regarded as the most successful culture builders in history, with much of today’s civilization still rooted in Greek ideas. But that’s not the end of the story.
When Jesus Christ entered a world culturally dominated by the Greeks in the first century, His church did with education what they did with everything else — they claimed it for Christ. Classical Christian education was born in the earliest moments of the church. The Apostle John and Paul both reference classical Christian education, though you have to know what you’re looking for to find these biblical references (search the Greek New Testament for the word paideia).
By the second century, school masters like Justin Martyr, philosophers like Clement of Alexandria, and countless others were creating a salty, distinctive culture within the church, partially through classical Christian education. This culture grew until it consumed the Roman empire in the fourth century. Church fathers like Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory were all classically educated and they continued the tradition of classical Christian education in the church.
The classical Christian model was practiced almost exclusively from before the time of Christ until the turn of the twentieth century. Even America’s founding fathers were all educated in the classical Christian tradition. But then, the classical tradition was jettisoned in the nineteenth century “progressive” era, when ideology, philosophy, and theology were deemed unnecessary; when great books were pushed out for information deemed more practical; when thinking, speaking, writing, and argument became irrelevant; and when Jesus Christ was no longer considered the center axle on which all truth, goodness, and beauty turned. By 1940, progressive education had replaced classical education’s higher calling with something more pedestrian: training students for jobs. Culture, and its creation, it seemed, was now in the hands of the state educational system.
Many times in history, classical Christian education has civilized, or re-civilized cultures with the potency of a Christian worldview. We cannot assume that the lampstand has been removed from America. But we also cannot, as Christians, allow American ideas to define us. We’re living in a civilization increasingly more like ancient Rome than like a Christian nation. We need to return to an educational model that has proven affective in transforming hostile cultures and creating worshipers of Christ. I have good friends laboring in excellent conventional Christian schools, and these schools do much good. God is using them. But, if we’re concerned about the culture being passed on to our children, we should look to an educational system that was designed and has been proven to cultivate hearts and minds toward the fully orbed worship of Jesus Christ in every aspect of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. As C.S. Lewis said, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.
It is the task of youth not to reshape the church, but rather to listen to the Word of God; it is the task of the church not to capture the youth, but to teach and proclaim the Word of God.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thesis One
Much makes its way into the blogosphere without mention here at the Classical Difference. But, the continued shock and awe of ‘normal’ Americans buying into the LGBTQ deception, in ways that are abusing children, has become a stark reality. Toby Sumpter, Pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, offers a desperately needed reality check to the insanity that is swirling in Christian communities today. Classical Christian educators put things into perspective– providing insightful wisdom. Pastor Sumpter’s call for Wisdom could not come soon enough.
by Ruth Popp | Spring 2017
A new college test, and why it’s important
A BETTER COLLEGE ADMISSIONS TEST EMERGES
The word “Classic” in the CLT name refers to ideas that have stood the test of time. As the SAT and ACT scramble to remain relevant, this new exam has emerged with a clear vision to reconnect students with the virtue, ethics, and intellectual inheritance of the Western tradition. The descriptors of the CLT test read like advertisements for classical education. The high scorer in each of the three official test cycles to date have been classically educated students.
Students should be helped by their families, communities, and schools to achieve their highest possible levels of knowledge and understanding, to live a rich life undergirded by the greatest ideas, and to be taught virtue, the greatest source of satisfaction. This is why Aristotle famously said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE SAT & ACT?
David Coleman was the “chief architect” of the Common Core Standards—the reengineering of national scholastic standards and, by ripple effect, the curriculum often chosen for the classroom. Now Coleman presides over the newly redesigned SAT, which measures the effectiveness of his earlier project.
On September 22, 2016, Coleman spoke at the National Association for College Admission Counseling conference. In the educational breakout session, “A Conversation with David Coleman,” he shed light on the core values underlying the new SAT.
“The revision of the SAT has gotten rid entirely of every vestige, every remainder of the notion that it is an aptitude test … The New SAT is entirely an achievement test.”
Coleman stated clearly that the SAT no longer measures aptitude. It is an achievement test—a measure of the content retained after a particular course of study. To which course of study does Coleman refer? Since the Common Core Standards have come under intense fire from dissatisfied parents and educators across the country, both the SAT and ACT have flushed any reference to the Common Core Standards from their websites, but they are certainly implied by the phrase “what students learn in class,” a phrase used to describe the content on the SAT. Remember, Coleman was the architect of the Common Core before he took over the SAT.
“Should an exam they take to get into college be different from the work they do in high school? No, it must not be. It should be exactly the same.”
According to Coleman, it is no longer fair to ask students to do more than recite facts and ideas they have previously studied. What does “exactly the same” look like? Coleman assures us the new SAT has no “puzzle like questions, tricky things, things that try to surprise and be different than what you’ve done in the classroom.” Coleman described the material appearing in the math section as “elegant, brief problems that are clear to students, that allow them to show their math knowledge easily, that are easily accessible to them. Every extra word should go. Complex distracting situations should go.”
Clearly, the Common Core Standards and the new SAT do not expect students to apply their abilities or knowledge in any new or adaptive way. Coleman affirmed that the new SAT would be easier than the old SAT, cutting 70 questions while allowing the same time for completion.
“Why did we get rid of obscure vocabulary words? … Imagine what those words were like for English language learners … It is time for the SAT to be an exam for our most vulnerable students … ”
With this statement Coleman reveals the shift that drives every change. The College Board’s mission is not to measure the quality or rigor of education, but rather to compromise quality in whatever way necessary to improve equality of access to higher education.
Why is it necessary to lower the standard? The answers suggest acceptance of the idea that the primary objective of education in the U.S. is to be fair to underserved, at-risk populations and equalize opportunity. Coleman tells us it would be unfair to ask students to think critically, to problem-solve through complexity, to identify and eliminate distractors, to test themselves against the higher standards they will encounter as college freshmen.
These lower standards will creep into high schools and below, as parents and educators demand their students be put in front of the kind of low-complexity, basic vocabulary selections featured on the SAT and ACT.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Unite. When thousands of the most highly sought after students register for the CLT exam, more colleges will accept the exam results. When more students read the enduring literature and documents of Western civilization, the moral and civic foundation of the coming generations will be strengthened. We have the power to drive the change. When we stand together, our voices will be heard.
THE MORAL DEBATE
When students sit for the cumulative exam of twelve years of academic preparation, its content sends a powerful message. It has been argued that both the SAT and ACT are important cogs in a machine that perpetuates the philosophy of “value neutral” education.
Many educators bleach out the values inherent in any discussion of depth concerning historical, literary, and scientific endeavor in order to prepare students for a standardized test, requiring only a regurgitation of disconnected facts, or the careful presentation of a “value neutral” argument.
Truth, goodness, and beauty are sacrificed daily at the altar of moral relativism. Once students have accepted the idea that truth does not exist, they have been crippled in their ability to recognize and respond to the One who is Truth.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Our children will work shoulder to shoulder with their peers to secure the blessings of liberty for the next generation. What other students learn will impact their lives and future for better, or worse.
A Better Measure of Success
A Better Admissions Test: Raising the Standard for College Entrance Exams, consolidates concerns that the SAT and ACT rise from a disordered understanding of what it means to be educated. This timely book offers the wisdom of current and former headmasters, professors, and college presidents daring to question the status quo and envision a solid alternative.
A Perfect Challenge
The elusive perfect score, 120, has yet to be achieved. The first student to ace the CLT will receive a full, four- year, tuition, room and board scholarship to any school in the United States to which they gain admission. SEE CLTEXAM.COM
1 David Coleman, “A Conversation with David Coleman” (Education- al breakout session, National Association for College Admission Coun- seling (NACAC) conference, Columbus, Ohio, September 22, 2016)
RUTH POPP earned a B.S. from the United States Naval Academy. Personal growth as an educator led her to the classical education renewal gaining strength across the nation. She currently serves as director and president of the Board for St. Thomas Aquinas Tutorial in Millersville, MD, and on the Board of Academic Advisors for Classic Learning Initiatives. Ruth has 5 daughters.
The Gospel Coalition’s news service is the latest to notice the rapid growth of classical Christian education.
In the current issue of The Classical Difference, we mention Nova Classical Charter in Minneapolis as an example of the problem of Charter classical schools. This story from our friends at First Things was not available when The Difference went to press. Reality is actually worse than we thought.
Less we feel complacent, with the belief that the outcome of the national election was a repudiation of this type of action, we should note that Trump supports a state’s right to take this action (or so he said when asked about LGBT issues). Whatever side of politics you are on, Christians should strive to take responsibility for the education of their own children, independent of state influence.
by David Goodwin | Winter 2016
Christian Education as a Conquering Force
A PBS feature “Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler” repeats the common but false claim: “Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, made its early gains through military conquest.” Feiler, like so many in the media and academia today, tells the story he wants to believe—lumping Christianity with Islam because “all religions are the same.” But history reveals Feiler’s error. Emperors, kings, and crusaders may have fought wars in the name of Christianity. But this is not how Christianity spread. The leaders of these quests appealed to Christianity because it was already widely accepted and they wanted its support. So how did Christianity, with its ideas, become the world’s largest religion?
The true story about Christian expansion may surprise you. You are part of this legacy every time you sit in the pickup line at your child’s school. During times of Christianity’s spread, educators fueled the growth—first as classical educators turned Christian (Justin, Clement, Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and others) and then in monasteries across Europe practicing classical Christian education. Ironically, where Anglo-Saxon and continental kings failed to push back Viking invaders, the Norsemen were undone by Christian educators they captured. Monks, captured and enslaved by the Vikings, were taken back to Scandinavia where, as slaves, they taught the pagans about Christ and His world. Alcuin, a monk from York, England, started schools across the pagan Saxon lands. Within a few hundred years, the Vikings quit pillaging not out of defeat, but because their culture had become Christian.
Christian ideas took hold as Christian parents and educators (often monks, see page 10) cultivated a Christian paideia in children. This thing called paideia is the building block of Christian civility and culture.
Christianity grew rapidly between AD 40 and AD 310 in the Mediterranean, and from AD 450 to AD 900 in Western Europe. It was the strong, distinct, and set-apart Christian culture that attracted converts and grew the church.
During Christianity’s early expansion, Christians were attacked by the Roman public as cannibalistic (eating the body of Christ during communion) and incestuous (they married their “sisters in Christ”), and because they worshipped the head of an ass (who knows where this came from). Marcus Aurelius (AD 161–180) called Christians “illiterate and bucolic yokels.” We now know that the writings of some of these yokels at the time (Tertullian, Irenaeus, and slightly later, Augustine) have more influence today than Aurelius does.
Since the early part of the twentieth century, true Christians have been increasingly marginalized. Now, we’re being labeled as homophobes, sexist, haters, silly, superstitious, and weak-minded. And, history is being rewritten to slander our heritage, as Feiler has done. As a whole, we need to hold fast to our tradition and regain our grasp on education so that one day the critics on PBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and the rest will look like the second-century Romans—judged as foolish artifacts of history.
Top Picture: ©ACCS 2016
What happens when Christianity is silenced?
“What will justify your life?” is engraved over the entrance of Ridgeview Classical School, one of the most successful charter schools in Colorado. The mission of Great Hearts Classical Charter School in Arizona is to graduate “young men and women who possess a sense of destiny and purpose that is directed to the service of the greater good.” These, and countless other secular and public schools across the country, have discovered the strength of classical education to cultivate virtue. But how far can classical education be removed from God before it becomes something else?
In his new book Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller, New York Times best-selling author and pastor, recounts the story of a public school teacher who was frustrated with the various “character education” curricula that strictly forbade her to bring religious justifications for any of the values being taught.
For classical educators, this teacher expresses only the beginning of a much bigger problem. The assumption is that “character education” is a subject of its own that you teach, like math or literature. In fact, the root of ALL education is virtue.
TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS
In February of 2013, in a high school class at one of the nation’s largest secular classical school chains, a discussion was held. It was very impressive, but an unusual turn of events shed light on a problem.
Earlier that week, in a class at a classical Christian school, juniors were discussing a passage midway through Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. The Christian discussion was rich with the teacher guiding students through some deep stuff: the burden free will creates, the purpose of suffering in God’s creation, and a beautiful depiction of love as the ultimate conqueror. She framed the work in the theological system of the author, a deep and reflective Christianity.
THE DESTINATION & THE PATH
The students engaged in a spirited discussion, seeking the truth—free to express their thoughts and opinions, but not limited by them. In this classroom,the Logos was the living person of Jesus Christ.
Back at the secular classical school, students gathered around a table to discuss, by some turn of fate, the same book, near the same passage! What followed said volumes. The teacher began the discussion and then stepped back. Mormon and Roman Catholic views, along with a variety of indiscernible positions, were suggested by students.
There the discussion remained—an exploration rather than a destination. The teacher could not step in and guide spiritually because he was forbidden to advocate for “religious” ideas. The discussion could only change topics, not delve deeper. Christian theology was out. And, without theology, philosophy is neutered. All that was left for the students in the class was to pool their youthful “wisdom” and wander through questions about ultimate meaning with their 17- and 18-year-old peers.
It seems that non-Christian classical schools know they’re about something big—something eternal. Many teachers and administrators at these schools would prefer to openly discuss God as the source of morality and truth, but the length of their chain keeps them from the true power of classical education. The danger of these schools, cut off from the truth system of Christ, is that they will create a destination (called paideia) with no path to it. They cannot view the world rightly because the path (the Logos) is unknowable. This can cause a devastating wobble in the lives of kids. To understand why, we must first understand the centerpiece of classical education: the Logos.
The Importance of Two Words
Paideia is like a worldview, but more than a worldview. Paideia is an ordered set of desires, a base of knowledge and beliefs, a collection of virtues, and a way of seeing the world that is cultivated into children. We absorb it more than we learn it. Ultimately, paideia translates into the way you live as an adult and is the destination of all classical education.
The original Greek purpose of intentionally shaping the paideia through formal classical education required the pursuit of something called the Logos. The Logos is the transcendent, divine ideal—like the ideas of justice, love, or reason—all of which are imperfectly reflected in our world. Our path to paideia is through a divine, perfect version of the Logos.
Since we can’t fully experience divine justice or infinity or reason directly, we use words to describe them. This is why Logos is often translated “word” in English (as in John 1). The closer we can get to understanding the Logos, the better we can understand classical education.
The Classical World
The Apostle John lived and ministered in Greek education centers. In John 1, this shows as he writes, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God … And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory … grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John is speaking into a classical world that had a strong idea of the importance of the Logos, but was lost in the futility of truth without Christ.
You may not be aware that in Ephesians 6, Paul tells fathers to raise their children in “the paideia of the Lord.” Our instructions for education are pretty clear—cultivate in children the paideia of the Lord by pursuing the truth that is Jesus Christ (the Logos).
Christian parents who fail to realize this foundational issue often see non-Christian classical schools as “the next best thing.” So, they choose a classical private prep school, a magnet school, or a charter classical school. They reason that any classical school is better than the alternative. True, classical schools have proven to be more effective at many things than their conventional counterparts—but there’s a reason for this, and a danger in it.
BREACHING THE CORE
Without Christ, classical education’s core questions—“what is truth?” and “why am I here?” and “how shall I live?”—cannot be answered truthfully. Jesus Christ is not a part that can be safely extracted from classical education and taught at home. He’s integral to the nature of the thing. If He is removed, we run the risk of creating the ugliness of a person without a face, a soul without love, a truth without the author of truth.
In this context, non-Christian classical schools, like old-line private schools or newer charter schools, have an even bigger problem. They buy wholesale into education as the “cultivation of virtue.” But, now they’ve created a taller ladder and they have no wall to place it against—a destination without a path.
They might argue this is the goal, and that parents can fill this hole at home and at church. But can they? Again, this assumes faith is separate from the real world—faith is a personal thing to be done at home while math, science, literature, history, philosophy, theology, logic, rhetoric (and even daily life) are subjects we can “do” without reference to the author of Truth.
As the humanist Charles Potter said, “What can theistic Sunday-schools, meeting for an hour once a week and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?”
For that matter, if classical Christian schools forget the true purpose of edu cation and become college preparatory schools or simply “safe-havens,” we will join other schools in their dilemma.
Jonathan Edwards observed, “Truth is the agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.” G.K. Chesterton said that “Education is not a subject, and does not deal in subjects. It is instead a transfer of a way of life.” What way of life do you want to transfer to your children? What Truth do you want them to know?
Four stories from the Philadelphia area
Recently, he visited four schools, all within a two-hour drive of Philadelphia, that represent four very different stories with four very different school bodies. Is classical Christian education a fit for anyone? It seems there’s a pretty good chance the answer is yes. If not, start one! The ACCS is here to help.
■ URBAN RENEWAL MEETS CLASSICAL RENEWAL
Philadelphia Classical School
Just a decade or two ago, “inner city school” meant serving underprivileged kids in a tough setting. That still can be true, and some classical Christian schools serve this mission. But Philadelphia Classical School is one of several ACCS schools thriving on urban renewal. They have a roughly even mix of underserved students from the inner city, and working families who live in the city. This mix of students and families provides an environment where parents are united around the philosophy of education and a love of Christ. While their facility may result in a few compromises (they have no playground or outdoor space), the beautiful historic cathedral in the downtown area combined with amazing historic field trips just a few steps out their front door, provides an experience you’ll find at few other classical Christian schools.
During one recent field trip, a man dressed as George Washington walked into a historic Quaker meetinghouse where PCS students were waiting. He launched into his act which included running the children through military drills. At the climax of his performance, General Washington began to recite the Declaration of Independence. The students barely missed a beat and joined him in the recitation. Their voices echoed throughout the building. Other tour guides and people stopped to listen. The best part was when George Washington came to the end of his recitation but the students knew more and kept going. The docents are always happy to see PCS students return.
■ COLLEGE-TOWN CHRISTIANS
The Wilberforce School
When you think about it, academic excellence makes sense in a college town. Classical Christian education returns to the idea that the author of all truth (Jesus Christ) might have something to say about finding truth (the ostensible purpose of higher education). College towns tend to be full of “academics.” And, regardless of the area of expertise, many college professors appreciate the strength of classical Christian education. “We chose Wilberforce because we were attracted to the school’s commitment to both academic excellence and an intellectually robust Christian worldview which is lacking in most schools. We also liked the focus on seeing the world as a result of a Creator who has given our children the facility to learn about it through nature studies, art, history, and literature … and to ultimately be a committed follower of Jesus Christ.” Jonathan Chun, Ph.D. (Princeton, Physics)
■ HOMETOWN: TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWING OF “SCHOOL”
Coventry Christian School
Buses come and go from the 50’s era public school building repurposed as a classical Christian school, centrally located in the suburban-belt town of Pottsville, PA, outside of Philadelphia. Coventry Christian School serves over 300 students in a building that also tells the evolving story of education for the past half century. After its days as a public school building, the facility was sold to Coventry Christian, founded over 30 years ago as a standard Christian school.
The school’s hometown feel is reinforced when you meet John Mark Niehls, the school’s headmaster. Niehls’ father started the school, and John Mark attended from an early age. He even met a girl in the third grade there who is now his wife! But, in 2009, the school’s leadership decided it wanted better integration of its history and literature programs. This pursuit opened up the world of classical Christian education for John Mark. After a trip to the annual “Repairing the Ruins” conference on classical Christian education, Niehls decided it was time to overhaul the school into a classical Christian school. No small task.
The vast chasm between conventional education and classical education is hard to bridge. More than simply retraining teachers and buying new textbooks, a classical conversion requires the overhaul of just about everything. Teachers need to be immersed in a whole new philosophy of education. The methods, classrooms, and practices are very different, which requires vigilance. Many schools that convert mistakenly believe that adding Latin, great books, and Socratic discussion to the curriculum will move a school to the “classical Christian” column. Mr. Niehls realized that Coventry had its work cut out for it. Any change this radical would require a lot of effort.
Now, in about the sixth year of the classical transformation, Coventry is looking very much like, well, other classical schools in the ACCS. It serves a suburban family mix. Many of the parents first came to Coventry for Christian education. But what they’ve found is a new form of ancient education that makes sense, wherever you plant it.
■ OLD SCHOOL IN AMISH COUNTRY
In the early morning darkness, the path to school for Ty Fischer’s family leads through covered bridges and around horse-drawn carriages in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania’s Amish country. It’s understandable in this small-town setting that classical Christian education would thrive. But few classical Christian schools in America are as established as Veritas Academy in Lancaster, PA.
Veritas’ founding family was one of three original board members of the association that publishes this magazine.
Also from that seed has grown the largest curriculum provider dedicated to classical Christian education. The 280 students at Veritas come from wide-ranging backgrounds. The surrounding area supports farmers and bankers, academics and entrepreneurial start-ups. They serve just about every type of student in the famed Lancaster county.
Veritas celebrated its 20th anniversary as a classical Christian school on September 9th. They’ve always been a classical school, so the celebration expressed the depth and diverse lives of their alumni. We’d like to say that’s a big group, but classical Christian education has always been a grassroots movement. So, the alumni are an intimate group. But it was abundantly clear, at least to us, that they are making a big impact on our world in just about every type of role. Sure, if you visit their campus, you may note that it shares a building with the police department and several other municipal departments. But, God’s work, and His schools, grow where they’re planted.
Our growth means the stories keep coming—these four Pennsylvania schools are examples of what’s happening around the nation. While we see the trivium, Latin, great books, and enthused teachers throughout, the most surprising thing is the constant level of excellence. These places are noticeably distinct and very different from other types of schools. Serving many different parent and student needs, they all have similar approaches where it counts—in the classroom.
We’re fans of Prager University, an online educational service that serves up some excellent views, 5 minutes at a time. We often recommend their 5 minute pieces, including this one https://www.prageru.com/courses/history/why-modern-art-so-bad. Now, we haven’t viewed all their content; they have countless videos on their site. So, we can’t vouch for every one. But the problem is that you may not get to judge for yourself, if Google’s Youtube has anything to say about it.
Youtube began censoring these educational videos– 16 in all. Some talk about the Korean War, others about whether Bush lied about Iraq. There is no obscene content in them. “Objectionable” in the eyes of Youtube, apparently is anything their censors disagree with.
This is just one more reason we need independent education for Christian kids. The liberal noose continues to censor, restrict, constrain, and sometimes shout down any ideas that are offensive to our society’s elite. And, they’re offended by a lot these days. Take a look at the list of videos that they censored. And, if you feel like it, sign the petition.
Common Core, AdvancED Accreditation, The College Board, Textbook Publishers, and the U.S. Department of Education
ADVANCED ACCREDITATION—CONSOLIDATED POWER IN AMERICAN SCHOOLS
At the same time Common Core was rewriting standards, the most significant K–12 accrediting change in over 50 years emerged. Accreditors visit state and private K–12 schools to verify that they meet certain standards and then typically grant recognition so students can transfer between schools, play in state athletic leagues, apply for grants from some organizations, and meet public graduation requirements. In 2006, AdvancED, a private accrediting body for K–12, was formed by merging most of the nation’s K–12 regional accrediting organizations to form one massive accrediting powerhouse, officially recognized in over 37 states and through reciprocity agreements in all 50 states.
While private, AdvancED carries the power of law in most states because state statutes specifically refer to the regional accreditors that AdvancED acquired. AdvancED includes Common Core in its standards—if not officially, through the accreditation instruments and the enforcement of state standards. One classical Christian educator who underwent AdvancED accreditation put it this way: “AdvancED desires to standardize teaching and learning and is a natural partner with other standardization efforts like the controversial Common Core Curriculum. By definition, classical Christian education rejects the progressive model of education used in the vast majority of public and private schools today.”
IMPOSING COMMON CORE THROUGH THE SAT & STRINGS-ATTACHED FEDERAL GRANTS
In 2016, the nation’s oldest and most accepted college entrance exam, the SAT, was redesigned from the ground up with the Common Core in mind. The College Board (publisher of the SAT) is now headed by David Coleman, the former pioneer of the Common Core. Finally, the federal government, which spends $154 billion on education through local district and state grants, now makes it clear that the money will follow the Common Core. This alignment of accreditation, common core standards, college entrance exams, and federal dollars will inevitably reshape the face of American education.
Conventional standardized tests used in K–12 are also feeling the pinch. The storied Stanford Achievement Test, published since 1926, is being retired. The equally well-accepted Iowa Basics Test now aligns to the Common Core. Terra Nova, used by many Christian schools, is aligning to the Common Core. Because states are adopting the Common Core, they are adopting tests that test to the Common Core. This will shape the curriculum of thousands of Christian schools.
THE TEXTBOOK COMMON CORE GOLDRUSH
With about 35 states implementing Common Core and about the same in AdvancED, we will see nearly the entire textbook industry follow. Even Christian private schools that traditionally conform to state standards will be impacted by the textbooks. Several major textbook publishers aligned to the Common Core early. Pearson announced its support in 2012. Since then, publishers like McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin, and Scholastic News have begun development of texts that conform to the Common Core. Indirect control of the textbooks will make the Common Core’s influence spread to nearly every school in America.
WHY SHOULD THIS CONCERN CHRISTIAN PARENTS?
The Common Core’s narrow, protected control of K–12 educational standards in the U.S. is unprecedented. For the past 100 years, progressive educators sought the holy grail of power in America—universal control of education. John Dewey, Charles Potter, and a host of other progressives made a play for universal educational control and standards in the early twentieth century. Charles Potter’s statement in the 1930s reveals this progressive intent: “What can theistic Sunday School, meeting for an hour once a week, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?”
Lawrence Cremin, an historian at Columbia University, says it this way:
If education was to be the principal engine of an intentionally progressive society, then the politics of education would have significance far beyond the control of schools…. It would hold the key to the achievement of the most fundamental political aspirations—in effect, the key to the American Paideia.
The Common Core organization has protected the standards using copyright law so that they may not be altered or edited without permission. One unelected, unchecked organization will soon have the power to enforce standards in K–12 education nationwide. This will inevitably lead to more controversial enforced standards in the future once the standards are embedded in America’s educational fabric. Never before in American education has one organization had so wide an influence and control over standards, federal funding, accreditation, and college entrance testing. They will form the beliefs and attitudes of tomorrow’s leaders, and a nation of citizens.
We believe that neutrality in educational content has proven impossible. In the spring of 2016, we saw the Obama Administration’s willingness to force school districts across the U.S. to broaden non-discrimination requirements, originally meant to apply only to gender, to include LGBT protections. This “force” was applied through billions of dollars in federal grants to state and local educational districts.
The U.S. Constitution impedes direct federal control over what is taught in America’s schools. Architects of the Common Core, using a five-way power play, have circumvented the law and positioned the Common Core as the single controlling force in American education through money, testing, accreditation, and textbook control. We encourage Christian parents to be vigilant. Now, more than ever, parents should think twice before sending their students to public or charter (which are also influenced through the federal earmarked dollars) schools.
Common Core: Facts & Fiction
In 2008, Janet Napolitano, who later served in the Obama Administration and as the president of the University of California system, launched the Common Core initiative. In its early years, Napolitano worked to build a coalition of states to sign on to the standards. The Obama Administration officially backed the standards in 2012. His “Race to the Top” program earmarked $4.35 billion, in part, to promote Common Core. The U.S. Department of Education, which controls billions more in educational funding, encour- ages states to adopt the Common Core. The U.S. Department of Education runs programs that influence 99,000 public schools and 34,000 private schools, and the 56 million students who attend them.
The Common Core covers reading and math, but not science or other subjects. However, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a companion set of standards, provided by another organization, that dovetail with the Common Core to provide standards in science and social studies. We believe these will roll into the Common Core eventually.
The primary sponsor of the organization that governs the Common Core is the National Governors Association—a non-government agency. The standards are copyrighted and controlled by this group and another, the Counsel of Chief State School Officers. This non-government status is important because a number of U.S. laws prohibit the federal government from directly implementing standards in schools.
David Coleman, successor to Napolitano at the Common Core, became the shepherd and champion who was responsible for the Common Core development between 2009 and 2012. In May of 2012, Coleman took his Common Core experience with him to become the president of the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, AP, and other subject-level tests. His role at the SAT drew concern. Coleman openly set out to reformulate the SAT away from its reasoning roots, toward measurements in line with the Common Core. This move had many concerned that the test would inevitably become politicized. Stanley Kurtz of the National Review put it this way: ”Once the AP U.S. history test demands blame-America-first answers, public and private schools alike will be forced to construct an American history curriculum that ‘teaches to the test.’ ”
The Common Core is not a curriculum. Rather, it is a set of standards. “What should students know and what should they be able to do?” is the question answered by the standards. When teachers or parents refer to “the new Common Core curriculum,” they are not accurate. Many curriculum providers are now producing textbooks that are aligned to Common Core standards. These employ a variety of new and relatively untested methods.
Forty-two states were initially members of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. At least four states have since withdrawn.
The supporters of Common Core include the Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, George Soros, and Rupert Murdock’s corporation. In the early years, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee signed on. Why do some conservatives support the standards? Early on, the idea of higher educational standards drew the support of a few conservatives. Over time, this support has eroded.
The Classical Christian SAT Advantage
WILL IT CONTINUE?
About a quarter of ACCS graduates attend the Top Colleges in U.S. News and World Report’s list. Our graduates are sought after, particularly at the finest Christian institutions. In part, this has been due to our “incredible” averages on the PSAT and SAT. The word “incredible” is used carefully here. At first blush, the ACCS averages seem so good, they are statistically unlikely. But they have been consistent over time. ACCS SAT averages in 2015 were 85 points higher than independent schools. “Independent schools” are made up of some of the finest private prep schools in the country. By comparison, these independent prep schools outscore public schools by about this same margin—86 points. So, the ACCS is 171 points above public schools, and 85 points higher than independent schools. If you add in the writing component, the numbers are even more impressive for the ACCS. Put another way, if we believe the test score statistics, ACCS graduates are twice as advanced as those who attend schools that, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, charge around $20,000 per year. Our average tuition is around $7500. Our college readiness index seems equally improbable: our students average 237 points above the benchmark. Independent schools? 99 points above the benchmark. Religious schools? 46 points above the benchmark. Our students also disproportionately earn National Merit Scholar status. Dollar for dollar, it’s hard to beat the value of classical Christian education for college preparation.
While the SAT has been radically changed from a test that measured a student’s reasoning ability to a test that measures their knowledge of Common Core standards,our students will likely continue to have an advantage. Reasoning and language skills will continue to help our students succeed on the tests and in college. For example, even though the ACT is more of a content (achievement) test, our students still score an average of 26.2 (vs. 21 nationally) on the test.
The Good News…
YOUR SCHOOL AND THE COMMON CORE
IF YOU RECEIVE THIS MAGAZINE, you’re probably already enrolled in an ACCS (Association of Classical Christian Schools) member school. The ACCS, the accrediting body for classical Christian schools, is joining with other organizations to provide an alternative to the Common Core:
1. ACCS accreditation does not require conformance to state standards, and therefore the Common Core. We deliberately avoid “regional accreditation” reciprocity agreements that would require our schools to compromise their independence by conforming to state graduation standards. Our schools will remain free to practice classical Christian education independent of the Common Core.
2. The ACCS recently joined forces with the Classical Learning Test (CLT), an alternative to the SAT that is rapidly gaining acceptance as a wide range of educators join forces to support excellence in collegiate education. While we anticipate that ACCS students will continue to do very well on the SAT, we’re excited to see the development of an alternative to the Common Core test, and it is already available. We’re also encouraging our members to take the ACT as an alternative to the SAT. While both are achievement tests (they test knowledge more than reasoning), the ACT has not fully aligned to the Common Core.
3. ACCS member schools annually confirm that they do not accept government funds in such a way that their educational independence is compromised. This helps protect our schools from “strings attached” Common Core requirements by the federal government.
4. Teachers in classical Christian schools are insulated from the Common Core. Education colleges, which are involved in licensing nearly all public and many Christian school teachers, are beginning to train to the Common Core. Member schools within the ACCS are independent of these licensing requirements. As an alternative, we have a teacher certification program for accredited member schools.
5. Textbooks in classical Christian schools are generally original works from the past, or they are written by classical Christian publishers. In either case, the Common Core, directly or indirectly, has no impact on these books. In fact, most of our textbook authors purposely reject the Common Core.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR STUDENTS AT ACCS CLASSICAL CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS?
We reject the Common Core because it distracts from true education. Without too much detail, it emphasizes modern, data-driven learning work rather than well-rounded studies to promote logic, analysis, depth, and wisdom—classical literature, history, philosophy and theology are silenced. Thus, the Common Core standards drive priorities and content that are incompatible with Christianity and with classical education as a whole. (See “Common Core and the Classical Tradition” by Dr. Chris Perrin in this issue.) For these reasons, ACCS member schools are among the most independent schools in the nation.