Friday, May 27, 2011

End of the Year Stuff

Tomorrow, 21 seniors, some of whom have been walking this campus since kindergarten, will receive their diplomas and close out their high school education.  Most of them are moving on to college, and most of them were able to qualify for admission to the college of their choice.  They are moving on to a different world, a different stage of their education, and I am confident that most of them have been well prepared for what they will face.  I wish them well.  The hole that they will leave behind in terms of leadership and accomplishment will be tough to fill, though next year's senior class seems to be doing very well as they start out to assume that role.

This class will always be memorable to me, not only because they are quite accomplished and because they have done well with responsibility and leadership, but because they are the first graduating class for whom I've signed and will hand them their diploma as head administrator of the school.  They will always represent my first year at Portersville Christian School, and as a result of that, they will always represent what Portersville Christian School stands for.  I wish them well as they move on, and hope that what they now represent will be something that goes with them for the rest of their lives. 

At this point, with the weather finally turning nice, the trees and grass greened up, and summer just around the corner, everyone is excited about what they are going to be doing.  Looking back, this has been a great school year in many ways, and it has also been a tremendous learning experience.  I spent a lot of time observing, watching, seeing how this organization operates, and how things work.  When I came here last summer, I had a vision and a plan based on what I knew then, and that has been greatly expanded and enhanced during this school year.  Let me share a few things with you.

One, it is my desire to lead our school to become distinctively Christian.  There is a substantial difference between the educational philosophy of the public school system and a school that is distinctively Christian, and it is a noticeable difference.  It is the difference between educating children in the belief that God exists, that he created the universe and he created humanity, and he is sovereign, and education which operates on the philosophical principle that humanity is the highest level of intelligence in the universe, and it can rely on education to solve all of its problems.  I sometimes hear parents say that they want their kids to go to public school for a few years so that they can "be exposed to the real world."  I would not only disagree that public school is representative of the "real world," I would contend that to do so would contribute to an erosion of the values and ideals that have been instilled in the student in Christian school.  I would like to see PCS become so distinctively Christian that thinking with the "mind of Christ" becomes a natural part of our students' lives. 

Two, I would like to keep raising the bar of excellence in all that we do.  If we have "the mind of Christ," then what we do is done for his glory.  Academically, our school is sound and solid, and we have a strong foundation on which to build.  But we need to continue to improve, because our students deserve the best we can give and they respond to challenges by doing better.  Our fine arts program has set the standard for excellence around here, with the quality and calibre of the musical productions that it puts on, so other school organizations can follow their example.  A winning athletic program is not always measured in terms of the score at the end of the game, but what the students learned from the experience and how that can help them in their life, as well as the way they played the game.  Athletics helps us teach our students about doing their best for God, and going the extra mile in other areas of life.  For the sake of our students, each year must show improvement in each of these areas.

Third, I would like to be able to offer this balance of distinctively Christian education to as many people in our area as possible.  Operating a school costs money, and does not generate a profit.  As an increasing number of Christian families come together and find PCS is the place to put their children for an excellent education, more resources become available to the students.  Over the next school year, I would like to see our enrolment increase to the point where we are "maxing out" our current facility.  As each succeeding senior class graduates, they multiply the impact of what they've learned here out there.  Keeping a good balance between class size and efficient use of resources, our enrolment needs to increase in steps, with measureable goals. 

I hope, as you are reading this, that you are looking forward to another year at PCS as much as I am.  I am praying for God's blessing on his work here, and I hope you will join me in doing that.  I also hope that you will step up, step in, send your children here and help us in this work. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why Pennsylvania Will Benefit from Senate Bill 1

The debate over Senate Bill 1, the school voucher plan that is scheduled to be voted on in the Pennsylvania Senate sometime in the near future, perhaps this week, comes down to the fundamental difference between the philosophy of the public education system and a Christian view of education that is derived from Biblical principles.  Opposition is based on the belief that the state has supreme authority over the education of students, and can therefore direct taxpayer support into its own educational monopoly.  Constitutionally, it cannot mandate that parents sent their children to the schools it controls, but it can make it next to impossible for most families to choose an alternative.

In Christian education, the belief that parents are responsible for their children's education, and accountable to God for it, is a fundamental principle.  That's where the conflict comes in.  The state has usurped the authority of parents, and manipulates the process of education through a system of schools in which the curriculum outcomes and learning objectives as well as the qualifications and philosophical views of the teachers and administrators are carefully controlled by a thick layer of government oversight and regulation.  In such a short blog, I couldn't even begin to expound on how unAmerican, unconstitutional and Anti-Christian that is. 

Voucher bills similar to the one on the table in Pennsylvania now have been increasingly proposed as alternative means to both financing the education of children, which the state seems to think is it's own responsibility, and allowing parents to chose the means by which that education is delivered to their own children, which is their God-given, inalienable, constitutional right.  Basically, what a "voucher" does is allow tax money that is designated to pay for the education of each student, and distribute it based on where parents have chosen to enroll their children.  The current senate bill in Pennsylvania is proposed to take effect in stages, designed more to "level the playing field" by moving resources where they seem to be most needed, primarily families who reside in areas where the educational monopoly is not performing according to the standards set by the state, and who do not have the means to choose an alternative.  Eventually, in its fourth stage, it will provide a voucher to any student who comes from a family which meets the income requirements. 

The bill is likely to be voted on in a week or so, and a few senators need some convincing that this is what they need to do.  It's relatively easy to pick up your phone, call your senator and tell them you'd appreciate their vote for this bill.  There are some standard objections and some standard responses.  There are a couple of websites, and which will provide you with plenty of accurate information. 

This is a violation of the separation of church and state.

No, it's not.

The federal government, along with many state governments, have been handing out billions of dollars in grant programs for college students for years, such as Pell Grants, BEOG's (Basic Educational Opportunity Grants), and others.  The purpose of these grants is to level the playing field and make it economically feasible for students to attend college.  A large number of these grants are given to students attending colleges with Christian affiliation, including schools with an exclusively Christian purpose, such as training missionaries, pastors and church leaders.  There is no church-state conflict,because the money is granted to the individual student, based on their qualifications, and not to the specific school.  Vouchers are exactly the same thing. Check, and I believe you'll find that the Supreme Court has already ruled on the constitutionality of this.

Private schools are not accountable to the state for the way the money is used, or for the quality of education provided.

No, we are not.  And hopefully, we never will be. 

If you compare the academic achievement of students in private schools, particularly private, Christian schools with their counterparts in the public school system, you will notice a difference right away.  In Pennsylvania, at least, the students in the Christian schools do much better on the state's acceptable measures of progress, mainly achievement tests and college entrance exams, than those in the public system.  In most cases, significantly better.  On the SAT, the average score of seniors in ACSI accredited schools in Pennsylvania is more than 10% higher than the state average.  Personally, I believe that's because we are not accountable to the state, and do not suffocate under a layer of cumbersome regulations.  We are accountable to God first, and then to our parents, and if we do not do a good job academically, we're out of business.

This won't improve the overall quality of public education in the state.

I think the jury is still out on that.  Voucher programs in many places are relatively new, and there's not been enough research done to show the overall progress of students in states where some kind of limited program has been working.  But there are some indications that this is certainly within the realm of possibility. 

Our neighbors in Ohio have had a program in effect for a few years now, and one benefit that has become clear is that students who have enrolled in private, Christian schools have seen their academic achievement levels rise.  The same is true for students involved in the Opportunity Scholarship program in the District of Columbia, at least, for those who enrolled in private schools. 

There hasn't been a noticeable change overall, across the whole educational spectrum.  But in D.C., for example, the program only involved 1,700 students.  The idea is that, by lowering the numbers in overcrowded classrooms, teachers there will have the opportunity to improve their class academics.  In Ohio, the test results include students enrolled in cyber and charter schools, who don't do as well on standardized tests. 

This will cost more money and raise taxes.

You mean, more than they are going to go up now, under the current budget reductions in education?

No.  It won't.

Vouchers are limited to the approximately $12,000 it now costs the state of Pennsylvania to put one student through school in one year.  Private schools, however, will only be able to receive the amount of their highest tuition figure, a dollar amount that, among ACSI's Christian schools, averages less than $6,000 per year.  Therefore, every student who selects a voucher to attend a private, Christian school saves the state more than $6,000 a year.  If ACSI's schools have enough seats to accomodate 10,000 students, that's a savings of $60 million a year. 

In theory, every student who takes a voucher and goes elsewhere will reduce that school's revenue by $12,000.  But they should also reduce their expenses by $12,000.