More on Christian Education

In a previous Facebook post I had stated, “one if not the greatest failing in Christian education, namely the development of a more robust view of how to participate as a Christian in a public school. If we go with a choice or diverse model, then one cannot hold the antithesis model (Christian v world).”

This brought an important counter from Brian Polet.

Isn’t Christian education defacto a Christian vs the world model? So you would advocate for the dissolution of Christian education?

I explain.

My views of Christian education are admittedly mixed, but no way is this an advocacy for the dissolution of Christian schools. For many they deliver solid educational achievement; in a worldly way they are good schools. They’re part of an educational mix that goes by the name of “Choice” where parents make decisions about what school is most appropriate for their child. For many, the Christian school will be a default choice, and to be clear: I see nothing wrong with that.

Now some caveats:

  • First, it is pretty clear that Christian education does not per se produce better Christians (that’s a church function fwiw).
  • Second, as educational venues, Christian schools often do a very good job because of the socio-economic standing of the parents (this is a commonplace in education generally where SES correlates with educational achievement). In GR, Potters House works to breakdown this SES/achievement link, and they have enjoyed some success.
  • Third, the baptismal vow I make is not simply to the child in front of me, but to all baptized children. Thus, the possibility of Christian education extends past the day school door.

At the school where I coach (Grand Rapids City) there are teachers who are there as part of their Christian faith. So perhaps we should make a distinction between Christian approach to the educational practice (what do Christians do as teachers, how do they embody faith before a varied student body etc.), and an institutional approach. The former addresses what goes on inside the walls, the latter is the exterior or perhaps wineskin. For teachers, the real advantage of Christian education is to practice their profession in the company of other, similarly minded believers. But… most students will be outside the Christian school, they will be found in charters, or in general schools. So for those students, for the teachers who interact with them, we need a more robust understanding of Christian thinking and education.

Be Careful What You Wish For

This is an all-too common refrain. One current example, according to Bradley Marianno at the74 is the Los Angeles teacher strike. Anti-union advocates had thought they had put the nail in the public sector strike with the Janus v. AFSCME ruling. In the dynamics of the modern teacher, however, this has only made the reality of unions and a common cause all the more pertinent.

He sums up his take:

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl has, on multiple occasions, drawn connections to the spring walkouts and Janus, and he has made the pitch that the union is the best shot for gaining increased school funding and greater respect for education and for teachers. With momentum already building from job actions in Washington and Chicago, the court case may have served as more of a wake-up call than a death knell.

If the L.A. strike leads to real improvements for its members, it will once again showcase the value of unions and ensure their survival and relevance in a post-Janus world — and the baton will pass to the next group of dissatisfied educators and teachers unions eager to prove their worth.

Bradley Marianno, “Analysis: From the High Court to the Picket Line — How the Janus Case Emboldened Teachers Unions & Made Strikes Key to Their Survival,” The74. January 16, 2019

Snatching defeat from the jaws of (conservative) victory

The odd stance of the conservatives vis a vis college crops up its head in this recent post from Rod Dreher. What catches his eye is this proposal

New Mexico’s high school juniors would be required to apply to at least one college or show they have committed to other post-high school plans as part of a new high school graduation requirement being pushed by two state lawmakers

An anonymous reader in higher education goes on to complain in the post about the inflation, the bubble of the four-year school, thereby reading the proposal as a sort of inflator for the higher education industry.

To say such, is to ignore what actually is said, or rather to limit it only to the four-year school. Look again, is that what New Mexico is asking?

The New Mexico plan specifically includes attendance at a two-year college — a great source for gaining the tech skills and credentialing for getting on with life. As report notes, this is a move especially desired by those in STEM fields. This is not really that surprising. After all, it is the presence of an educated workforce (skilled trade and college grad) that fuels an economy and supports entrepreneurs.

The New Mexico proposal sets up two policy extensions. The first, is that of cost. It is a cruel mockery to have students prepare for a four-year program if that further entails debt. In Michigan, at least, the increase in tuition is substantially driven by the shift of state funds away from the universities, thereby transferring more of the economic burden to the student. Skilled and professional workforces are not commanded as if by magic, but are the stuff of real investment. And second, to push for students to make a plan also means that the universities and colleges accepting those students likewise deliver on that plan; far from sanctioning the presence of liberal arts (oh no, the dreaded SJW) this measure is the premise for the State to demand further accountability of curriculum and outcomes, not less.

Finally, to return to the high school level, asking a student to consider what comes next, asking them to think and not drift — to be responsible — is hardly a burden. The surprising thing (evidently) is that only some schools do this. Talk about building a culture of (cultural) poverty! The New Mexico proposal fights the fight that you want to win; the grief-making is little more than a snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory.

Universities: Too Big To Fail?

He’s B-a-a-a-c-k!

636100783083081844-John-EnglerI’m sure it seemed like a good idea, a defensive idea to be sure: make John Engler the interim president of Michigan State University. What it represents is a failure of imagination, but that has been constant our Great Lakes state for some time.

And as Bridge reports, this won’t be the first time the Governor has had to face abuse scandals. Oh, no. Ignoring the complaints of prisoners led to $100 million in damages for Michigan.




Photo: Kevin Allen, Blackford Capital

MSU Interim President John Engler was dismissive of sexual assault claims as governor

Gravity wins again.

BN-XE716_0721VO_M_20180126115744It has been a long-time conceit on the right that private schools would out-perform those ordinary, “government” schools. And charters, too, one supposes. That is, the problem in American education and in particular the failure to thrive by inner city youth could be attributed to the system. The problem was that their potential was being squelched, that given the right structure they could actually thrive, overcome their surroundings.

So vouchers were introduced.

Two general theories have been advanced about how vouchers would work. The first is borne from the ideas of Milton Friedman and generally of public choice philosophy. When you reduce the transfer costs for schools through vouchers, parents pick the school most suitable for their child. In doing so, the school gets a more committed parent, the student finds a more suitable learning environment, and the community enjoys greater overall achievement.

That’s one theory.

The second looks at education as a means of confirming communal identity; the school is an agent of parents, of a localized group. Vouchers are a means of recognizing theses communal schools, schools typically religious  in nature. Educational outcomes are advanced through the social capital of these communal schools — faith practices can orient children, overcome dysfunction elsewhere and help even poor children thrive. And the experience of Catholic urban education seems to uphold this very idea.

However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, both these theories may not be the golden key they first seemed.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of the data suggests vouchers worked best when enrollment from voucher students was kept low. As the percentage of voucher students rises, the returns diminish until the point when there is little difference between the performance of public and private institutions. The vast majority of private schools participating in the program today have high percentages of publicly funded students.

The article details quite well what vouchers have meant for Milwaukee, and how for some students it has provided a need lift up. Note that when one has large numbers of publicly funded students, students from poverty environments, achievement looks like every one else’s.

All this only confirms what folks like Richard Rothstein have argued, that the problems in our urban schools are structural in nature. It is not the failure to teach, or the failure to lead per se. Rather what we face are a cluster of social and economic difficulties that will require, yes, social capital, but also a lot more in terms of innovative programming.

With this has also come the understanding that when students of low socio-economic status are mixed with middle class peers, they do better. Th middle class environment provides what the students lack: social capital.

In this light the outcomes of the WSJ study are not surpassing. When students are reasonably mixed (up to, it seems, forty percent or so), then achievement blossoms. When schools have a larger percentage of their students from lower SES, then their performance looks much the same as the urban schools they left. It is not the institution, but the mixing of classes that matters. Unintentionally, the study does not so much validate the role of private education or charters, as it does the necessity of integration.

You can’t beat poverty. Gravity wins.

Do School Vouchers Work? Milwaukee’s Experiment Suggests an Answer



How important is the CHIP funding? This is one of those programs with serious long-term impact as T74 explains

Years of research have shown that access to medical care, especially in the early years, improves life outcomes for low-income children in realms far beyond personal health. A 2014 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a 10 percentage point increase in Medicaid eligibility between birth and age 17 cuts the likelihood of not completing high school by as much of 6 percent and boosts the four-year college completion rate by 2.3–3 percent.

As CHIP Funding Nears Expiration, Study Warns that Half of All Kids Under 4 Depend on Publicly Provided Health Care (January 7, 2018)

It was 20 years ago today…

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Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.