Christian schools have faced great difficulty in the last several decades. Educating students in independent Christian schools—including classical, Christian schools—may become more difficult in the coming years. Those involved in Christian schooling know that the economic and political realities of private education in America mandate that these schools be superlative in order to survive. Because of current economic and political realities, classical, Christian schools must begin to consider how and why institutional assessment and accountability is increasingly important for their subsequent survival and ongoing effectiveness.
The first issue for many schools to consider is that of seeking and maintaining accreditation through a nationally recognized accrediting body. Accreditation is meant to assist with important functions taking place inside and outside of the school. It serves to ensure that the institution is meeting minimal academic and institutional standards of quality and effectiveness. The accreditation process, including a school’s self- study, inspects the governance structure of the school, the admission process, student life, academic and co-curricular programs, the faculty, the administration, health and safety oversight, and other pertinent programs that function to confirm the quality of the school. By meeting the standards of an accrediting body, a school examines its mission and verifies that its programs are designed around the stated mission.
Completing the self-study for accreditation ensures that school personnel—including the board, administration, faculty, and staff—are all accountable for the work that takes place in the school. As the self-study process should minimally last throughout the course of one school year, involving every employee and many constituents, the school—and every facet therein—is examined closely to ensure quality and to promote future development.
Likewise, through the accreditation process, outside educators observe the school’s programs to ensure the institution is in fact meeting the standards of the accrediting body through implementation of appropriate programs and practices. This peer-review process is not only a worthy learning measure, it is also healthy, as it enables schools to better see through the lens of visiting educators where strengths and weaknesses exist.
Institutional accreditation functions to certify the overall academic program of a school. The idea of ensuring core competency within each student through the academic program is a central focus of the accreditation process. In addition, this process ensures that schools hire qualified teachers who have minimally obtained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Understanding that the quality of a school can only be as good as its faculty, accrediting bodies ensure that schools hire and retain high-quality individuals and provide professional development programs to promote growth of the faculty and assure quality within the classroom.
Institutional accreditation also serves also to validate the diploma or certificate granted by an institution. Outside agencies, employers, and institutions of higher learning are assured that schools that hold national, regional, or state accreditation have met a quality standard. While most colleges state that a student’s high school being accredited is not necessary for college admission, the reality is that those students who graduate from schools who have attained and maintained accreditation are often given preferential treatment in the admission process, because accredited schools are perceived to have met certain standards for student success and achievement.
Classical, Christian schools must consider how they will attract and maintain a constituency that has more schooling options. Charter schools, magnet schools, quality public schools, non- sectarian independent schools, other Christian schools, and home schooling provide a great variety of competition for the classical school. Ensuring that the classical, Christian school maintains its distinction is of utmost importance. Networking within the classical school community will enhance the classical educator’s knowledge of curriculum, professional development programs, and other important facets of what it means to be distinctly classical. Likewise, such networking can provide opportunities to assess one’s school through benchmarking with other like-minded institutions.
Being in a community with only classical schools, however, may not be healthy. Attending professional development gatherings—such as the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools, a symposium by the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability, or a PAIDEA Conference—will allow classical educators to gain valuable insight from their non-classical peers. Likewise, classical educators’ presence at these national gatherings will encourage the spread of many ideas from classical education to a broader audience.
The classical school that engages students through the liberal arts must not be an island unto itself. While independence and autonomy have often been hallmarks of the classical school, accountability and dependence upon one another will be the way in which classical schools not only survive in the coming years, but also thrive, impacting the lives of generations of students to come. As we consider what it means to be a classical, Christian school that promotes the flourishing of our students in all areas of life, may we remember that, through close self-analysis and a strong institutional assessment initiative, we will improve the quality of our programming in every area and, in turn, bring glory to God. As St. Paul reminds us in Romans 11:36, “For him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”