(Before I address what I read in the Register today, I want to be VERY clear that I have no connection with Joshua Christian Academy, I do not speak for them, and all views below are solely my own.)

Many people in the political arena know that the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa is a quasi-religious organization that, in practice, opposes religious freedom and anything deemed conservative.  If something is socially liberal and flies in the face of traditional religious orthodoxy, they’ll champion it.  Just check out their candidate questionnaires for proof of this.  Legislators and policy makers with an allergy to all things orthodox Christian can then claim that “the religious community” is behind them.

We’ve seen another example of their hatred for orthodoxy and privatized-anything today in the Des Moines Register.  The Interfaith Alliance submitted an Op/Ed piece that tries to discredit the new Joshua Christian Academy starting this Fall on Maple Street in Des Moines.  The original story can be found here.

A group of individuals concerned that the public school system and the area’s private schools are under-serving kids in parts of the city have banded together to form a new school.  In Iowa, Schools have two options: they can seek accreditation by the state Department of Education or they can function, legally, as a cooperative group of homeschoolers in a school.  The difference?  The Department’s blessing.  A third option is to get a third party’s accreditation but the state does not recognize them currently.  Third party accreditation is a common approach nationwide.  State accreditation in Iowa allows private schools to receive Area Education Agency support, some transportation and textbook reimbursement, and is [unfortunately] required to participate in the Educational Opportunities Act (a tax credit program to help low and middle-income students attend the school of their parent’s choice).

Iowa is one of only two or three states in the nation that offer a state accreditation for private schools – let alone one that is required to participate in training, reimbursement, or school choice programs.  The only other states we know of are Louisiana (an “approval” process) and North Dakota (which few if any private schools participate in).  Let me know if you are aware of others.  Private schools across the nation lead the education community in academic quality and innovation regardless of which if any accreditation they maintain.  Combine that with their ability to address the whole child (physical, mental, spiritual, and academic) and they are doing great work with children across the nation – very few of which have any state accreditation and a large percentage of which don’t utilize licensed teachers.

So what is so odd about Joshua Christian Academy not seeking state accreditation?  Nothing.

Here is the letter published in the Register attempting to disparage the good work Rev. Ratliff, Chuck Hurley, and others are attempting to do at Joshua Christian Academy.

Following are some quotes from Connie Ryan Terrell’s letter followed by some thoughts on each:

Ms. Terrell: “The state has an accreditation process for public and private schools to ensure all students have equal opportunity to a quality, well-rounded education.”

Really?  Iowa has a rich tradition of quality public schools.  This is changing fast.  Is a quality education one that spends more money every year while standardized test scores plummet?  Should a parent of a 4 or 5 year old be comfortable with a public school system with academic trends that are constantly downward?  Is “equal opportunity” one that puts new teachers in the schools with greatest need while experienced teachers race for the suburbs?  Accreditation, unfortunately, doesn’t “ensure” anything other than you are willing to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get the state’s blessing.  Unless you are the Interfaith Alliance, that is, and you are far more concerned about every school in the state (regardless of whether they are private or religious) having to abide by an increasing number of accreditation standards that are offensive to religious schools and their families, contradict the doctrinal position of the school, and do nothing to increase academic excellence.

Accreditation, by its very definition, has to accommodate the lowest common denominator.  Every public school in the state has to be able to get it!  The dropout factories and all the schools in Des Moines and elsewhere in the state on the NCLB watch list are all state accredited!  Accreditation “ensures” nothing…except increased administrative costs.

Ms. Terrell: “Schools that are not accredited do not have to follow “best practices” or minimum-program standards, do not have to achieve basic standards and can discriminate against students who school officials do not want to attend their school.”

Connie Ryan Terrell is simply comparing apples and oranges.  First, private schools of any kind can accept or deny applicants to their schools for any reason at any time.  Accreditation rules regarding discrimination deal with students during the school day once they are already approved to study there.

Secondly, public schools with or without mandated “best practices” or minimum standards can fail every year (and get worse every year) and not only get fully funded but receive increased appropriations to improve.  It never ends.  As long as policy makers and special interest groups like the Interfaith Alliance are well-meaning and are willing to dip into the public’s pocketbook a little more, it’s all OK.  Just a few more dollars and one more regulation and it’ll get better.

Private schools work on a different system.  If Joshua Christian Academy doesn’t deliver a good product after a few years, they aren’t going to be around anymore.  If Joshua Christian Academy doesn’t meet the expectations of low income families who have dreams for their kids and are sacrificing to pay for part of the tuition cost, they are going to send them back to public schools where it is at least free and in many cases closer to home!

Liberal quasi-faith leaders like those at the Interfaith Alliance also fail to understand the motivation behind starting a school like Joshua Christian Academy.  They don’t work outside of a political construct so they can’t understand the love and passion Ratliff, Hurley, and the many who are working alongside them have for these kids.  It’s obvious if you know them at all that the founders of Joshua Christian Academy want nothing but the best for them and feel called by God to pour themselves into these kids.  They could do a mediocre job of educating and these kids would benefit from unconditional love, commitment, and support.  Parents who want to instill values in their children will have a friend in the educators at school.  This is a huge motivating factor for parents and teachers and one that is too often missing from the public school picture.  There are many amazing, passionate, and loving teachers in the public school system but too often the policy makers and administrators they have to work with rarely know how to foster the right environment in which to effectively teach.  The Friedman Foundation’s recent research on teacher satisfaction in the workplace is very enlightening on this subject.

Ms. Terrell: “The word school is not accurate. The Iowa Department of Education considers such establishments simply as a group of home-schooled students being taught in a more formal setting. In such settings, children do not have to be assessed to determine if they are making adequate progress. Curriculum used may not be resources endorsed by the educational community.”

The Iowa Department of Education and lawmakers generations ago decided that Iowa would treat private schools differently than any other state in the Union.  And now the Interfaith Alliance is using this to mislead Iowans into thinking that state accreditation is somehow normal for private schools.  Iowa’s private schools have had a great working relationship with the state for many decades.  This relationship has been increasingly strained, however, as the Department is increasingly putting pressure on private schools seeking to innovate or practice their faith without state pressure to compromise their faith.  Private schools across the state, thankfully, are resisting that pressure.

However, the idea that state accreditation makes a school a “school” is asinine.  Joshua Christian Academy will be more in line with private schools nationwide.  And it’s notable that Connie Ryan Terrell left out the detail that Joshua Christian Academy will employ licensed teachers (which they didn’t need to do!).

Also, is the Interfaith Alliance prepared to take the stance that homeschooling is somehow inferior to public schools too?  Considering the fact that Ivy League schools are competing for homeschool students and the largest growth in homeschooling is among liberal leftists, I’d be willing to bet they’ll be silent on the subject for a while.

Ms. Terrell: “The early years of education are critically important for the future success of all students. Why create a school that does not give students the best possible chance to be successful in school and in life?”

If she was honest, she would have mentioned that the schools in the area of Joshua Christian Academy are not exactly model schools in giving the neighborhood’s kids the “best possible chance to be successful.”  Why not offer an alternative?  What if it works?  What if it inspires the public schools in the area to keep up with the academic success of Joshua Christian Academy students?  Who are we to tell parents that their children are required to go to mediocre or failing schools?  Shame on the Interfaith Alliance for not standing up for parental choice in education.

A few things seem clear:  The Interfaith Alliance doesn’t trust the parents living around Joshua Christian Academy to make good choices regarding their child’s education.  The Interfaith Alliance will oppose any religious organization that doesn’t agree with their liberal theology (so much for protecting “faith and freedom”).  The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa has no idea what goes on in a private school or how private schools function outside of the state of Iowa.

The Interfaith Alliance should stick to what it’s good at – candidate questionnaires for its own constituents. Leave the commentary to people who have done their homework, are truly tolerant, and have an open mind.

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