(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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  1. Connie Ryan Terrell asks, “Why create a school that does not give students the best possible chance to be successful in school and in life?”

    My question is, why do we continue to spend 60%+ of the state budget to subsidize government schools that do not give students the best possible chance to be successful in school and in life?

    It's good to see someone focusing on education instead of the social experimentation that goes on at government schools. It's just too bad there won't be more spaces available at the Joshua Academy.

  2. Thinking the same thing Eric. I worked for a Christian school that wasn't accredited by the state (Indiana doesn't provide accreditation for private schools, at least when I lived there), and we got along just fine. All that the accreditation would mean for us would be interference, not improvement.

  3. I think Eric is missing the point, and it has very little to do with religion. I attended an unaccredited Christian school. I had a great education, or so I thought. Once I applied to college though, I was rejected over and over, because many colleges and universities often do not accept students who come from unaccredited schools, or, often times require much higher acheivements before they will accept them. Why? Because unaccredited schools don’t have to follow the state regulations for educational curriculum. Therefore, many universities and colleges don’t acknowledge grades and accomplishments in an unaccredited school to be on the same level as from an accredited institution and your application is shoved down on the list for approval.

    The school in question is taking kids who are already behind in education (and life in general) and putting them into an even higher risk of not getting into college, getting internships, etc. simply because they did not seek accreditation.

    As stated in Ms. Terrell’s original letter, not getting acredited solely for religious purposes obviously isn’t the reason, as many schools that are religious based can, and have, become accredited. Therefore, why not just seek accreditation to make sure the students are given every opportunity possible?

    Eric mentions that they are comparing apples to oranges, but isn’t he doing the same thing when he mentions that the parents would take their kids out if their children weren’t benefiting from it? Many low-income families are also undereducated, therefore, would they actually recognize that their children were not getting the best education? Probably not. I have taught in private schools in both Chicago and NYC and in most cases the parents assumed that since they had to pay for the school and it was private, the schools must be better than public schools, and who are they to judge? Most of them didn’t finish high school, technology is much more advanced than when they were in school and so, to them, it seems wonderful.

    I am all for more alternative methods for education, including private schools that incorporate religious teaching as part of the curriculum. As a parent myself, I believe that I should have the right to have my children educated in our beliefs at school if I so wish (Sunday school just doesn’t cut it). However, I also want my children to be able to further their education and not experience what I had to, and I just don’t understand why this school wouldn’t do the same.

    1. Having worked for a Christian school that wasn’t accredited by the state (in Indiana). Kids getting into college was not a problem, and our college enrollment rate was better than the public school.

      Also, my wife and I homeschool and we have not seen this as an issue for kids who have been homeschooled.

      When these kids typically score better on the ACT/SATs the results speak for themselves.

  4. Laurie – Respectfully, I believe you are missing the point. Iowa’s growing hostility toward private schools is making it more and more difficult to maintain state accreditation. It has nothing to do with academics. Iowa’s private school’s blow the public schools out of the water in every area. It has to do with increasingly offensive social issues bills passed with the help of quasi-spiritual groups like the Interfaith Alliance. There are many other nonaccredited schools in Iowa that are doing amazing work without the bureaucratic nightmare that is state accreditation. I’m sure Joshua Christian Academy will do fine.

    Also, the issue of credit transfers to college is fast becoming a moot point. Ivy League schools are competing for homeschool students and most states don’t accredit their private schools! Are you suggesting that private school students across the nation are not getting into college? They are being courted by Universities!

    Also, there is an entire system of third party accrediting bodies such as NCA, ACSI, CSI, Lutheran, Catholic, ISAACS, and other accreditations available to schools. These are not state accreditation but are better in that they maintain great academic standards while understanding and tolerating the religious component. Something the state is finding increasingly hard to do.

    There was a time in the past when schools that didn’t have ANY accreditation had issues with transfers. That problem is, largely, gone.

  5. Eric, from what I understand, JCA has not, nor has planned to become accredited in ANY form, which is the issue I have. You’re right, there are many ways for them to be accredited, not just by the state. I realize that in particular your original post was over their state accreditation, but they have not mentioned having any kind of accreditation from anyone, which I don’t understand.

    You mentioned Iowa was one of only a couple of states to accredit private schools, but this is not exactly true. It varies state to state on the rules and regulations on accreditation. In fact, in some states “religious” and “private” schools are two separate things and in others they consider them the same. For example, Alaska must accredit any private school (they include religious schools) that applies for accreditation (as long as they fulfill the requirements), but Alaska has no state accreditation regulating ANY schools, therefore they use a National accreditor for their public schools and for any private school that applies. Alabama accredits private schools but not “Church” schools. Delaware doesn’t accredit private or religious. Accreditation by a third party in D.C. is allowable for both private and religious schools, but must be approved by the D.C. Board of Education (no accreditation can be denied because of the specialty of the school (i.e. arts and sciences, technical, religious or other base). So, the laws governing accreditation vary greatly from state to state.

    Homeschooling and private schools are completely different, especially in smaller communities. In actuality, homeschooling has an advantage. No longer are homeschooled kids isolated and actually stuck “at-home”, contrary to popular belief. There are many outlets for them to not just learn but to live and breathe what they are learning, unlike public schools. Many homeschooling programs have leadership conferences and other events for the kids to showcase their talents and academic achievements. In Public school, you get to participate in these events only if you are at the very top of your class (and live in a state that holds them). In a small town, Private schools often can’t afford to do this on a wide-based level because the parents and donors are already responsible for funding the cost of maintaining a facility, employing staff and providing for supplies and other expenses.

    I’m not talking about “credit transfers”, as high school credits don’t transfer to college anyway (unless you are taking college courses as a high school student). I’m merely referring to acceptance into a particular college. As I mentioned before, homeschooling is nothing like private school and the Ivy Leagues have finally begun to take notice of the amount of responsibility, leadership qualities and academic excellence that is required of most homeschooled students through their programs (much of which ARE accredited in some form). If a university has a choice between a student who was homeschooled, one who went to a public high school and another who went to a non-accredited (by non-accredited, I mean in any way, via State or other method) private school, in most cases, they will go with the homeschooled and public students first before considering the private school student (unless the private student has some verifiable achievements/talents that the school is looking for specifically). If the private school was accredited by a third party, then I think they would all be pretty much at an even level, although I still think the homeschooled student would be picked first.

    Anyone can find a college to accept them. But why should they have to settle for who will take them? They should get first dibs at any school they wish, if they have achieved the right goals. I have only been out of high school for 8 years, and based on my experiences, both as a teacher and university student, things have not changed soooo drastically, at least not yet. And, I don’t think it will anytime soon, because in this day where there are so many other ways to become accredited, there really isn’t an excuse why you wouldn’t. Many private schools in the Midwest are not accredited, but trust me, in the larger cities especially, most private schools DO get accreditation (i.e., there are more than 50 private Catholic schools alone in Manhattan that are accredited). This allows them, in some states, to receive state/federal funding (albeit a small amount compared to public schools). Without which, some of the schools could not afford to maintain themselves because they have a large population of students who can only pay tuition based on their family income (as what JCA has mentioned they will do). The accreditation also makes them more appealing to donors and vendors to help cover costs of maintaining the school. In some cases, a private school that does not wish to accredit with their state or other party, will accredit a specific program, (i.e. a college prep program). There are many options available today. Almost all of the “prestigious” private and religious schools in the country are accredited by one party or another.

    Also, many homeschooled students get their high school diploma through accredited programs, either through their local public high school or through various Christian programs/schools that are accredited in some fashion.

    I understand your frustration that everyone thinks that a government regulated, public school system with one conforming set of educational and moral rules is the best possible way to educate our kids regardless of what WE want for our children. However, if we want to truly help our kids/students, we can’t allow ourselves to get bent out of shape in the opposite direction without thinking about the pros and cons of both arguments. Your original posting seemed so negative and angry due to your issues with the Interfaith Alliance that it seemed you were ignoring a lot of other issues that come with no accreditation just so you could be “against” them or something. I’ve never heard of them before, however, I have been on both sides of religious schools and the accreditation issues, and so far, accreditation seems to work out best for both sides in my experiences.

  6. The original post was more about Interfaith Alliance lying about the benefits and superiority of state accreditation – an accreditation that, by definition, HAS to accommodate the lowest common denominator for even the worst public schools in the state to achieve. State accreditation doesn’t “ensure” ANY academic standards.

    I would like you to fine any significant number of colleges or Universities that don’t accept students from non-accredited schools. They are few and far between anymore.

    JCA will need to exist for a while before it is in a place to try for a third party accreditation. Let’s give it time and see if it goes that route.

    Homeschooling and non-accredited schools are not different according to the Interfaith Alliance. A point I was trying to refute.

    Having worked as a Development Director in a private school, I know that donors do not give to schools (generally) based on their accreditation. It’s about relationships, results, and reputation. The only people who truly care about accreditation are edu-crats, educators, and the occasional parent. Problem is, those parents that care don’t have much by way of choices right now anyway.

    And the ultimate point is that a non-accredited school that actually teaches children how to learn and loves them unconditionally is MUCH better than an accredited public school that leaves them illiterate, hopeless, and struggling to get into college.

    And you are right – I am angry. Angry that people seem to think they can make better decisions for kids than those kids’ parents. I’m angry that government tells me what school my kids go to based on my zip code. I’m angry that education is one of the only sectors that is a full government monopoly for all but the richest Americans. And I’m VERY angry that Teacher’s Unions and edu-crats spend more and more of my tax dollars on increasingly pathetic academic results without giving me as a parent the option to spend that same money on a school that works.

    It’s immoral.

Comments are closed.

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