Faith-based education in the United States dates back to 1606, when the first Catholic school was established in St. Augustine, Florida. As such, Christian schooling has played a significant role in the educational landscape of our nation for over 400 years. During the 2005-06 school year, faith-based schools comprised 17% of all K-12 schools in the United States, educating more than 4.1 million students per year.
The need for high quality Christian schools is compelling. Enabling students to learn within the framework of a Christian belief system is a necessity for families who value such a distinct and valuable education. Therefore, providing a distinctive education to students has been and must remain a characteristic of Christian schools. Dr. Charles Glenn of Boston University suggests faith-based schools that are clear about what they stand for are successful because they have a clear vision for education. This vision includes a focus upon Christ and the virtues that pervade all activities within the Christian school. Likewise, this vision includes an understanding that all that is done within the Christian school is done with excellence, as if unto Christ.
As a result, Christian schools must be institutions of academic excellence. The reason for a Christian school’s existence is to be a school, a place of academic learning. Therefore, Christian schools must be institutions that seek excellence, providing the rigor and support necessary for students to thrive and the programs required to enable students to engage with and impact culture and society.
Christian schools throughout North America are facing a dilemma. Due to financial constraints and in some cases, a growing perception that the quality of Christian schooling is subpar, many Christian schools have closed or will close their doors in the near future. Between the 1999-2000 and 2005-06 school years, nearly 1200 faith based schools within urban centers closed, displacing nearly 450,000 students. Likewise, the rise of charter, pilot, magnet, and other public school options has increased the competition for quality school options throughout the nation.
There has been a growing tension between the values of academic rigor and discipleship. In many circumstances, Christian parents have been forced to choose between high academic standards in public or non-sectarian independent schools and their local Christian school’s desire to nurture the faith of the child, but not the intellect. Too often a commitment to discipleship and a commitment to academic excellence have stood in opposition to one another.
The Council on Educational Standards and Accountability insists that academic rigor and programmatic excellence in all areas are inherent to discipleship, not contradictory. As a result, CESA schools demand quality, commitment, rigor, and excellence in every facet of the school. CESA therefore works in conjunction with schools to enable growth, provide resources for improvement, and to hold accountable all schools who strive for programmatic distinction and excellence, for the glory of God.