What Mark Zuckerburg and the Average Christian School Agree Upon – and They’re Both Wrong

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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg just announced that over the course of his lifetime, he will invest 99% of his wealth in charitable endeavors, including significantly enhancing educational opportunity through education.   But will technology address educational inequity?  Anna Kamenetz, writing in NPR, says no, citing a comprehensive analysis in Science.

A couple of days ago, I met with a good-hearted Principal of a denominational school who also serves as a consultant for his denomination.  His goal was to differentiate by technology; everything was state-of-the-art, including one-to-one Chromebooks.  Plus he had shouted the virtues of the same from the mountain-tops.

From a branding point of view, he did everything right.  He changed his program to be technology-rich.  He trained his people.  He communicated.  So you would expect technology to highly important to the parents at his school, right?  
Actually, in relative importance to his parents, it was number #41 of 60 various program elements we tested, slightly less important than physical education.  In impact on satisfaction, it fared better: 23rd of 60.  (In other words, 22 other programmatic issues impacted satisfaction more than all his technology):

Individual student needs accommodated was actually his highest problem in terms of impact on satisfaction and willingness to refer.
In other words, while his parents expected it, yet the fundamental promise of computer technology – that kids will learn regardless of where they start – was a problem.

I personally have interpreted over 500 parent satisfaction surveys, all for Christian schools, and I see this relatively LOW importance on technology in survey after survey after survey.   This is common, and it absolutely is a disconnect for the average Christian school principal, who is either apologizing for his/her current technology, planning on spending tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade, or is proud to have recently done so (and wondering why enrollment is not up …)

The simple fact is that traditional achievement gap issues of race and income DO NOT MATTER in Christian education with an intact family, and are negated half-way in a single parent home:

Jeynes (1999, 2002a, 2002b, 2003b) analyzed the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) and found that not only do religiously committed African American and Hispanic students to better scholastically their less religious counterparts, but that when one examines these religious minority students who are in intact families, the academic gap versus white students disappears (Bryk, Lee & Holland, 1993; Demo, Levin, & Siegler, 1997; Gaziel, 1997)  International Handbook of Christian Education, p. 33.

This is a study of studies:  a meta-analysis, and it’s the correct methodology to resolve the big questions in social and other sciences.  To repeat:  Achievement gaps go away in Christian K-12 education if the family is intact.
So why exactly do achievement gaps go away in Christian K-12 education? It’s technology, right? NOPE, nada, not a chance.

The Sunday School answer – Jesus – would suffice.  My friend Dr. David-Paul Zimmerman would call it the God factor – the development of Christian character than motivates and elevates children to rise above their current circumstance.

One of the most important books I know in dealing with minority or low-income kids is Carol Dweck’s Mindset.  Read the book, or Google “Dweck Mindset technology” to see just how unimportant and off the radar technology is in helping lower income kids succeed.  Ditto Focus by Mike Schmoker, or How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.   I love this quote by Tough:

…[Our] culture is saturated with an idea you might call the cognitive hypothesis; the belief, rarely expressed along but commonly held nonetheless, that success today gets measured on IQ tests ….

But in the past decade, and especially in the past few years, a disparate congregation of economists, educators, psychologists, and neuroscientists have begun to produce evidence that calls in question many of the assumptions behind the cognitive hypothesis. 

What matters most in a child’s development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. 

What really matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, as list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.  Economists refer to these as non-cognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.   pp. xii-xv.

A while ago I spoke at a conference alongside Rev. Paige Patterson and Glen Schultz, the founder of  the Kingdom Education Movement.  Rev. Patterson, the President of Southwestern Theological Seminary and key leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, was asked how he would educate his children: Christian school, home school, or public school.  He was very direct:  He would homeschool, and that is in fact what his daughters were doing.  So much more efficient, he explained, no children with learning difficulties holding back his grandchildren, who simply learned so much more.

He gave this answer in front of a room full of Christian School Principals – and he knew it.  I would like to believe that with more reflection Rev. Patterson, who I respect, would have started talking about Christian character being forged in the home, but he did not say it.  His answer was more reflective of the cognitive hypothesis that many of us are caught up in. 

But achievement gaps go away in Christian K-12 schools because of Christian character – not technology.  In fact, our technology-rich public schools, where achievement gaps are largely getting worse, are not successfully instilling character.  Again, quoting Paul Tough, who does not mention Christianity or the church throughout this entire best-selling book:

national evaluation of character education programs published in 2010 by the National Center for Education Research, part of the federal Department of Education, followed seven popular elementary-school programs over three consecutive years.  It found no significant impact at all from the programs – not on student behavior, not on achievement, not on school culture.  P. 60.

At that same conference, I asked Glenn Schultz what he sees as he travels about the country.  His answer:  A whole mess of Christian schools focused on academics, and apologizing for technology.Note to Christian School Principals:  Mark Zuckerberg has MUCH more money than you do, and that’s the bad news.  It will be hard to compete with him.  The good news is:  he’s wrong, so you don’t have to. 

And the most important things you need to know about life (and overcoming achievement gaps) – you learned in Sunday School, not in front of an electronic screen.

(c) 2015 Dan Krause GraceWorks Ministries All Rights Reserved

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