John Marshall is the chief equity officer for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), in Louisville, Kentucky. He is working with churches to change how they do Vacation Bible School (VBS) by training teachers how to integrate Common Core standards into their Bible lessons.
Marshall’s efforts are part of the “15K Degrees Initiative,” a partnership of Louisville schools, churches, and other local groups aimed at helping more African-Americans in that city earn college degrees. Only 14 percent currently have degrees, according to organizers, compared to about 20 percent of African Americans nationwide.
One of Marshall’s main challenges is combatting the “summer slide.” Students from minority and low-income backgrounds have a greater risk of learning loss during the summer than their wealthier classmates. Researchers say it’s one of the biggest factors driving the achievement gap between the two groups.
Temple of Faith VBS teacher Nicole Joyner tried this approach with her 8- to 10-year-olds on Sunday mornings. She recently taught a lesson about Jesus’ baptism and subsequent temptation in the desert. She divided the students into small groups, where they discussed the passage, summarized the story, and then presented it back to the class.
Her one criticism: the initial training came too late in the year.
“VBS groups need more time to prepare the lessons [in order] to use those standards effectively so it doesn’t feel like school,” Joyner said. “It takes time—it’s almost like rewriting the whole lesson plan. You have to decide which core standards will work in your lesson.”
Kentucky was the first state to adopt Common Core, and officials there have seen some academic improvement in recent years. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of Kentucky students are now considered college ready—up from 37 percent in 2011. Average ACT scores are the highest since the state began recording them in 2008.
Historically, VBS was an effort to teach both literacy and the Christian faith, said Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville. Many Southern Baptists, including Mohler, came to faith through the program. In some ways, Marshall is trying to take VBS back to its roots. The earliest VBS programs were organized by Mrs. Walker Aylette Hawes in the 1890s for the benefit of immigrant children living in poor neighborhoods in New York City.
Common Core is a hot-button issue within Christian education. Many who read this article will immediately dismiss the efforts of Louisville educators to work with churches for the common good of their community. If the Jefferson County Public Schools are willing to work with churches to help them find more creative ways of teaching that will help public school children improve their academic standing while proving a stronger faith foundation, it seems like a win-win proposal.
The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) has prepared a position statement to provide Christians with insight and direction working with Common Core Standards. In the introductory paragraph to the paper, ACSI states,
The conversation has become highly politicized in areas of state and local control, federal funding, and particularly assessment of the CCSS. This intense discussion of standards is an opportunity for Christian educators to express the distinctive value of a biblical worldview applied to an academically rigorous curriculum and to participate in a gracious, thoughtful, and rational response to this movement.
What do you think about public school districts working with churches to meet common core objectives within a faith-based setting? Is this a win-win scenario or not?