Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Just How Discriminatory Are Private Christian Schools

We've heard--heck, the Supreme Court of the United States has now heard--that private religious schools feel a powerful need to reject and exclude LGBTQ students and teachers. But it turns out that there's an entire industry devoted to recruiting and retaining students for private Christian schools.

Meet Schola Inbound Marketing, a company in Ephrata, PA, that has a mission "to help Christian schools throughout the world grow enrollment and become sustainable using proven marketing, admissions and retention practices that will enable each school to impact their community for Christ and be a blessing to students and parents for many years."

Schola posts plenty of webinars, but one from last December caught my attention, warning schools not to admit the wrong sorts of people. You are probably thinking, "Well a bunch of atheists or Muslims or members of the Satanic Temple wouldn't want to enroll in a Christian school anyway, so what's the problem?" Well, here's the pitch:

A mission-appropriate family is actively committed to your school's mission. When this type family enrolls in your school, you want 2 dozen more of the same type because both the students and their parents enhance the culture of your school. You don’t want to lose them! One of the easiest ways to lose them is by enrolling families who are not mission-appropriate.

During these uncertain times, your school can easily make this mistake! And it’s natural! There are families that look like they are mission-appropriate but could change the culture of your school.

They dub this the rotten apple syndrome, and talk about how to avoid it.

The webinar (which I had to sign up for to gain access, you're welcome) is hosted by Schola pres Ralph Cochrane, a 1995 graduate of Grove City College (if you're from northwest PA, you already know about GCC, the powerhouse school for academically advanced heavily-churched kids). He's a business guy and "entrepreneur" 

So in the webinar, he elaborates on the idea of rotten apples and retention, noting that when public schools got all radical about masks and things, plenty more folks became interested in making the switch to private Christian schools (he also notes that such schools are seeing a loss of teachers who are burning out) and that these new families can "infect" the culture of the school. The big worry here isn't even the infection of the school culture, but the worry that letting these not-mission-appropriate families in may drive out the families that the school does want to keep.

One of the questions he answers is "Should we try to keep everybody?" The answer, of course, is no--some of those students and families may not be mission appropriate (I love that phrase, because it sounds so much nicer that "Christian enough"). He suggests ranking families in tiers, and has a company agent show off a spreadsheet that helps rank them both on how likely they are to return and also how mission appropriate they are "like, they may be really likely to return, but you really don't want them to." Ther are categories offered for mission-appropriateness, ranking families A through F. 

He also wants to address the "elephant in the room"--what if we take a bunch of public school kids and then they turn around and go back to public school because the mask thing is over. You can, he warns, be blindsided by both the new enrollees who turn right around and leave, plus, you can be surprised by the long-time families who are disgruntled because "these new students are ruining it." 

Look, this is absolutely within the rights of any private school. It's part of the point of being a private school. But when we start talking about sending public tax dollars to these schools via vouchers or education savings accounts, it's important to talk about the ways in which these schools are not aligned with the mission of public education. It's not just that they are exclusive in all the ways that make big headlines, but that they have a fairly narrow definition of their perfect student. If you're thinking that you'll have no trouble using your voucher to send your kid to the local private Christian school because your child is straight and is nominally a Christian--well, you may still find yourself nudged out the door because you're just not Christian enough. We talk a lot about the big obvious ways that these schools may discriminate; we should also pay attention to the small, subtle ways.

This is a model of schooling that absolutely does not align with the mission of educating every child in the country no matter what. We should not be connecting that model to public funding without at least talking about the change in mission. 


  1. I can't help noticing that Jesus Christ is never once quoted as having anything negative to say about homosexuality or abortion, which seem to be the main concerns of many "Christian" sects.
    He is quoted over and over again as being opposed to religious hypocrites... and those who profit on the misery of the poor...
    Oh, well.

  2. gfb9+ is correct in the comments about Jesus. It seems this article is more about the marketing company's philosophy than the practices of private Christian schools. As a teacher in in said schools for the last 37 years I feel qualified to state that there are Christian schools that strive every day to continue spreading the love of Jesus to our communities.

  3. Sometimes, the mission appropriate girl is young, timid and innocent enough to be coerced into a little light sexual abuse. As in the Christian school were MI's former Speaker of the House, taught--and where his father was the founder and superintendent.