Last month, the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program, an organization based out of Atlanta, released a report that surveyed 754 GOAL Scholarship families about why they prefer sending their children to a private school.
The top reasons were “better student discipline,” a “better learning environment,” “smaller class sizes,” “improved student safety” and “more individual attention.”
There was little mention in the report of the need to implement federal requirements in Georgia’s public schools, such as the controversial Common Core standards.
In the fall of 2012, the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards for math and English language arts were implemented in Georgia classrooms. Georgia is one of 48 states that initially adopted the Common Core Standards.
“Only 10.2 percent of the parents who completed the survey listed higher standardized test scores as one of their top five reasons why they chose a particular private school for their child,” according to the “More Than Scores” report.
Mount Paran Christian School is a GOAL school in Kennesaw near the corner of Stilesboro Road and Barrett Parkway.
David Tilley, the head of school for Mount Paran, said he does not feel pressure to adopt Common Core.
Most discussions with parents about the national standard is around the lack of understanding of the federal curriculum, Tilley said.
Mount Paran already exceeds those “minimum standards. … Therefore Common Core is irrelevant to us,” Tilley said.
Tilley said he never plans on aligning the school’s curriculum to Common Core.
The families associated with Mount Paran are a mix, from conservative to liberal, but parents of students at the school must sign a statement of faith, Tilley said.
“The Christ-centered education is in keeping with family values and Christian values in everything we do,” Tilley said.
Parents hold schools accountable
North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw, between Cobb Parkway and Interstate 75, was founded by four families in 1983 and currently ranks as one of the largest private schools in the Atlanta area.
Todd Clingman, the head of school, said after examining Common Core he views the standards as a “bottom denominator.”
“It doesn’t always emphasize the 21st century skills,” like critical and creative thinking needed for problem solving, or collaboration and teamwork, Clingman said.
The few parents who have contacted the school about Common Core, Clingman said, do not want it implemented.
The “independent, interdenominational Christian school” has a conservative base of parents and students who “share beliefs about life in general,” Clingman said.
Private schools are not finding reasons to implement a curriculum around standardized testing because the marketplace holds them accountable for demonstrating results, according to statement accompanying the report by Lisa Kelly, president of Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program Inc.
That is the same way Jack Hall, head of school for The Walker School, views the private school system.
The Walker School is a college preparatory school in Marietta off Cobb Parkway, north of the 120 Loop.
Hall said the school is held accountable by “parents’ checkbooks.” For parents who are making a large investment in their children’s future, Hall said, the best indicator is college acceptance rates.
The Walker School has a 100 percent college acceptance rate, Hall said. The school offers four foreign languages starting in the sixth grade, and 23 advanced placement courses.
Hall said the challenging and rigorous curriculum is governed by a board of trustees, not by national standards.
The local autonomy means the school does “not have to answer to a group that doesn’t know our students,” Hall said.
The Walker School would only change to Common Core if it was required in order to keep its accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Hall said.
The classroom environment
Hall said Cobb has many high-quality schools, with a balance of both public and private options.
“They both kind of sharpen each other,” Hall said.
Hall said most of the students at The Walker School live in Cobb, with the biggest pockets being from Marietta, Kennesaw and east Cobb.
There are some students from Woodstock, Roswell, Alpharetta and Paulding, he said.
When selecting a private school, the most important information to parents is the student-teacher ratio, according to the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program report. Whether the school is a religious institution also ranks high on the list.
Hall said in the 1980s The Walker School had a student population of about 400 students, but grew to 1,000 students by 2005.
A typical Walker School teacher instructs 60 to 80 students throughout a semester, Hall said. Compared to public schools that can have class sizes of over 40 students, which can mean a teacher instructs 200 students a day, Hall said.
The smaller school size is also better for safety, Hall said, because teachers know each of their students.
“There aren’t cracks to fall through,” Hall said. Administrators and staff know if there is a visitor on campus right away, he added.
Tucked to the side of Midway Presbyterian Church off Dallas Highway, near Lost Mountain Road, is a small kindergarten through 8th grade school.
Barbara Kline, head of school, said she started Midway Covenant Christian School in September 1996 with eight children, and the school has grown to 305 students.
Parents who wish to enroll their children in Midway Covenant Christian School do not have to be a member of the church, Kline said, but must be “a believer” who will sign a statement of faith.
Kline said the religious focus is integrated in all the classrooms with a “biblical worldview.”
Each student is taught a specific Bible class for 20 to 40 minutes a day, and there is also a chapel service for each age group once a week.
“We want it to be the best part of the day,” Kline said about the worship time, which is used to teach hymns and give praise to God.
Kline said parents want a loving and nurturing environment that stimulates their student intellectually, not a “cookie-cutter education.”