No Church Left Behind (NCLB)— A Satirical Modest Proposal

Often, the arguments for basing school funding on test scores has been based on the premise that schools that cannot demonstrate their effectiveness should not receive government funding. Within this capitalistic, zero-sum-game reasoning, test scores become the “bottom line,” serving as a proxy for businesses’ ledgers tallying profits and losses. Test scores — and only test scores — should measure school quality. Schools that cannot demonstrate “success” by this one measure should not continue to be funded.

Book cover for book titled “No Church Left Behind”
Image credit: Book page on Amazon

This argument is tied to efforts to re-segregate schools via charter schools and vouchers for private schools. Many fine churchgoing people have supported using test scores to rank schools, and have supported funding charter schools and private school vouchers as a “fix” for “failing” public schools. The fact that more competition was never proven to improve educational outcomes was never the point. Many members of the religious right were really pushing through the privatization of schools in hopes that charter schools or school vouchers would tear down the First Amendment’s required separation of church and state. Many have also backed charter schools or private vouchers in a not-so-subtle attempt to re-segregate schools.

All of this rhetoric led to the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which has meant that for the past 20 years, our public school students spend increasing amounts of the school year taking standardized tests. All of this was so that schools’ “effectiveness” could be measured and the schools could be ranked, which would ostensibly allow families to make more informed choices when they selected schools for their children.

I modestly propose that we evaluate the effectiveness of our nations’ churches in the same way we evaluate the effectiveness of our public schools.

As taxpayers, we all fund our country’s churches — not with direct funding, but with tax cuts. Not having to pay something allows a person or entity to keep more of their earnings, which means it’s income by another name.

All churches that receive tax cuts should be required to quantitatively demonstrate their effectiveness before they receive their tax cuts. Of course, the best measure of a church’s effectiveness would be admission rates into heaven. But unfortunately, God isn’t releasing that data.

Due to this regrettable lapse in direct metrics, we will need to use a measure that would most closely approximate a person’s likelihood of reaching heaven in the afterlife. Most churches claim that the Bible (or whatever other religious text they choose) provides all the information needed for their adherents to reach heaven. Most even claim that the Bible provides a clear, step-by-step blueprint: follow it and admission to heaven is all but guaranteed.

As such, it makes the most sense to create a standardized test that measures Christian churchgoers’ knowledge of the Bible (we can create alternate tests for religions that rely on other holy scripts). Churches with a significant majority of attendees who pass the Bible Achievement Test Taken Yearly (BATTY) can continue to receive their tax cuts. Churches whose members are not learning sufficient knowledge about the Bible should no longer get tax cut subsidies from the public. Why should all of us have to pay for churches that are not effective? Why should we help pay ministers who are not doing their jobs? Why should we have to pay for these damnation factories?

To make the BATTY cost-effective, it should consist only of multiple-choice questions that can be processed by scan-tron machines. For example:

Which of the following groups did Christ NOT include as “blessed” in his “Sermon on the Mount?”
a) the peacemakers
b) the merciful
c) the gun owners
d) those who are persecuted because of righteousness.

If short-answer or essay test sections are required, they can be graded by former Starbucks managers who have never gone to church and who are willing to work for minimum wage to do the tedious work of grading parishioners’ answers on a four-point scale.

At least three Sundays per year that would normally be dedicated to a sermon and other traditional church service activities should be dedicated to administering the test. Tests should be administered in April, when there are fewer important events that would interfere with church attendance. Some churches may need to spend additional church services preparing for the test. Or they may need to require low-scoring members of their congregation to go to additional Bible study sessions. They will need to provide these sessions at their own expense.

Of course, this form of measurement may disadvantage churches that have people who can’t always attend, or churches that serve the more high-risk populations such as people who struggle with addiction, instability, or who are poor. Charter schools have found that the best way to raise their test scores is to get rid of the students who are less likely to score well. Churches may need to employ the same strategy and tell low-scoring parishioners that they are no longer a good match for that church and that they should seek spiritual guidance at a less selective church. Churches will need to decide which mandates are most important for them to follow — the word of Christ to serve the poor and needy or the mandate to prioritize the people most likely to get into heaven? Then they will need to allocate their resources accordingly. After all, what is the purpose of funding churches if they cannot prove that their outcomes are in alignment with their stated objectives? The exclusion of some less-righteous populations is certainly a small price to pay if it allows churches to raise scores, keep their tax cuts, and thus prioritize the needs of the members whose BATTY test scores indicate they are most likely to enter the Kingdom of God. Those who can’t demonstrate their ability to meet these required learning outcomes can go to hell.

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