On average, whites do better in school than blacks and Latinos. This achievement gap is greatly reduced, however, among blacks and Latinos who have high levels of religious participation, personal religiosity and parental involvement, according to a study by William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University and senior fellow at The Witherspoon Institute.
Jeynes presented his findings at a recent Harvard University conference on race and education. The study is based upon a meta-analysis, Jeynes explained in a March 6 interview with The Christian Post, of 30 different studies measuring educational outcomes. A meta-analysis statistically combines the results of all these studies to demonstrate what a body of research says on a given topic.
Jeynes found that two factors, religious faith and a stable family, had the biggest impact on reducing the size of the race and ethnicity-based achievement gap.
The most important factor that correlated with performing well in school was religion. Jeynes measured religion both intrinsically and extrinsically. Students had to both be involved in a religious institution, such as a place of worship or youth group, and they had to say that religion was an important part of their lives. Blacks and Latinos who demonstrated both of these factors performed better in school and closed the achievement gap with whites.
The second most important factor was having a stable family. A stable family was defined as either having a two-parent biological family or as having high rate of parental involvement in the student's education.
These two factors remained important independently of each other. A student who scored high on the religion scale but low on the family scale, for instance, still reduced the achievement gap. On average, a black or Latino student with high levels of religiosity but from a single parent household cut the achievement gap in half.
Attending a religious school was also found to reduce the achievement gap, but not at the same high rate as faith and family. Plus, Jeynes found that programs designed to reduce the achievement gap had only a small, insubstantial impact.
As a result of these findings, the California professor suggests that educators recognize the importance of faith and family and take a broad, multidisciplinary approach to reducing the achievement gap. He also believes that teachers should encourage students who demonstrate that their religious faith is important to them.
"In a public school setting, we should not proselytize, but if a child already has [a high level of religiosity], why not give a gesture of encouragement, just like we would if the child said their grandmother was a big help," Jeynes said. "That's just affirming a child in a faith they already have, yet most teachers will not do that. Faith is excluded from any such conversation and I really believe that's hurting kids."
Jeynes noted that blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to have high levels of religiosity, so when teachers do not encourage students who use inspiration from their faith to do well in school, they are hurting these racial minorities the most.