Government policies have been ineffective, while Christian schools have been effective, in reducing the achievement gap in education, according to a published study by William Jeynes, a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton and a professor at California State University-Long Beach.
The education gap that exists between white and African American students is formally referred to as the achievement gap. It highlights the disparity between school performance that is tied to race and shows up in test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates.
Jeynes pointed to factors, such as faith and family dynamics in the July issue of Education & Urban Society as helping to close that gap, especially noting "religious faith among children of color has a considerable impact in alleviating the achievement gap."
"In Christian schools the achievement gap is 25 percent narrower than in public schools and this emphasis on purpose in life and self-discipline is likely part of the reason," Jeynes found.
In 2013, The Christian Post reported Jeynes's research on religious schools outperforming both public and charter schools.
CP reached out to Jeynes on Friday and asked him if this was a result of what critics sometimes claim is the practice of Christian schools "skimming off the top" to recruit the best available students.
"Skimming from the top is not as much as a factor as it once was," declared Jeynes. "Parents many times choose to homeschool, some of those parents who would have sent their child to parochial schools are now choosing homeschool."
Jeynes pointed out that faith-based schools are in decline and in a greater competition for students, adding, "there aren't many students they can turn away."
Jeynes says that often when people think of faith-based schools they think "elite private schools," but he points out that the average income of faith-based-schoolchildren parents is only 18 percent higher than their public school counterparts.
He says that the desire for poor students at faith-based schools is higher than ever.
"There is a desire to evangelize," says Jeynes. "They are really going after lower income students and disadvantaged students. Demographics are changing and they want to keep up with it."
In The Future of School Choice, Paul Peterson echoes some of the same observations, noting that the answer to minority gains in school "is certainly not money." Peterson points out that black students have made significant advances when switching to private schools because of factors such as smaller class sizes, increased engagement of parents, the curriculum, and less classroom and racial conflict.
This is something Jeynes points out as well. He notes that students in religious schools are "more likely to sense that teachers care about them."
"There is much less racial tension," he declared. "Presence of gangs is less prevalent. All these variables are important. Students are going to do less well if they are worried about being beat up."
Paul Peterson in The Education Gap reiterates this message but also notes that when African American students attend a religious private school the ripple effects go beyond mere student academic performance, leading also to the students acquiring a better self-image, and, by attending faith-based schools, become religiously observant.
"We expect far too much from the government," says Jeynes. "It can do some things well, but apparently reducing the achievement gap is not one of them. Perhaps we are expecting the government to be like Superman.
"The results of the study are certainly food for thought, given that the nation as a whole and the government specifically have been attempting to eliminate the achievement gaps for half a century," he adds.
Jeynes does note that it is discouraging that despite billions of dollars being spent by the government there has been little to no change in the achievement gap. "Nevertheless, what is encouraging is that these findings indicate the real solutions require very little money," Jeynes says.
Jeynes is in favor of more school choice with a caveat, he believes that it is essential that religious schools have autonomy from government. "I have done some research on faith based schools which are supported by the government in Europe. They have a lot of school choice there but government involvement has diluted the impact of those religious schools."