Study: Religious Schools Perform Better Than Public, Charter Schools

Private religious schools perform better than public schools, and public charter schools performed no better than regular public schools, according to a new study by William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University at Long Beach and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton.

Jeynes spoke Monday with The Christian Post about the study. He found that religious, mostly Christian, school students were a full year ahead of students who attend public and charter schools.

The results of his research were recently published in vol. 87, issue 3 of the Peabody Journal of Education in an article titled, "A Meta-Analysis on the Effects and Contributions of Public, Public Charter, and Religious Schools on Student Outcomes," and were presented last month in a speech for Notre Dame University faculty.

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Jeynes used a research method called a "meta-analysis," which utilizes very large data sets by combining the data from many different studies. Most of the studies used test scores to measure student performance, but there were some other measures, such as grade point average and teacher ratings, as well.

The research uses four different models to show how the outcomes might change using different control variables. Some might argue, for instance, that students at religious schools do better because their parents are more involved in their education, not because the schools are better. Jeynes, therefore, controlled for this "selection effect." Religious schools still perform better, though, even when controlling for parental involvement.

Religious school principals, though, have told Jeynes that they believe parental involvement should not be controlled for because parental involvement is something that is highly emphasized at religious schools. Indeed, some religious schools require parents to sign a consent acknowledging the involvement that is expected of them.

Jeynes controlled for other variables as well, such as socioeconomic status, gender and race. When all the control variables are factored in, the study found that students at religious schools still have a seven to eight month advantage over students at public and charter schools.

Jeynes found that there were several reasons that religious schools do better. At religious schools, the students are encouraged to take difficult courses much more frequently and they have a "can do attitude," Jeynes explained, epitomized by the saying, "God doesn't make junk." Religious schools place higher expectations upon their students and send the message that they have the ability to go to college.

Jeynes also found a greater reduction in the class and race based "achievement gaps." Poor students and black and Latino students perform worse, on average, than students from middle-income, or higher, families, and white and Asian students. This achievement gap is lower in religious schools.

Some other factors that are more difficult to measure may also be at work, Jeynes added. Some argue, for instance, that the "school culture" or "social capital" at religious schools contribute to their better performance. There is respect shown for teachers and fellow students, and more racial harmony, for instance, as part of the culture of many religious schools.

Additionally, Jeynes found that the differences on behavioral measures were even greater than the academic differences. Students at religious schools were less likely, for instance, to get suspended, get into fights, do drugs, and get involved in bullying. These students also showed more respect for teachers.

Once difference that some, such as Jeynes, believe is an advantage for public schools is that public school teachers are more apt to demonstrate more flexibility with students expressing their own opinions.

"Faith-based schools are more likely to view teachers as the one who imparts truth, whereas public schools are more likely to view the teacher as facilitator," Jeynes said. "I'm in favor of classroom flexibility ... [but] classroom flexibility is associated with somewhat lower academic achievement."

Jeynes is not sure why that is, but hypothesizes that "in an environment in which opinions are encouraged ... students might be allowed to maintain opinions that are inaccurate."

Jeynes did not look at homeschooled students for this study, but has studied them in the past. His previous studies have shown that homeschooled students do even better than religious school students. Homeschooled students have several advantages over public and religious schools.

Students in general do better with high parental involvement and small class sizes. Homeschools, obviously, have the highest level of parental involvement and the smallest class sizes. Also, in a traditional school classroom, teachers may have to move on to a different topic before not all of their students have mastered the topic. In a homeschool, the parent/teacher can stick with a skill or topic until the student has mastered it, then move on. That is a "huge advantage," Jeynes said.

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