Acton Institute Powerblog

Study: Religious Schools Perform Better Than Public Schools

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According to a new study, private religious schools perform better than both public schools and public charter schools. William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University at Long Beach and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton, told the Christian Post that he found religious, mostly Christian, school students were a full year ahead of students who attend public and charter schools.

Could the results be due to religious school parents being move involved in their child’s lives? Jeynes controlled for this “selection effect” and still found that religious schools perform better. He controlled for other variables too, such as socioeconomic status, gender and race, and found that students at religious schools still have a seven to eight month advantage over students at public and charter schools. According to the Christian Post:

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.

The study is further vindication that programs in which teachers are treated as imparters of truth are superior to those in which they are merely facilitators of a state-approved curricula. It also shows why Americans who care about education should support educational choice. All children, even those whose parents don’t have the financial means, deserve a quality education—and not just an education in secularism.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


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  • Could we get a link to the actual study?

  • David Leonard

    As a real life example, see my article on Hope Academy (Minneapolis) in Christianity Today last year:

  • This is encouraging (with Mr. Hugger, I’d love a link to the report itself). Just one quibble from your last paragraph: we do enjoy educational choice, right? That is, any parent can choose to send their children to Christian or parochial schools. I don’t think it’s helpful to employ the euphemism “educational choice” to MEAN “voucher programs.” I send my kids to Christian schools, am glad to have that option, but don’t have any desire to see a voucher program. I’d rather see the Christian community step up and make Christian education affordable for any family who wants it.

  • Here’s a link to the study, but to get the full article you’ll probably need to access through Hekman:

  • Karen Serra

    Although I went to public schools/colleges I would have loved to be afforded a private/Christian school. We did pray and pledge allegiance to the flag (one Jehovah’s Witness girl, Christine, did not say the pledge) but God was not the center of it all. Godly guidance within a home is the key factor in their children’s learning ability as a whole, learning to be honest, tolerant, thoughtful, patient, to listen and share, to be still and quite when appropriate, just a multitude of character traits. That’s one of the things I love about the Duggar Family and the example they lead and lessons they teach US as well as their children.

  • GoldRushApple

    >All children, even those whose parents don’t have the financial means, deserve a quality education

    I do not blame a parent for opting for a mediocre public high school over a parochial school since the only check they write are for school fees. Many times the public schools offer more extracurricular activities (dance, a comprehensive music and art program, vocational classes like welding) and sports (swimming/diving). Then again, if it speaks of the academic rigor of public schools, I recall many foreign exchange students within the US public system saying their days weren’t that intellectually challenging when compared to their school in their homeland. So offering more of X can be just window dressing without much depth.

    Currently state funding dollars don’t follow parochial schools, so if the rising 8th grader can see himself excelling at a public school, taking all honors during his lower levels and AP’s during his senior/junior years, has a strong interest in music – if the high school has a decent music program – and his parents see the financial benefit in saving money than paying Catholic school tuition, there’s more incentive to send him to the public school. Aid that with school counselors that are attentive when applying to various colleges and you have a product that’s more appealing. What will be more impressive if his faith formation at home is solid.