One of the most problematic aspects of the U.S. educational system is the persistence of the achievement gap. White students generally perform better on tests than black students. Rich students generally perform better than poor students. And students of similar socioeconomic background perform differently across classrooms and school systems.
The effect is not only felt on the individual level—low school performance has been linked to crime, low earnings and poor health—but on our country’s economy. The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. issued a report in 2009 that claims the persistence of the achievement gap in the U.S. has the economic effect of a “permanent national recession.” If the gap between low-income students and the rest had been narrowed, the report notes, GDP in 2008 would have been $400 billion to $670 billion higher, or 3 to 5 percent of GDP.
Closing the gap has therefore become a national educational priority. So what is the most important factor in closing the gap?
In a large research synthesis study presented at Harvard University over the weekend, personal religious faith emerged as the most important factor that was associated with the greatest reduction in the achievement gap, followed by family stability.
Dr. William Jeynes, a Senior Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey and a Harvard graduate, shared the findings of his research synthesis that included over 1 million student subjects in a 1 hour presentation before a receptive audience of professors and students. Dr. Jeynes’ research synthesis indicated that past attempts to bridge the gap have been largely unsuccessful. However, certain factors that have been overlooked by social scientists apparently exert the strongest influence in shrinking the gap, of the factors researchers have examined over the years. In addition to personal religious faith and family stability, the study indicated the attending a faith-based schools reduced the achievement gap.
Dr. Jeynes asserted that if the nation wants to eliminate the achievement gap, “it will take having a more integrative and broad view of the factors that can potentially play a role.” . . . “If we want to be a country that has bridged the achievement gap, we need to embrace the value of the two parent intact family and acknowledge the strength and sense of purpose that children derive from faith and attending faith-based schools.”