Parents who choose Christian day school education to encourage faith formation and family values in their children are getting what they pay for.
That was one of the findings of a survey of thousands of high school graduates in the United States and Canada, the largest-ever survey of its kind. It was conducted by Cardus, a Christian think tank located in Hamilton, Ontario.
Graduates of both government (public) and non-government (private) schools were asked to rate their education and whether it has an impact into adulthood—spiritually, culturally, and academically.
Ray Pennings, a senior fellow at Cardus, said the most encouraging results in both Canada and the U.S. show that “there is a significant positive effect of Christian schooling in the family, spiritual, church and community lives of graduates.”
Ellen Freestone, principal of Vancouver Christian School in British Columbia was encouraged to see that graduates emerge with a strong commitment to family and community. “Clearly, graduates are contributing to society through service and strong values,” she said.
However, the survey showed that Christian school graduates are more reluctant to engage the culture in areas such as politics and the arts or pursue leadership opportunities that have high impact.
“Many Christian schools talk about ‘the Lordship of Christ over all of creation,’ yet there seems to be some obstacles in having our graduates live this out beyond their own community,” said Freestone.
James Marsh, head of school at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, Missouri, agreed. “[Our graduates have a] tendency to be more critical of the secular world and less likely to be engaged in changing it,” he said.
So how can Christian schools use these survey results to improve their effectiveness? Dave Koetje, president of Christian Schools International (CSI), based in Grand Rapids, Mich., believes the focus should remain on the things that make Christian schools different from public schools.
“Biblical world view is a key point of distinction for CSI schools. We are always looking for tools that help us measure [how that mission penetrates] our schools,” he said.
Marsh says that Christian schools are changing already. “Christian parents today are not making the choice for Christian education out of a sense of loyalty like many did in the past,” he explained. “Today’s Christian parents are more concerned with the value of their investment in the education of their children and they want validation for their choice. Christian schools are more committed today to ask and answer the question, ‘how do we know?’”
The Christian Reformed Church has a long history of support for Christian day school education; the study’s findings indicate that local churches are one of the main beneficiaries of Christian education.
“Christian school alumni are very involved in their church communities,” said Gary Postma, principal of Timothy Christian School in Williamsburg, Ontario. “The data shows that if churches support Christian schools, their own future ministries would be enhanced.”
Pennings agrees, saying the survey results confirm that Christian school graduates make a larger contribution to the leadership and finances of their churches. “[The data] suggests that, in addition to the inherent benefits of Christian education for students and families, the church as an institution is one of the primary long-term beneficiaries of Christian education.”
Survey results for the U.S. were published in 2011, followed by the Canadian report in the fall of 2012. Full survey reports are available online at www.cardus.ca.