Survey Says: What Good Are Christian Schools?

“Is your Christian school influential in the lives of your graduates?”
“How do you know?”
“I met one of our graduates the other day in a store and asked her whether she liked our Christian school. She said it really prepared her for college.”

Would that answer from one person be enough to persuade you? How does a school measure the influence of its education beyond graduation? If you were to survey graduates, when would be the best time to get the most accurate assessment? Five years out? A decade? What questions would you ask: achievement in college? Naming key points of a Christian worldview taught at your school? Generosity of time or money? Church participation? Something else?

Currently, many Christian schools test their influence on students in one or more of these ways: academic test scores (provincially, state, or nationally normed); accreditation standards measured by site visitors; surveys of students’ parents; internal surveys of students; or end-of-high-school student presentations to parent-and-friend audiences. Seldom do Christian schools survey graduates, regarding either their practices or opinions, to test the Christian school’s mission accomplishment.

Now Cardus, a Canadian think tank, has provided new research on the role of Christian schools in the lives not of current students, but of graduates of Christian schools. In the release of a new report, “Walking the Path: The Religious Lives of Young Adults in North America,” Cardus gives evidence of the influence of Protestant evangelical schools in certain aspects of graduates’ lives. Cardus’s release says, “Using Cardus Education Survey data, University of Notre Dame analysts say that attending [a Protestant evangelical school] has a measurable effect on graduates that is distinct from the influence of family, social-economic background, or church life.”

Dr. Beth Green, education program director at Cardus, names three key ways Protestant evangelical schools are different from public school grads:

  • Christian school graduates report significantly higher belief in orthodox Christian teachings, such as the belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and that the Bible is infallible in matters of faith and practice.
  • Christian school graduates are much more likely to pray, read the Bible, attend church regularly, and tithe.
  • Christian school graduates are less likely to switch religious affiliation or to turn from the faith of their childhood.

The education survey included respondents from the United States and Canada. Among other results of the Notre Dame study, again controlling other variables and again compared to public school counterparts, the analysts found that evangelical Protestant schools’ graduates are more likely to attend church regularly as adults; to be married, have children, and to have attended a Christian college; and to be involved in church volunteering or leading. In summary, Green noted: “Church and family life are important in young adults’ spiritual formation, but our research reinforces the fact that school plays an important role as well.”

For CSI’s school boards and administrators, this research provides good evidence of Christian schools’ influence on faith beliefs and practices in alumni of our schools. For us leaders in Christian education, what are other areas of influence we want “tested”? For example, do we hypothesize that our schools influence how our graduates choose vocations or how their faith affects their work within the vocation?

John Carver claims that an inexact measurement of the right thing is better than an exact measurement of minutiae. This Cardus report is a more exact report of our schools’ influence than we have seen before. Consider using the findings in this research in drawing parents to your Christian school. Would you say your school has this influence on your students? It is certainly worth your discussion…and worth checking with your alumni.

To read the whole report, visit

– Dan Vander Ark

1 Comment

Filed under Christian worldview, Trends in education

One Response to Survey Says: What Good Are Christian Schools?

  1. Good Morning Dan,

    Thanks for this contribution. I appreciate your articles. They often challenge or affirm many of my beliefs. That is what a good writer does right? Anyhow: I agree. Why don’t we use the Cardus study more in how we communicate how our “deepest hopes” are often being realized as Christian schools? I can’t think of one school within a 100-mile radius of us that has (Sioux Falls Christian included…where I serve.)

    However, I wonder if in some ways were are using this study to tell the same narrative that we have trusted for about 100 years, but is now being affirmed by the study. Here is the narrative implied or not: “Our kids (Christian school) are more “Christian” than your kids (public school).”

    Let me give you a story as an example: This fall I was at a PD event and we were talking about the impact of a certain initiative connected to our ability to develop curriculum in a way that is “holistically biblical.” One of the comments, from a Christian School staff member, within this dialogue was: “I want to make sure this initiative makes our students (Christian school kids) different than the students (public school kids) down the street.” Will we use the Cardus study to make similar points? And if we use the Cardus as a tool to make this point (our kids are more “Christian” than your kids) is that really the point we want to make? Is our deepest hope that “our kids” are more “Christian” than those kids?” Shouldn’t our hope be different than this?

    My point: When it comes to helping folks (current an potential customers) understand the value of Christian schools (as the Cardus study points out) as a way to affirm our work and communicate our value is the best use of this survey to show the difference between public school kids vs. Christian school kids? This is the narrative we as Christian schools have generally used since the beginning of our existence. Is it working? Not that it isn’t true, but is it working? Generally, I don’t think it is based on our enrollment numbers (as a whole, not individually.) And is that what we hope? Really? Is our existence primarily to prove a point (our kids are more Christian than yours?) Isn’t the reason we exist to draw students towards God’s glory so that they might begin to realize His purposes for Him? In my opinion, shouldn’t this be how we use the survey to communicate our “place” or “value” in the educational marketplace?

    I am not saying the comparison (public vs. Christian school students) isn’t necessary. I think it is as a way to measure and affirm our effectiveness in nurturing faith in the context of learning. The difference here is these studies can be used to affirm and challenge us (Christian Schools.) But should they be used to prove a point (Our kids are more “Christain than yours?) I am not sure that is wise or helpful in our marketplace.

    Your ideas of measuring our students vocational choice, why they chose this vocation, and how they live out God’s calling via this vocation seems like a much more deep and meaningful conversation to have with our current and potential customers.

    I would be grateful to hear your thoughts on this Dan. I am not trying to turn this into a “who’s right and who’s wrong” conversation, but rather questioning how we traditionally justify our existence.

    Thanks, Dan. I appreciated this article as I think it “sparks” a myriad of issues we (Christian Schools) need to grapple with.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *