“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 www.cardus.ca.
– Dan Vander Ark