Part 2: How Does School Impact a Child’s Faith Development?

Yesterday I introduced several thought-provoking findings from the Cardus Education Survey, conducted to answer the question:


Do the motivations for private religious Catholic and Protestant schooling in North America align with graduate outcomes?


In yesterday’s post, I highlighted the findings related to education’s impact on spiritual formation. Today I am highlighting the findings related to cultural and community engagement.


As Cardus states in their report, Christian schools are commonly criticized for providing an “insular Christian community” in which students and families are less likely to engage with the larger world. The researchers wanted to determine if this is, in fact, an outcome of private Christian education. Following are highlights I found most interesting.
Lack of Clarity of Goals and Sense of Direction
Compared to public school graduates, Protestant school graduates had significantly more clarity of goals and sense of direction in life. (Note that the graph bars below are negative versus the public school baseline because they phrased the question negatively; in other words, the graph shows Protestant school graduates had less lack of clarity than public school graduates.) Homeschool graduates felt significantly less life clarity, and that was due almost entirely to the school effect alone (see yesterday’s post for an explanation of the difference).

Feelings of Helplessness in Dealing with Life’s Problems
Homeschool graduates had significantly more feelings of helplessness in dealing with life’s problems than all other groups (and this was primarily due to the school effect alone). Protestant school graduates had somewhat less of a feeling of helplessness than the other groups. It’s interesting to see that in both this and the last graph, Catholic schools and non-religious private schools have negligible impact versus public schools.

Grateful for Income and Possessions
Both Protestant school and homeschool graduates were significantly more grateful for income and possessions than public school graduates, and this was almost entirely due to the school effect alone. This is despite their household income trailing that of Catholic school and non-religious school graduates. I would expect that people from Christian backgrounds would be more grateful, but I would not expect that to be due so strongly to the educational environment specifically. This is a very interesting finding.

Prepared for Personal Relationships, Friendships and Family Relations
The result of this question is perhaps the most eye-opening finding from this section of the survey. There was a very strong positive impact for graduates of all private schools versus public schools on the feelings that high school prepared them for personal relationships, friendships and family relations (especially marriage). I would not necessarily expect to see private schools having such a large impact in this area given that it’s not directly related to academic education. It says a lot about the benefit of the private school environment on less quantifiable outcomes. On a side note, it’s interesting that the school effect is actually dampened by familial factors for homeschoolers and non-religious private school graduates.

Family Structure: Age First Married, Number of Children, Number of Divorces
Homeschoolers were the only group to be married significantly younger versus public school graduates, but this was almost entirely due to family factors, not schooling.
Protestant school graduates are the only group to have more children versus public school graduates, and that was almost entirely due to the school effect alone.
Protestant school graduates and non-religious private school graduates had slightly fewer divorces than public school graduates due to the school effect alone, while homeschool graduates had slightly more divorces due to the school effect alone.
Political Engagement
Protestant private school and homeschool graduates show a surprisingly low interest in politics, mostly due to the school effect alone. They donate less, participate less and express less interest overall in political action. I was surprised to see that these facts were due specifically to the school effect as opposed to broader family factors.

Community Involvement
In addition to the surveys of graduates, Cardus interviewed administrators, teachers, and faculty. Their comments on the impact of educational environment on graduates’ community involvement were especially interesting.
While many principals and teachers reported a shift in thinking in their schools – moving over the last decade from a purpose of protection from culture to engaging culture – most of these schools said they “continue to exist in a mode of critiquing culture rather than engaging in culture.”
The Cardus report sums up the administrator interviews nicely with this statement: “In most schools, we find the lens of cultural engagement to be narrow, promoting what stu­dents can do, like service and vocation, rather than a larger view of navigating the spheres, processes, and networks of government, the media, and the arts.”
In Summary
The two things that stand out to me most from this section of the survey are:
1. The strong impact of Protestant schools on less tangible factors like life clarity, general gratitude and relationship preparedness. I would have thought school choice would impact these measures, but not that the school effect alone would dominate them.
2. The findings that Christian school graduates are so much less likely than public school graduates to engage in community and political action. I would not have expected them to necessarily be more likely to engage than public school graduates, but I would have expected them to be equally likely.
How about you? What stands out to you from this section of the survey?


  1. Bryan Crain on March 22, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    The reason there’s such a low response on “Participation in a political protest, march, or demonstration in the past 12 months” is that for the most part, liberals LOVE protesting, “occupying”, and marching. Since most kids in these private school will come from families that lean right, these protests and occupy movements just aren’t on the kids radar. Then, on the flip side, public school kids are indoctrinated with political stuff all the time, which makes them more likely to get involved politically. I thought of this when I read this news story today: “Va. middle-schoolers assigned opposition research on GOP candidates”. Here’s the link:

    • Natasha @ Christian Mom Thoughts on April 15, 2012 at 2:01 PM

      Bryan – That’s a very interesting point. I’m not sure how one could quantify that liberals love protesting more than conservatives, but if that is generally true, then it would explain that data. 🙂 Given that most people of faith do tend to be conservative, I think that does impact the results here. Thanks for the link too!