New Baylor ISR Study Analyzes Minority Education Achievement Gap

April 3, 2007

Media Contact: Julie Carlson, senior staff writer, (254) 710-6681

The achievement gap between white students and their African American and Latino counterparts is not as immovable as many educators and social scientists believe, according to results from a new Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion analysis of the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS).

"The findings show that when highly religious African American and Latino students from intact families are compared with white students, the achievement gap disappears," said Dr. William Jeynes, a non-resident scholar with the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and professor of education at California State University in Long Beach.

Jeynes' report was published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and released to the media April 3 in a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The Evaporation of the Achievement Gap

Jeynes focused his study on a nationwide sample of 20,706 12th-grade high school students included in the NELS data set, because the achievement gap is generally the highest at the 12th-grade level. However, his analysis of eighth- and 10th-grade students yielded the same type of results. The study finds that:

• Highly religious African American and Latino 12th-grade students from intact families, when controlling for socioeconomic status (SES), scored as well as their white counterparts on the Social Studies test, the Test Composite, and scored virtually the same as white students on the Math and Reading tests.

• Highly religious African American and Latino students from intact families were also slightly more likely to advance a grade with their class than white students, and were more likely to take the basic core set of courses recommended for college preparation by the National Assessment for Educational Progress.

• Even when researchers did not control for socioeconomic status, these highly religious minority students were more likely than white students to advance a grade with their class by 1.1 percent and were more likely to have taken the basic core set of courses by 5.6 percent. The achievement gaps in the Math, Social Studies, Test Composite and Reading tests were quite small, ranging from -0.8 to -1.5 percent. The achievement gap for the Science test was -3.6 percent.

"It is intriguing that personal faith and parental family structure were the salient factors associated with eliminating the achievement gap - not school factors, although several of these do have an additional impact," said Dr. Byron Johnson, co-director of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion.

"The results indicate that faith and the presence of two biological parents are sources of strength for many African American and Latino children. Our nation should encourage these sources of personal strength," Jeynes said.

The Influence of Religious Schools in Reducing the Achievement Gap

Jeynes' analyses of the NELS data set and a research synthesis (called a meta-analysis), which statistically combines all of the studies on a certain topic, indicated that:

• The achievement gap was approximately 20 percent less in religious schools than it was in public schools.

• Students in religious schools, on average, outperformed their counterparts in public schools, yet African American and Latino youth and those of low socioeconomic status were the greatest beneficiaries.

For example, in the NELS study, white students who attended religious schools achieved at a level 4.2-6.0 percent higher on the various subject tests than white students in public schools. However, African American and Latino students in religious schools achieved at levels 6.0-8.3 percent higher on these subject tests than their counterparts in public schools.

Similarly, although the religious school students from the highest SES quartile scored between 3.2-5.2 percent higher on achievement tests versus their counterparts in public schools, students in the lowest SES quartile scored between 5.4-7.8 percent higher on achievement tests than youth from this quartile attending public schools.

Factors that Explain the Religious School Advantage

Jeynes conducted further analyses using the NELS data set to determine why African American and Latino children and low-SES students perform better in religious schools than they do in public schools and why the achievement gap is lowered in a religious school setting. Analyses indicate that the school culture, strong parental participation and the encouragement of religious faith were factors contributing to the lowering of the achievement gap in religious schools.

Among the school culture manifestations, the results suggest religious schools have a higher level of racial harmony and are regarded as more racially friendly than public schools and are considerably less likely to have drug and alcohol problems than do public schools.

Conclusion

"The conviction held by some that the achievement gap is virtually immovable is inaccurate and misguided," said Rodney Stark, co-director of the Baylor ISR. Instead, as Jeynes amplified, "Many families have eliminated that gap. Religious faith and intact and stable family units are two of the factors that enable African American and Latino youth to achieve at the same levels of white students. Knowing that the gap can be eliminated, American society could help create an environment that maximizes the number of African American and Latino youth that can access these strengths, by encouraging and not discouraging religious faith, by facilitating the functioning of religious schools and by creating a cultural environment, via myriad means, that encourages strong families."

For a copy of the study, go to http://www.isreligion.org.

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