A new study of K-12 Christian schools shows that Protestant Christian
schools do a better job of developing their students’ spiritual
formation while Catholic Christian schools do a better job developing
their students’ intellect.
These are among the findings of a two-year study of Christian schools in
the United States conducted by Cardus, a Christian think tank.
Catholic school students have better academic outcomes, are more likely to
attend prestigious colleges, more likely to achieve an advanced
degree and have higher income levels as a result. This is consistent
with the goals of Catholic schools. Catholic school administrators
place much emphasis on academic achievement and Catholic schools have
more rigorous course requirements than Protestant schools.
Catholic school graduates do not embrace Catholic social teaching at high
rates, however. They are just as likely to divorce as public school
graduates. Also, they are not more likely to attend religious
services, and they are less likely to become leaders in their church
than those who did not attend a Catholic school.
Protestant school graduates, on the other hand, lagged in academic development
compared to Catholic school graduates, but were more likely to live
out the social teaching of their schools. They show more commitment
to their families, church and communities than those who graduated
from Catholic, non-religious private, and public schools.
“Catholic schools are providing high quality intellectual development but at
the expense of developing faith and commitment to religious practices
in their graduates, while Protestant Christian schools are seemingly
providing a place where students become distinct in their commitment
to their faith, but are not developing academically at any better
rate than their public school peers,” the Cardus Education
The survey also acknowledges that its findings contradict popular images
of Protestant schools.
“In contrast to the popular stereotype of Protestant Christian schools
producing socially fragmented, anti-intellectual, politically
radical, and militantly right-wing graduates, our data reveal a very
different picture of the Protestant Christian school graduate.
Compared to their public school, Catholic school, and non-religious
private school peers, Protestant Christian school graduates have been
found to be uniquely compliant, generous individuals who stabilize
their communities by their uncommon and distinctive commitment to
their families, their churches, and their communities, and by their
unique hope and optimism about their lives and the future,” the
Cardus Education Survey says.
The survey also contains a “discussion” section where the authors
explore the significance of the findings for Christian school
administrators. “As encouraging as those findings are, we wonder if
Christian schools might yet be able to impact culture
more directly without losing the effect of stable families,” the
authors ask, and they pose 13 questions for Christian school
administrators to consider in light of the findings.
They ask, for instance, “What if Christian school leaders were more
audacious in their goals, expecting students to be unwaveringly
committed both to their families and to being a part of culture
the arts, and the world of ideas?” and “What if Christian schools
would inspire students to develop a ‘whole gospel’ mindset –
reverence for creation, acknowledgment of the fall, worship
of the Redeemer, and a taste for restoration – rather than a more
narrowly-focused understanding of Biblical roles as husbands, wives,
The Cardus Education Survey represents phase one of a two phase project.
In phase two, Cardus will facilitate discussion and events to help
schools utilize the data from phase one.
The survey used both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The
surveys were Knowledge Networks internet surveys conducted over two
years by the University of Notre Dame and included approximately
1,000 Christian school graduates, and 500 non-Christian school
graduates in the U.S. and Canada.
Three separate qualitative studies were conducted using both
interviews and focus groups.