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Religious Faith, Intact Families Eliminate Achievement Gap Between White Students and Students of Color, According to Nationwide Data Study

Contact: William Jeynes, 562-985-5619,; Rick Gloady, 562-985-5454,; both with California State University, Long Beach


LONG BEACH, Calif., Mar. 30 /Standard Newswire/ -- A recent analysis of nationwide data by a Southern California professor shows that the achievement gap is more easily bridged than most academics and educators believe.


William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University, Long Beach, found that when highly religious African-American and Latino students from intact families were compared with white students, the achievement gap disappeared.


The results were based on an analysis of the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), and they ostensibly refute assertions written in the popular and controversial book The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray that biological differences in intelligence make the achievement gap that exists between white students and their African-American and Latino counterparts insurmountable.


"The conviction held by some that the achievement gap is virtually immovable is inaccurate and misguided," said Jeynes, who will be presenting his findings publicly for the first time at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, April 3. "Religious faith and intact and stable family units are two resources that enable youth of color to achieve at the same levels of white students."


Highly religious was defined as a person who not only was regularly involved in attending a house of worship and religious youth group, but also regarded oneself as highly religious. Intact families were defined as homes in which both biological parents were present in the home.


Jeynes asserts that it is intriguing that it is not school factors but rather personal faith and parental family structure that were the salient factors associated with eliminating the achievement gap.


"The results indicate that faith and the presence of two biological parents are sources of strength for many children of color," Jeynes pointed out. "Our nation should encourage these sources of personal strength rather than discourage them. Presently, our school leaders do little to encourage religious faith in youth of color and as President Clinton observed in a 1995 speech, our public schools often communicate to children that they are to leave their faith at the front door of the school entrance."


Jeynes focused his study on 20,706 nationally representative 12th-grade high school students included in the NELS data set because the achievement gap is generally the most prodigious at the 12th-grade level. However, his analysis of eighth- and 10th-grade students yielded the same type of results.


His analysis indicated that highly religious African-American and Latino 12th-grade students from intact families, when controlling for socioeconomic status, scored as well as their white counterparts on the social studies test (0 percent difference); the Test Composite, a combination of math and reading, (0 percent difference); and scored virtually the same as white students on the math (0.4 better) and reading (0.4 worse) tests.


Highly religious African-American and Latino students from intact families were also slightly less likely to be left behind a grade than white students (by 2 percent) and were more likely to take the basic core set of courses recommended for college preparation by the National Assessment for Educational Progress (by 6.2 percent). The only area in which African-American and Latino students trailed white students was on the science test (-2.4 percent).


Even when one did not control for socioeconomic status these highly religious minority students were less likely than white students to be left behind a grade (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.


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. Additionally, it showed that although students in religious schools, on average, outperformed their counterparts in public schools, youth of color and those of low socioeconomic status (SES) 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.


Jeynes conducted further analyses of the NELS data to determine some of the reasons why children of color and low-SES students perform better in religious schools than they do in public schools and why the achievement gap contracts in a religious school setting. He found that the school culture, strong parental participation, and the encouragement of religious faith were likely some of the reasons for the contraction of the achievement gap in religious schools.


Among the school culture manifestations, which were also indubitably affected by family and faith factors, Jeynes noted that the results indicated that religious schools have a higher level of racial harmony and are regarded as more racial friendly than public schools and are considerably less likely to have drug and alcohol problems than do public schools.


"American society needs to help create an environment that maximizes the number of youth of color that can access these strengths," Jeynes concluded, "by encouraging and not discouraging religious faith, facilitating the functioning of religious schools, and by creating a cultural environment that encourages strong families."


Note: Professor Jeynes will be available for interviews while he is in Washington, D.C., next week to address the National Press Club. He has given permission for the release of his cell phone number, which is 254-716-0880.