Research demonstrates that students at faith-based institutions perform better academically, but what is faith-based education and why does it contribute to improved outcomes?
“Passion for quality, and personal care and concern for each individual are two important traits of faith-based education that offer a value to students that isn’t commonly found elsewhere in the modern education system,” said Debra A. Pellegrino, Dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies at The University of Scranton, which has been educating students in the Jesuit tradition for more than 75 years.
“Education should focus on the development of the whole person, including ethics and values, not just cultivating hard skills that political leaders have deemed necessary to successfully operate within society,” said Pellegrino, EdD.
Faith-based schools embrace a holistic approach to education by involving the mind, heart and soul. With an education founded on moral teachings, students can take what they learn and apply it to how they lead their lives. Lessons are not centered on a student’s readiness to pass a standardized test before graduating. Instead, they focus on higher-order thinking, critical thinking, citizenship and leadership, skills students can use to help make the world a better place.
Researchers have identified a variety of benefits linked to attending faith-based institutions.
A meta-analysis of 90 studies found that students at faith-based schools scored 11 percentile points higher on standardized tests on average than their peers at traditional public and charter schools. The researchers also concluded that students at faith-based schools had fewer behavioral issues.
“The results indicate that attending private religious schools is associated with the highest level of academic achievement among the three school types,” according to the meta-analysis, which was published in the Peabody Journal of Education in 2012.
Additionally, research published by The World Bank in 2014 found that faith-based schools had a higher satisfaction rate among parents when compared to public schools. At faith-based schools, managers spent a significant amount of their time “fostering a culture of accountability and dedication,” helping to put student service at the center of the teaching mission.
‘Rigorous Scholarship and Service’
One argument against faith-based education is that it holds a bias against scientific teaching. However, as Pellegrino has noted, a true faith-based education includes humanities, languages, sciences and communications, but all taught from a faith-based perspective.
The goal is not to create students who are all the same, but rather to provide an education that allows each student to apply her or his faith in any situation.
“Three interrelated themes of Jesuit education – a focus on moral reflection, teaching for social justice, and the liberal treatment of subject matters – are embedded in our curriculum, as well as rigorous scholarship and service on both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” Pellegrino wrote in a November 2015 article published by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
“Our emphasis is on intellectual inquiry and clinical practice devoted to the lifelong development and improvement of our students, our faculty, our programs and the global community.”