With the report of the initial findings of the Cardus Education Survey (CES) released in August, the hope is that stakeholders will consider how their own Christian school and system compare to the survey’s findings, says Dr. Deani Van Pelt.
Van Pelt, associate professor of education at Redeemer University College and CES co-investigator, notes the survey aimed to discover whether there is a match between Christian education motivations and outcomes.
It is hard to talk about the ways forward for Christian schools when there’s uncertainty around whether they are doing what they say they are, she says.
The study is the largest representative sample of Christian school graduates, using data from five separate studies.
Among the survey findings are that Christian schools promote community building and civic responsibility; are strong contributors to family life; provide strong life direction for students; and foster gratitude, hope and optimism for the future.
Van Pelt says when schools look to compare themselves to the findings they can ask themselves whether or not they match the findings and, if so, what does that say about the pathway forward.
These conversations can start answering what 21st century Christian education could look like, she says.
Schools may have different responses depending on their mission statements, she says. For example, some may find a strong alignment with their goal of creating world-changers and note that they indeed are producing leading citizens with global impact while others who claim they are doing so may instead find that they are producing “salt-of-the-earth” citizens whose main influence is within their local families and community.
“We’re hoping that schools will take a look at their purposes and their means to achieve those goals, and even if the conclusion is that everything is satisfactory then there’s still something that’s very healthy that happens through those types of reflective conversations,” she says.
While it can be difficult sometimes to have these kinds of conversations, Van Pelt says the changing terrain in terms of economics, politics, technology and globalization requires a look at “those fundamental and essential educational questions.”
Cardus is looking to collect Canadian data for the survey in January and February 2012. Van Pelt says they are excited about the potential of comparison data becoming available such that similarities and differences between Canadian and American Christian schools and their graduates will become possible.
The organization is also planning for more publications on the academic level including several upcoming articles in the Journal of School Choice.
Schools and associations can invite Cardus representatives to speak at their conferences or events about the survey, and there are free facilitator guides with PowerPoint slides available for download so schools can organize their own discussions. The discussion points are around what is our purpose, why we do what we do, how do we do it, and what should we be doing differently.
Van Pelt says with the comparative data available, it helps to demystify some of the rhetoric and misconceptions about Christian schooling.
“We’ve made a major contribution to the research landscape and that is tremendously satisfying. It’s hard to predict the effect that will have as the years unfold,” she says.
“If we can stimulate conversation at the local school/association level, if we can help to strengthen Christian schooling in some way, then as we move into this new century, into new times, we will also be very deeply satisfied.”
To learn more about the study, visit this link.