Inner city churches sustain education success

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, June 8, 2011, at 3:02 pm

Christian leaders who are interested in helping inner city kids graduate from high school should read two articles by Brian D. Barrett, assistant professor in the Foundations and Social Advocacy Department at the State University of New York College at Cortland. First, in a 2009 study called, "The 'Invisible Institution' and a Disappearing Achievement Gap," published in the journal Religion and Education, Barrett reported that an achievement gap that existed between white and black students was eliminated among those black students who reported that they attended church often. Moreover, those black students had higher grade-point averages than those who did not. In other words, involving kids in a church community is key to academic success. But churches and ministries that offer tutoring programs and are not integrating kids and their families into the life of the church rob kids of a proven pathway to long-term success.

Second, in a 2010 study called "Faith in the Inner City: The Urban Black Church and Students' Educational Outcomes," published in Howard University's Journal of Negro Education, Barrett provides compelling data confirming that, for inner city youth, involvement in the life of a good church is second only to the family as a predictor of academic success. While there are well-intentioned parachurch ministries that provide good tutoring programs, nothing can match the success of inner city kids loved well in a church community. Nothing.

From Barrett's 2010 research we can see the specific advantages of black churches addressing the needs of inner city children in low-performing schools:

  • Religious socialization occurs that reinforces attitudes, outlooks, behaviors, and practices among students-particularly through individuals' commitment to and the adoption of the goals and expectations of the group.
  • Black students are valued, both for their academic success and, more broadly, as human beings.
  • Regular preaching challenges the mind and heart to create a peer culture of success with different attitudes and behaviors.
  • Churches reach the entire family at once by providing context to nurture and encourage and challenge loving reciprocity between parents and their children.
  • The church can challenge parents and children to address the moral issues that undermine successful families and students.
  • Black churches tend to be more socio-economically heterogeneous so at-risk youth can have regular interactions with high-achieving blacks for mentoring and role modeling.
  • Blacks churches have intergenerational networks that invest in young people over the long term and provide regular adult reinforcement of good values.
  • Churches invest money in creating scholarships for children that significantly humanizes the giving process and provides some informal accountability.

In light of Barrett's research, and a voluminous number of other studies for over 30 years corroborating his findings, I would be in favor of shutting down stand-alone inner city tutoring programs that do not integrate children and their parents into the life and holistic whole family ministry of the church. Why would a church offer a tutoring program but not integrate the child and family into the life of the church? What's the point?

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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