One of the most frequent charges brought against faith-based schools is that they are divisive to society and foster intolerance. Such claims are made despite a growing body of research evidence to the contrary—evidence that has been available for decades. In the past twenty years, several highly regarded studies have noted that private schools, including those that are faith-based, are more likely than their public school counterparts to serve student bodies reflective of the ethnic and racial diversity of the nation as a whole. Likewise, private school students are more likely than their peers in public school settings to sit in racially mixed groups in the lunchroom.
But if faith-based schools are, on the whole, integrated settings where students are not only tolerant of but also friendly toward their peers of different races and ethnicities, what is it about these schools that fosters such behavior? Moreover, are there differences in the extent to which faith-based schools foster integration and friendship among students? What might these similarities or differences indicate about Christian schools and Christian schooling, broadly speaking?
The study described here—referenced in the “Phase I” report of the Cardus Education Survey, and heading to publication in full in 2011–2012—attempted to answer these questions, working from the hypothesis, confirmed by a prior body of research, that private, faith-based schools are indeed integrated.
The study used a multisite case study approach and incorporated descriptive survey data, focus group data, and data from individual interviews. Data were collected in two schools, one with an Evangelical Protestant worldview (called here “Evangelical High”) and the other with a Catholic worldview (“Catholic High”). Both schools are located in the same urban center in the American northeast and both schools enroll significant numbers of students that identify as racial and ethnic minorities. Although not a perfect demographic match—all of the students in the Catholic school are considered low socioeconomic status, while only 30 percent of the students in the Evangelical school fall into that category—these two schools were similar enough to make them compelling places for research. Perhaps most important is that both schools are college preparatory and place a great emphasis on student achievement and the rigor of their academic programs.