The Mission of CRSI

The Cardus Religious Schools Initiative (CRSI) seeks to generate new theoretical and empirical tools for understanding religious schools. CRSI conducts research which aims to appreciate the uniqueness of religious schools' mission and organization, to reveal the extent that religious schools improve outcomes for students, families, churches, and communities, and to show the links between school mission and organization and student and family outcomes.

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Latest Research Evaluations

Higher Education as Moral Community: Institutional Influences on Religious Participation During College

Research on the religiosity of college students and graduates has produced differing views on how college attendance affects student religiosity. Some studies find that attending college has a unilaterally secularizing effect on students, but more recent research has found that students actually become more religious during college. Jonathan Hill adds to this work by examining how institutional-level influences determine a student’s religious participation both during and after college. Using longitudinal data to study the impact of college attendance on religious service attendance over an individual’s lifetime, Hill finds that “college campuses do not engender any long-term secularization at the individual level” (529), and that the short-term and long-term effects of institutional influences vary somewhat by type of institution. 

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Patterns of Spiritual and Moral Development in Religious and Public Schools in Chicago

Teachers generally agree that moral education is an important aspect of their role as educators. However, there is dissent over whether or not private schools have an innate advantage over public schools in this aspect due to their inclusion of religious education in their curricula. To add to this debate, Blain and Revell use qualitative methods to study models of religious, moral, and spiritual education in twenty-one Chicago schools. 

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Children’s Cultural Capital and Teachers’ Assessments of Effort and Ability: The Influence of School Sector

While Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital has been a common facet in educational research since the 1980s, Dumais argues that current research is limited by its exclusion of the possible interaction between cultural capital and sector effects, specifically in relation to the difference between public and Catholic elementary schools. Thinking about cultural capital within the broader context of Bourdieu’s work, Dumais attempts to fill this gap in the literature by comparing public school kindergarteners and Catholic school kindergarteners in terms of how cultural capital and families’ orientations toward schooling influence teachers’ perceptions of ability and effort. 

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Catholic School Closures and Chicago Crime Rates

What effects do schools have on their neighborhoods beyond the education of local children?  Brinig and Garnett demonstrated in an article published in 2010 in the Notre Dame Law Review that the presence of Catholic schools in a community raised neighborhood cohesion and lowered perceived rates of social disorder.  Given this finding, and drawing on “broken windows theory” (Wilson and Kelling 1982), which explains that unchecked social disorder can encourage higher criminal activity in a neighborhood, Brinig and Garnett investigate how Catholic school closures affects communities.

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Catholic Schools or School Quality? The Effects of Catholic Schools on Labor Market Outcomes

Researchers interested in comparisons between public and private schools have long debated the existence and nature of a “Catholic school effect,” which suggests a positive influence on achievement for Catholic school students compared with public school students, but might be accounted for by selection effect, such that students who are enrolled in Catholic schools share characteristics other than Catholic school attendance that explain the achievement gap. Young-Joo contributes to this ongoing debate by analyzing differences in wages at adulthood given a measure of school quality which had not previously been a part of the dialogue about Catholic school advantages. The author finds that school quality and selection biases account for the majority of achievement differences.

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School Sector and Student Achievement in the Era of Standards Based Reforms.

For decades, research on school sector effects pointed to a consistent advantage in achievement for students who attend Catholic schools rather than public schools.  While results were similar, interpretation differed—some scholars interpreted differences in achievement as a “Catholic school advantage,” while others were more reserved, pointing to the small size of the advantage or the possibility that the differences between schools might be a result of differences between the students  who enroll in Catholic schools versus their public school peers.  In this paper, Carbonaro and Covey extend knowlege on this topic by using data fro the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 to examine how recent education reforms have impacted this achievement gap between public and private school students. 

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Private Schools for the Public Good

Download the recently released 2014 Cardus Education Survey Report. The Cardus Education Survey is now considered the most significant representative benchmark of non-public school academic, cultural, and spiritual outcomes.


David Sikkink, director of the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative, has been named a Cardus Senior Fellow. Cardus Senior Fellows comprise a network of recognized experts in a wide range of disciplines, bringing specialized expertise and capacity to Cardus research projects and events. Cardus provides an institutional framework within which they can write about and speak on key topics within their specialties. 

Recent CRSI Reports

Religious Schools, Gender Roles, and College Choices

Julie Dallavis investigates whether religious high schools are associated with gender differences in earning a bachelor's degree and choosing a college major.

Read the CRSI report. 

Homeschooling and Young Adult Outcomes: Evidence from the 2011 and 2014 Cardus Education Survey

David Sikkink and Sara Skiles report on young adult outcomes of students who have been homeschooled using data from the Cardus Education Survey of 2011 and 2014.

Read the CRSI report. 

Variations in School Sector Advantages: Degrees, Earnings, and College Majors

Sara Skiles and David Sikkink examine religious school sector outcomes of college degree, field of postsecondary study, and income using data from the National Survey of Youth and Religion (NSYR).

Read the CRSI report. 

Religion and Reading in Early Childhood

David Sikkink and Sara Skiles investigate the relationship between religious school attendance and reading outcomes during the early elementary school years.

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What is Your Major? Occupational Trajectories of Graduates of Religious Schools

David Sikkink examines whether religious high schools influence the type of job and career achieved by graduates. He considers college choice, college transfers, college major, graduation rates and occupational sector for Evangelical Protestant schools and Catholic schools, comparing them with public, private and homeschool students.

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What Religious School Parents Want

CRSI examined "What Parents Want," a recent Fordham Institute report based on a survey of American parents and the educational goals and the school characteristics that are most important to them. CRSI looks closely at the differences between religious school parents and non-religious school parents.

Read the CRSI report