The Cardus Education Survey, which was designed to study adult graduates of Christian schools in North America, was conducted between 2007 and 2012 by the Canadian Christian think tank Cardus. Reports on the study were published in 2011 (focusing on the United States) and in 2012 (focusing on Canada). Though the goals of the study were unrelated to homeschooling, best research practices required that incidental data also be collected on homeschool graduates.
The Cardus publications relied on random samples of homeschool graduates whose responses to various surveys were weighted based on the number of respondents and then weighted again for a number of demographic factors. As such, the Cardus survey is one of the only studies of a representative sample of homeschool graduates—and one of the only studies whose results can be applied to the larger population of all homeschoolers. This is discussed by Dr. Milton Gaither, a prominent homeschooling researcher, who provides critical analyses of the Cardus Education Survey on his former blog, Homeschooling Research Notes (Phase I and Phase II).
The major findings of the study relate only to religious homeschoolers (or, as defined in the study, homeschoolers whose mothers frequently attended religious services) in the US and Canada. The researchers found that homeschool graduates were less academically prepared for college and had less higher education than public school graduates; that they had a strict and legalistic moral outlook; and that they reported more feelings of helplessness and a lack of clarity about their life goals. In addition, American religious homeschool graduates reported more divorces and fewer children than public school graduates, as well as a lack of interest in politics and charitable giving; however, these characteristics were not shared by Canadian respondents.
In the sections that follow, I will first give the background of the study and outline the major points made by the reports on Phase I and Phase II. Then I will provide a critical analysis of the study, and finally I will summarize what its results actually mean.Background of the study
Cardus is a Christian-affiliated think tank located in Ontario, Canada; its mission is to conduct independent socially conscious research on sociology, education, and economics. It also publishes four academic journals.
“THE CARDUS EDUCATION SURVEY originated with a symposium on the relationship between education and culture change, held on December 6-7, 2007. That symposium identified various research gaps regarding the state of K-12 Christian education in North America and the lack of reference benchmark data. Cardus developed a research proposal and secured funding from the [religious right-affiliated] Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation based in Grand Rapids, MI; the William Voortman Foundation based in Hamilton, ON [which primarily funds Protestant mission work]; and the Van Lunen Foundation based in Chicago, IL [which trains executive managers for Christian schools]. A research partnership was established with [the Catholic] University of Notre Dame which included an in-kind contribution to the project. The combined value of the funded and in-kind contributions to the project was $1,150,000.” [hyperlinks added]
The major research gap the symposium identified was a lack of knowledge of the outcomes of private Christian schooling in North America. A number of research teams pursued the project for several years; the results were published in two phases: Phase I (Pennings et al. 2011) and Phase II (Pennings et al. 2012a & 2012b).
The results of Phase I, which are available here or may be downloaded for $9.95 from Cardus’s website, were published in 2011 in a report entitled Do the motivations for private religious Catholic and Protestant schooling in North America align with graduate outcomes? A number of scholars were involved in the publication of this report: Ray Pennings, Senior Fellow and Director of Research at Cardus; Dr. John Seel, a Senior Fellow at Cardus; Dr. Deani Van Pelt, liaison with the quantitative research teams; Dr. David Sikkink, who directed the quantitative research; Dr. Kathryn Wiens, who penned the report; and Cardus editors Dan Postma and Kathryn De Ruijter.
Phase I “used a mixed-methods design to better understand the academic, spiritual, and cultural outcomes of Christian education in North America. Over a two-year period, five research teams concurrently implemented research projects to answer the question of this project: to what extent are the motivations and outcomes of Christian schools aligned in academic, spiritual, and cultural domains?” The quantitative research team, led by Sikkink, surveyed a random sample of adult graduates (age 24-39) of private Christian schools in the United States, as well as a sample of approximately 150 school administrators from randomly selected Christian schools—424 schools in the US and 85 schools in Canada. There were also four qualitative research teams: (1) Dr. Harro Van Brummelen and Robert Koole studied Christian secondary schools in the US and Canada; (2) Dr. Patty LeBlanc and Dr. Patty Slaughter studied students at a Pentecostal university in the southeastern US; (3) Dr. Cara Stillings Candal and Dr. Charles L. Glenn studied race relations in urban secondary Christian schools; and (4) Dr. Jack Beckman, Dr. James Drexler, and Dr. Kevin J. Eames studied administrators of Christian schools. Articles resulting from these qualitative studies were published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of School Choice.
The results of Phase II, which were made available as a free download on Cardus’s website (a data file for Phase II is also free to download), were published in 2012 in a report entitled A rising tide lifts all boats: Measuring non-government school effects in service of the Canadian public good. The scholars involved were: Project Leader Ray Pennings; Dr. David Sikkink, Head of Quantitative Study; Dr. Deani Van Pelt, who wrote the report; advisors Dr. Harro Von Brummelen and Dr. Amy Von Heyking; research assistant Shanna Corner; and Cardus editors Dan Postma and Kathryn De Ruijter. Phase II was conducted because of “the need for a comparative survey of a representative sampling of graduates from a variety of government and non-government schooling systems [in Canada].” The quantitative research team, led by Sikkink, surveyed a random sample of adult graduates (age 23-40) of non-governmental Christian schools in Canada.
For both phases of the survey, though researchers were primarily interested in studying graduates of private Christian schools, best research practices required that they also incidentally collect information on homeschoolers.
This section will summarize the methodology and findings of Pennings et al. (2011) as they relate to homeschooling. (As the main focus of the study was elsewhere, many of their findings are not relevant to homeschooling and as such will not be discussed.)
In the summary of findings that follows, I use the term “points” to refer to points on the scale used in the graph. It was not possible in most cases to determine the scale these points were based on.
This section will summarize the methodology and findings of Pennings et al (2012a & 2012b) as they relate to homeschooling. (As the main focus of the study was elsewhere, many of their findings are not relevant to homeschooling and as such will not be discussed.)
The Cardus Education Survey is methodologically sound, making it one of the few surveys of homeschool graduates that may be applied to the population of homeschoolers. As the researchers used a random sample of homeschool graduates, weighted schooling sectors based on population, and corrected for demographic factors, their sample can be assumed to be representative.
However, it does have some limitations:
The major findings of the Cardus study are as follows:
As one of the few studies to survey a random sample of homeschool graduates and control for demographic factors, the Cardus Education Survey provides a useful glimpse into the lives of religious homeschoolers in the US and Canada. Pennings et al. found that religious homeschool graduates in the United States were somewhat less successful than public school graduates in terms of academics, families, and outlook. The picture of religious homeschool graduates in Canada was somewhat more positive, although they were still outdone by public schoolers in many academic areas.
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Gaither, Milton. 2011. “The Cardus Education Survey and homeschooling.” Homeschooling Research Notes. http://gaither.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/the-cardus-education-survey-and-homeschooling/.
LeBlanc, Patty and Patty Slaughter. 2012. “Growing thinking Christians: An investigation of the outcomes of Christian education.” Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform 6:1. 62-81.
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Pennings, Ray, David Sikkink, Kathryn L. Wiens, John Seel, and Deani A. Neven Van Pelt. 2011. Do the motivations for private religious Catholic and Protestant schooling in North America align with graduate outcomes? Cardus Education Survey: Phase I Report. Hamilton, ON: Cardus.
Pennings, Ray, David Sikkink, Deani Van Pelt, Harro Van Brummelen, Amy Von Heyking. 2012a. A rising tide lifts all boats: Measuring non-government school effects in service of the Canadian public good. Cardus Education Survey: Phase II Report. Hamilton, ON: Cardus.
Pennings, Ray, David Sikkink, Deani Van Pelt, Harro Van Brummelen, Amy Von Heyking. 2012b. Cardus Education Survey: Phase II Data Pack. Hamilton, ON: Cardus.
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Smith, Christian, Patricia Snell Herzog, and Kraig Beyerlein. 2010. Methods Report and User’s Guide to the 2010 Science of Generosity Survey. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame.
Dr. Chelsea McCracken
Coalition for Responsible Home Education
661 Washington Street #563
Canton, MA 02021