Study: Practice of Religion Improves School Performance

A recent study by Stanford University’s Dr. Ilana M. Horwitz found that students with the highest GPA were also the most most religious.

Writing for The Federalist, Erielle Davidson explains the study, conducted by Dr. Horwitz at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, which separated 3,290 adolescents into five groups – Abiders, Adapters, Assenters, Avoiders, and Atheists.

Abiders were those students who displayed “high levels across all measured dimensions of religiosity and ‘abide’ by religion in a classic, institutional sense.” This was compared to groups such as Avoiders who “avoid religious involvement and broader issues of the relevance of religion for their life.” Although they believe in God, they participate far less in religious ceremonies or prayer.

“Abiders report the highest GPAs while Avoiders report the lowest GPAs, even after controlling for a host of background factors and behaviors,” Horwitz found.

Abiders had an average GPA of 3.21, while Avoiders had just a 2.92 GPA.

The small sampling size of Atheists in the group, just three percent, rendered the statistics unreliable so Horwitz focused primarily on the other four groups.

“Based on her own religious research, Horwitz believes religion nurtures two qualities rewarded heavily in school curriculums: ‘conscientiousness’ and ‘cooperation’,” Davidson reports.

During qualitative interviews conducted with the students Horwitz found that “virtually all Abiders were conscientious and cooperative—two habits linked with academic success.” The stories shared by Abiders were frequently about avoiding rebellion and assiduousness.

On the other hand, interviews with Avoiders revealed the opposite. “Avoiders either didn’t tell any stories of conscientiousness and cooperation, or they shared stories of rebelliousness, such as stealing clothes from the mall or making fun of their teachers even though they knew it was wrong.”

Thus far, much of the focus of education research has been on studying the achievement gap between families of higher and lower incomes, but Horwitz’s study shows that other mechanisms can be driving student performance – such as the habits that come from increased religiosity at home.

“The implication of Horwitz’s research is that some achievement gaps are not due to a lack of government funding or economic redistribution, but rather, a lack of proper habits and socially positive beliefs being instilled at home and reinforced in school,” Davidson writes.

Although Horwitz stops short of saying religion is necessary, she offers no alternative.

“If we are to treat religiosity as just one facet of an adolescent’s home life, Horwitz’s paper speaks to the profound effects that family culture and upbringing may have on a student’s academic performance. In an era when religious commitment is often equated with ignorance, Horwitz’s paper introduces a new perspective to the debate surrounding the importance of religiosity and its ability to increase and maintain social capital,” Davidson concludes.

“When we consider what helps children grow and prosper, government interference is not the first mechanism that comes to mind. And indeed, it shouldn’t be. Horwitz’s research reinforces the notion that state intervention is not the primary driver of student performance. Instead, a good deal of education reform starts at home, and in church.”

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