By Bess Keller, Education Week
and School: Rural high school students who were significantly
involved in church activities generally got better grades and
were more popular than their less involved counterparts, say
researchers who looked at 450 families in north-central Iowa.
The researchers also found that if students increased their
involvement in church life over the high school years, their
grades‹although not their standing among their peers‹tended
to go up.
"The more religious you became, the better," in terms of grades
and self-perceived achievement, said Valarie E. King, a professor
of sociology at Pennsylvania State University in University
Ms. King did the study of church involvement for a larger research
project on rural children undertaken in the mid-1990s by Glen
H. Elder Jr. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
and Rand D. Conger at Iowa State University. The findings from
the research were published in the 2000 book Children of the
Land: Adversity and Success in Rural America.
Ms. King's survey suggests that church activity builds academic
and social competence. Church attendance and church-youth-group
participation‹the two measures of involvement used in the study‹seem
to work through "placing kids in a community with prosocial
values, where other adults are looking out for the kids, and
they are sharing with peers," Ms. King said. In addition, the
groups offer leadership opportunities.
The benefits of increased involvement over the high school years
extended to young people from backgrounds often associated with
greater risk of failure‹such as living in poverty or having
parents who suffered from depression. "Higher levels of religious
participation also predicted [more positive] outcomes for these
kids," Ms. King said, though their involvement in church activities
as of the 8th grade did not.
Craig B. Howley, the director of the Educational Resources Information
Center Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, based
in Charleston, W.Va., cautioned against drawing overly broad
conclusions from the study, noting that it focused on an area
in Iowa that has a larger share of farm families than most places
in the United States.
He also cautioned against seeing grades as a measure of intellectual
attainment. "They are a very good measure of compliance" with
teacher expectations, as church involvement may be a good measure
of compliance with community expectations, he argued.