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Opinion

For real education reform, take a cue from the Adventists

Amid all the buzz on education reform, the Seventh Day Adventist school system might seem an unexpected place to look for models in improving student achievement. But by educating mind, body, and spirit, Adventist schools outperform the national average across all demographics.

By Elissa Kido / November 15, 2010



Riverside, Calif.

Education reform has taken center stage lately as Americans struggle to close the oft-condemned achievement gap. But quietly in our midst, the second largest Christian school system in the world has been steadily outperforming the national average – across all demographics.

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The Seventh-Day Adventists' holistic curriculum serves as a model for how to overcome that gap – the disparity in academic performance between low-income and minority students and their peers in higher-income communities. But even more, it shows how to narrow the gap between mind, body, and spirit, truly educating students for success.

Now, I'm not advocating for religious instruction to be included in school curricula. Rather, what my research indicates is that holistic learning – an education that doesn't erect artificial barriers among disciplines and between mind, body, and spirit – does indeed result in greater student achievement.

Adventist schools outperform their peers

Since 2006, as part of the CognitiveGenesis study, two colleagues and I have gathered data on more than 50,000 students enrolled in Seventh-Day Adventist schools. (Unbeknownst to many, the Adventist Church runs a Christian school system second only in size to the Roman Catholic parochial schools.) While we have long believed in the effectiveness of the holistic approach Adventist schools take, we wanted to quantify, empirically, how well students in Adventist schools perform.

Even we were surprised by the results. Our four-year, independently financed study showed that students at Adventist schools outperformed their peers at the national average in every subject area.

Between 2006 and 2010, my colleagues and I analyzed test scores of 51,706 students, based on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for Grades 3-8, the Iowa Test of Educational Development for Grades 9 and 11, and the Cognitive Abilities Test for all grades, as well as surveys completed by students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.

In each subject category, students attending Adventist schools scored higher than the national average. They also scored higher than their expected achievement based on assessment of individual ability – a factor few other schools measure.

One of our most dramatic findings is that students who transferred to Adventist schools saw a marked improvement in academic achievement. The more years a student attended an Adventist school, the more his or her performance improved.

Socioeconomic status and funding aren't factors

A skeptic might argue that private schools such as those run by the Adventists are made up primarily of wealthy, white, upper-middle-class students, hence the reason for higher achievement. Not so.

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