Jesus Increases Graduation Rates

In Christianity Today we find a story about Detroit’s Cornerstone Schools.

Founded in 1991, today these schools serve 1,500 students, 97% of whom graduate from high school and 90% of whom go on to college or the military.

These statistics have attracted national attention.  In one profile for CNN, the schools’ success was credited to “three Cs:” a Culture of education, Commitment to learning, and Community.  (See video clip, 2:28, right at the end.)

The profile in Christianity Today, not surprisingly, focused on another C: Christ.  In an interview with the schools’ leaders Ernestine Sanders and Clark Durant, CT‘s Dwight Gibson concluded that the schools’ success comes from one simple fact: Cornerstone represents “a school whose culture is centered on the person of Jesus.”

Chairman Durant framed the schools’ success this way:

“We have fabulous statistics. Most of our kids graduate from high school in a city where maybe 30 or 35 percent do. More than 90 percent go onto college, the military, or some other kind of learning. But those are not the measurements that really determine a fulfilling life. Sure, it’s important, but is it the measurement we use for our own children? Is it the measurement that God uses for us?”

President Sanders did not credit the schools’ academic successes with innovations such as an 11-month school year, mandatory Mandarin classes, or mandatory parental commitment.  Instead, Sanders explained Cornerstone’s success this way:

“It’s our people, whether it’s our maintenance man, Mr. Cole, or a teacher. In Mr. Cole finding his place in this community, the kids see him as valuable. He has wisdom.  That’s why Cornerstone is excellent—we try so hard even as imperfect as we are to lift up a Christ-centered culture.

“And in lifting up that culture, the education is coming along. So you keep aspiring to that excellence. What we try to do here is not to be daunted by the circumstances. Rather than being daunted by it, we try to be as strategic as we possibly can. I see us trying to build that broad and beloved community that Clark referenced.”

The story raises some key questions about the proper relationship between religion and education.

  • Can public-funded schools use religion to boost graduation rates?
  • Is it enough justification to have religion in public-funded schools if those schools produce academic success?
  • And why didn’t the CNN story mention the religious nature of these schools?