Much of the current debate over public education deals with the issue of money. It seems like the bureaucracy is always pleading for more funds – yet even if school budgets go up, test scores and other key indicators meant to show if a young person will have a successful life continue to go down.

Yet, what if the issue is not money after all, but instead the investment made in the values that a child learns during his or her formative educational years that makes the difference in lifelong success or failure.

That was the premise of a recent study done by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies. The research team conducting the study asked the question: “Are private or public schools more successful in giving children a head start when it comes to getting the human capital they need to thrive in today’s economy?”

The researchers discovered what many parents already instinctively knew: it is the values instilled at an early age that are the most important factor in determining a child’s future success. And it is the teaching of values – particularly those dealing with personal responsibility – where our current public educational system is sadly lacking these days.

They also examined how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools was associated with different family outcomes later in life. Family outcomes are vitally important because study after study shows that children do best academically and socially when raised in a stable two-parent home.

School Curriculums Matter

Not surprisingly, they found that men and women who received their education from a private school were more likely, once they reached adulthood, to be married, less likely to divorce, and less likely to have children outside of marriage. While Catholic and Protestant Schools stress values as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic, they, along with secular private schools, also stress hard work and personal responsibility. And that emphasis pays dividends later in life.

For example, adults who attended Protestant schools were twice as likely to be in an intact marriage than those who had attended a public school. These adults were also 50% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than their publicly school counterparts. The researchers also found that Protestant-school attendees were 60% less likely to have been divorced than those who attended public schools. Interestingly, this 60% statistic also held true for those who attended secular private schools. Finally, those adults who attended Catholic schools were 30% less likely to have had a child outside of marriage than those who had attended public schools.

What is the common denominator?

While religious faith is with the Catholic and Protestant schools, that is not part of a secular private school. However, there are several possible explanations.

In my book, American Restoration: How Faith, Family, and Personal Sacrifice Can Heal Our Nation, my co-author and I noted that one important factor in a child’s educational and lifelong success is parental involvement. Parents who make the financial investment in a private values-

based education for their children are also more likely to be involved in their children’s education and personal lives. These schools also know they will be held accountable by parents who have made this financial investment. Public schools often have no such accountability as in many cases, parents have no say, other than buying into the “right” neighborhood, in where their child will be attending school.

But the data is clear: when parents are allowed a greater say in a child’s education, which in most cases they do in private schools, whether faith-based or not, children thrive. And when the values taught at school are in alignment with the values being taught at home, children are not confused about which road to take in life. Instead, they are given an easy-to-understand map to lifelong success. In addition, when children interact with other children from homes that stress the values of hard work and personal responsibility and those values are reinforced at school, the result is more likely to be positive, instead of negative, peer influence.

The Bottom Line

Good values at home and good values at school result in thriving children who thrive as adults. When children do not thrive, the effect can be generational, as broken families begat more broken families, poverty results in more poverty; and the societal problems are beyond more than any amount of money, or any public institution, can fix.

But when children are taught strong values, they do thrive, and are far more likely to make a positive generational impact.

If we are to solve the problems of family dysfunction and decay in America, perhaps we need to look first at our nation’s educational system. I would suggest that we start investing more in values as no amount of money can repair the human soul. But investing in values is what will not only enable children to obtain the human capital they need to succeed, but for our society to do so as well.

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