The Rise of the Fundamentalist Christian School

‘Explosive’ Expansion Is Suggested in Survey
By Cindy Currence — October 17, 1984 3 min read

While enrollment in Roman Catholic schools declined by 6 percent from 1980 to 1983, during the same period the number of students attending non-Catholic religious schools increased by 26 percent and the number of students enrolled in private schools claiming no religious affiliation increased by 40 percent.

These are among the preliminary findings of the “National Survey of Private Schools, Fall 1983,” conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The national survey also reveals a 12-percent increase in the total number of private schools. In 1980, there were 24,750 nonpublic schools; by 1983, the number had increased to 27,604. The survey indicates that about 4,000 private schools were established during the period, and about 1,150 private schools were closed.

Total enrollment in Catholic schools dropped from 3,411,000 in 1980 to 3,190,000 in 1983. But in non-Catholic religious schools, enrollment rose from 1,066,000 to 1,340,000; and in nondenominational private schools, enrollment climbed from 823,000 to 1,156,000.

When combined, these private-school enrollments show an overall increase of 7 percent from 1980 levels, according to the survey. In 1983, 5,686,300 students were enrolled in private schools, an overall increase of 385,700 students since 1980.

(During the same three-year period, public-school enrollments declined by 4.5 percent, according to N.C.E.S. statistics.)

The increases in private-school enrollments and the number of private schools may be related to the growing numbers of schools operated by fundamentalist Christians, experts suggested last week.

Although the survey was not able to identify fundamentalist Christian schools as such, NCES researchers “sense” that many of the private schools claiming no affiliation with a particular religion are operated by fundamentalists, a spokesman for the center said.

More Church Schools

James C. Carper, an assistant professor of education at Mississippi State University who specializes in the study of church schools, said there has been an “explosion” of fundamentalist Christian schools during the past decade. Currently, he estimated, such schools are opening at a rate of approximately two a day.

Donald R. Howard, president of Accelerated Christian Education—a Lewisville, Tex., firm that produces curriculum materials for fundamentalist Christian schools---estimates that there are about 12,000 Christian schools in America and claims that a new Christian school opens in the U. S. every seven hours.

The A.C.E. is the most widely used curriculum in fundamentalist schools, according to Mr. Johnson.

Preliminary Results

Although N.C.E.S. researchers have not completed their analysis of the survey results, they have provided the preliminary data to officials at the U. S. Education Department for use in upcoming speeches, said Charles O’Malley, executive assistant secretary for private education.

The final results of the N.C.E.S. study will remedy a “deficiency” in the amount of information available on private schools, said Donald J. Senese, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement at the Education Department.

Based on the data collected by the N.C.E.S., Mr. Senese said, the final survey results will provide information on private schools by number and enrollment; selected characteristics of private-school teachers; program funding; student characteristics; and minority enrollment.

Expanded Survey

The 1983 survey of private schools provides the most comprehensive data to date, according to Mr. Senese. A new survey technique used in gathering the information over the last school year has allowed a more accurate accounting of private education, an N.C.E.S. official explained.

Prior to the 1983 survey, researchers relied entirely on a “list sample,” which was taken from the membership lists of the National Catholic Educational Association and the Council for American Private Education. For the 1983 survey, in addition to the list sample, researchers conducted a search of representative geographic areas to find private schools that do not belong to associations and had thus escaped notice previously.

The decision to expand the survey was’ made by N.C.E.S. researchers in response to comments from leaders of private-school organizations, educators, and Congressmen, “who assured us that there was a large part of the private-school community that was not being covered by our survey,” an N.C.E.S. official said.

The final survey results will be is-sued at the beginning of November. For a copy of the survey, write to N.C.E.S., Education Department, 1200 19th St., Brown Building, Room 606, Washington, D. C. 20202.

A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 1984 edition of Education Week as The Rise of the Fundamentalist Christian School