Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and has published more than 1500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Atlantic, and National Journal. He recently interviewed The Expectations Project’s Nicole Baker Fulgham for a special back-to-school edition of his regular column. Here’s an excerpt of that interview:
JONATHAN: How are churches positioned to respond to the academic achievement gap? What are some of the most encouraging examples or models you’ve seen?
NICOLE: There are more than 300,000 churches in America, compared to about 49,000 high poverty public schools. Churches outnumber public schools 6 to 1 in America. According to recent research from the Barna Group, 85 percent of Christians think that churches should be more involved with public school improvement. More than two-thirds of all Americans agree that people of faith should be given more opportunities to help pubic schools. Some of the best examples are congregations that have educated their members about the scope of the problem and identified ways to productively engage with public schools — while leaving any broader agenda at the door. These churches have volunteered in high-quality tutoring programs and helped elementary students become excellent readers and mathematicians. Many of these churches have gone on to advocate for necessary systemic changes throughout the entire school district. They’ve called for expanded preschool for poor families, more professional development for teachers and increasing high quality school options for families in poverty. The question becomes more about how the church can best engage.