Independent School Research Initiative at Notre Dame


The Independent School Research Initiative at Notre Dame seeks to generate new theoretical and empirical tools for understanding religious schools. ISRI conducts research which aims to appreciate the uniqueness of religious schools’ mission and organization, to reveal the extent that religious schools improve outcomes for students, families, churches, and communities, and to show the links between school mission and organization and student and family outcomes. ISRI investigates the mechanisms through which religious schools make a difference, addressing the questions of why religious schools matter for particular student and family outcomes. Through this research, ISRI will provide results helpful to religoius school leaders seeking to understand the strengths and weaknesses of religious schools as well as information to leaders and educators across school sectors providing models for successful education.


CES Updates

ISRI is also examining data from the Cardus Education Survey (CES). Researchers are investigating the pathways that link evangelical Protestant school experience and various life outcomes, such as educational and occupational attainment. Click the button below to learn more.


ISRI Reports

ISRI examines existing data to address key issues and questions regarding religious schools. Often government and academic research overlook opportunities to use existing datasets to shed light on reli- gious schools. ISRI seeks to fill that gap by analyzing existing government and other national surveys that allow for assessment of religious sector differences, focusing on religious school dynamics and impacts. Click the button below to read our recent findings.

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Research Evaluations

One of ISRI’s key goals is to provide timely and informative summaries of existing research on religious schools, with the intention of making research accessible to multiple audiences. Included in these summaries are evaluations and critiques of each study, oriented toward improving understandings of religious schools and to influencing religious school reform efforts. Click the button below to search our summaries and critiques of current research on religious education.

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David Sikkink

David Sikkink completed his doctorate in sociology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and has been at Notre Dame since 1999. His main research interests are in education, religion, and politics. His dissertation explained how religious and community factors shape views of schooling for children, including parents' choice of private schooling and opposition to public schools. It also showed how differences in the organization of public, magnet, Catholic and other religious schools affect parents' participation in school, which in turn affects participation in community and political life. An associate professor in the sociology department, he is also a Fellow in the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame as well as the Institute for Educational Initiatives.

Sara Skiles

Sara Skiles recently completed her PhD in sociology from the University of Notre Dame. She holds master's degrees in sociology and public administration from the University of Texas at Arlington, and a BA in psychology from Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Her most recent research endeavors include managing the fourth wave of data collection for the National Study of Youth and Religion for the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame, which examined changes over time in young adults' religious behaviors and beliefs, as well as her dissertation work, which examined the relationship between aesthetic taste and social network formation.

Jonathan Schwarz

Jonathan Schwarz recently completed a PhD in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, where he is also affiliated with the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity. Before coming to Notre Dame, he earned an Ed.M. from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and a bachelor's degree in political science and rhetoric from Wabash College. For the last decade, Jon has studied education, primarily secondary and post secondary education and adult educational transitions. His dissertation uses interviews, computational linguistic analysis, and experimental vignettes to establish the role, nature, and impact on social stratification of teacher letters of recommendation in admissions at the most selective universities in the United States.