Schools find formula to lower drug use

U. FLORIDA (US) — Students who attend schools that build a culture of academic success tend to steer away from drug and alcohol use, stealing, and fighting.

A study of 61 inner-city middle schools in Chicago—all with high populations of ethnic minorities and children from underprivileged homes—found that higher performance in the classroom reduces the rate of drug use and delinquency in schools by as much as 25 percent.

Details of the study are published in the journal Prevention Science.

“It could be good teaching, better administration, whatever these schools are doing, if we can replicate it, it will lead to not only academic achievement but improvement in healthy behaviors as well,” says , says Amy Tobler, research assistant professor of health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida.

“Some schools can break that strong link between sociodemographic disadvantage and drug use and delinquency.”

Data was collected data in the schools between 2002 and 2005, following students in their sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade years. Academic achievement scores were based on standardized tests on reading and math, required in all states for public school students.

School performance based on each school’s own sociodemographic factors was compared to how well they actually fared and then compared to achievement and attendance records and data collected about students’ drug and alcohol use.

Of the 61 schools, seven performed better than expected academically, a link that seemed to help keep kids in class and off drugs and alcohol.

“I think the study is provocative, and it has one remarkable aspect: Schools that do better have effects that are not (solely) academic, and that tells you that the whole culture of the school is important,” says David Berliner, professor emeritus of education at Arizona State University, who was not involved with the study.

“It is a school-culture effect. It is not surprising, in a way. If you can get low-income kids to identify with a school, you get better kids at the end.”

“I was really curious when we started this if we would have any schools that were overcoming that link between sociodemographics and high-risk behaviors,” Tobler says. “That we had seven schools that were doing it is pretty encouraging.”

Progress made by value-added education could be undercut by proposed funding cuts to educational programs across the country, Tobler warns.

“Almost all states are cutting budgets to public education. We are increasingly asking them to do more and more with fewer resources. The extent to which schools can achieve this value-added education or continue it may be severely limited by budget cuts.”

Researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Birmingham contributed to the study.

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