Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles sought to
determine whether-or-not high-performing charter schools had an
effect on the behaviors of low-income minority teens.
In one of the first studies of its kind, the researchers surveyed
more than 500 ninth through 12th graders in Los Angeles who attended
charter schools in low-income neighborhoods (where they had won
admission through a random lottery), plus more than 400 students who
attended other local schools. The researchers asked them about their
"risky" and "very risky" behaviors.
Recent use of products containing tobacco, alcohol and marijuana
were defined as risky. Less common behaviors such as binge drinking,
drug use (excluding marijuana), gang membership, pregnancy and sex
with multiple partners were defined as very risky.
Nearly 36 percent of students who attended a high-performing charter
school engaged in one or more very risky behaviors, compared with 42
percent of students surveyed at the other schools.
"A substantial body of evidence has shown a strong link between
education and health. This link suggests that improving the
education may lead to many societal benefits including better health
and reduction in health disparities," said lead researcher Dr.
Mitchell Wong, a professor of medicine in the Division of General
Internal Medicine and Health Services Research at UCLA, in an email
to Reuters Health. "It is important for parents to know that
choosing better schools may also have beneficial health consequences
for their child."
Students attending the high-performing charter schools also did
better on standardized tests than those who did not attend them, and
they were less likely to drop-out or transfer.
The researchers suggest better academic achievements helped to
discourage students from taking risks that could harm their success.
"Future studies will need to determine if the effects are long
lasting or can be observed in other populations and school
settings," they write
But there was no significant difference in the more common risky
behaviors between the two groups, findings that surprised even Wong.
"So we were surprised not to see a reduction in more casual use of
alcohol and other substances and in unprotected sex. One explanation
for this lack of finding may be that students in these schools still
remain in the same neighborhood and are thus still exposed to
opportunities to engage in somewhat risky behaviors," he said.
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Colleen Cicchetti, a pediatric psychologist with Northwestern
University's Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago,
said she found the study "exciting," and hopes it will get more
health care providers and policy makers talking about education and
its role in public health.
"I see this as a good, critical first step and a way to get
educators and health care people highlighting that we can do things
for kids in schools that will affect their health outcomes, even in
high school," Cicchetti, who was not involved with the study, told
Reuters Health. "What kinds of things are happening that are getting
these kids on a better trajectory? Is it just that they happen to be
in a charter school? What makes these charter schools different?"
Wong said the study was not intended to be an evaluation of charter
schools, but an examination of successful schools' impact on student
"The reason we chose charter schools was simply because their random
admission lottery would allow us to conduct a natural experiment and
compare students who were accepted to the school with those who were
not accepted. Obviously, randomizing students to different schools
would not be feasible," he said.
Charter schools receive public funding and are designed to have more
autonomy over their curriculum than other local public schools.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1vmjuRt Pediatrics, July 21, 2014.
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