Work during school year can have negative impact on math and science achievement

iStock_000016075406XSmallUnlike children in other industrialized nations, large percentages of high school students in the United States work during the school year. In a recent census, 42 percent of seniors, 34 percent of juniors and 15 percent of sophomores worked part time. Researchers Kusum Singh and Mehmet Ozturk, Virginia Tech, report that high rates of employment for adolescents from all socioeconomic levels reflect a common assumption held by adults in this country that part-time work is beneficial to youth.

These researchers challenge the value of work during the school year in light of the continuing concern about the academic achievement of our students on international tests. “Everyone worries why Japanese and German and Swedish students are doing better than us,” they write. “One reason is they are not spending their afternoons wrapping tacos.”

Recent studies have found that the amount of time students spent on jobs was negatively correlated to attention in class, effort in school and attendance. Studies that related part-time work to time spent on homework and grades showed somewhat mixed results, although most concluded that working more than 20 hours a week had a negative effect on educational outcomes.

Part of the problem with measuring the effect of work on student achievement, these researchers say, is that in schools where large numbers of students work, teachers tend to lower their expectations. In addition, students who work often take fewer or easier classes to keep their grades up. Other researchers report that in schools where many students are working, the overall teaching and learning atmosphere changes, so that even nonworking students’ education is affected.

In this study, Singh and Ozturk examined the effect of part-time work on course-taking decisions. Data from the National Education Longitudinal Study were used to compare the amount of hours worked during high school with the total coursework completed in science and mathematics. The effect of part-time work on education cannot be accurately estimated unless pre-work differences such as socioeconomic status and eighth-grade achievement are taken into account.

Results revealed that after the effects of socioeconomic level and previous math achievement are accounted for, the number of hours worked per week had a significant negative effect on the number of mathematics and science courses completed in high school. The more hours students worked, the fewer math and science courses they took.

These researchers conclude that in light of the negative effect of work on math and science achievement and given the concern over high-school students’ performance, parents need to be made aware of the consequences that working during the school year may have on their children’s achievement.

“Effect of Part-Time Work on High School Mathematics and Science Course Taking” The Journal of Educational Research Volume 94, Number 2, December 2000 Pp. 67-74.

Published in ERN December/January 2001 Volume 14 Number 1

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