The National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice
 
 
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Sample of Current Research

Preventing Youth Delinquency: Identifying School Risk and Protective Factors

University of Kentucky

Academic failure, exclusionary discipline practices, and dropout have been identified as key elements in a “school to prison pipeline”. While there exists a strong body of research on the risks for delinquency, few studies have attempted to understand the variables within schools that exacerbate or counteract these risks. The results of our three multi-method studies suggest that school-level characteristics can help minimize the risks for youth delinquency. Using both quantitative and qualitative procedures, these studies examined three school characteristics related to delinquency -- school failure, suspension, and dropout -- at the elementary, middle, and high school levels respectively.

The first study examined school characteristics related to low academic achievement from two academic years (1998-99 and 1999-00) for 747 elementary schools using a correlation analysis. Subsequent regression analysis revealed that poverty (measured by the percentage of students enrolled in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program - FRLP) and attendance rate, accounted for approximately 40% of the variance in a school’s academic achievement score (measured by the school’s National Curve Equivalent on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills - CTBS). However, five high-poverty schools stood out as exceptions, reporting high CTBS scores (HPHA). Three of these schools were chosen for case study analysis along with three demographically matched, low-achieving schools (HPLA) using surveys, interviews, and observations.

Results: Study 1 - Differences in HPHA Schools Compared to HPLA Schools
• Smaller enrollments • High level of student engagement
• Fewer rule & law violations
• Lower suspension rates • More positive adult interactions with students
• More family involvement
• Better building conditions • More money per pupil on instruction

The second study examined school characteristics related to suspension rate at the middle school level using a correlation analysis of variables for 161 middle schools during the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 school years. Subsequent analyses of variance compared a group of 20 schools with the lowest suspension rates (LSS) and a group of 20 schools with the highest suspension rates (HSS) on several school characteristics. Rule violations, attendance rate, and academic achievement were the school characteristics that best predicted suspension rate. Four schools from each group of 20 were chosen for case study analysis, using surveys, interviews, and observations.

Results: Study 2 – Differences in LSS Compared to HSS
• Lower dropout rates • Better building conditions
• Higher % Caucasian ethnicity • Real world ambiance
• Less spending per pupil • School-wide academic focus
• Lower % of students in FRLP • More positive adult interactions with students
• Fewer # of law violations • Hands-on, active teaching style
• Lower retention rates • Students on-task & engaged
• Smaller enrollments • Higher staff collegiality & morale
• More supportive administration • Positive behavior management
• Proactive discipline philosophy • More positive student interactions
• More family involvement • Positive behavioral programming

The third study (in progress) is examining school characteristics related to dropout rate at the high school level using a correlation analysis of variables for 196 high schools during the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 school years. Subsequent analyses of variance will compare a group of 20 schools with the lowest dropout rates (LDOS) and a group of 20 schools with the highest dropout rates (HDOS) on several school characteristics. Four schools from each group of 20 will be chosen for case study analysis, using surveys, interviews, and observations.

Study 3 – School Characteristics to Examine for Correlation Analysis
• Enrollment • Ethnic background C/W
• FRLP % • Attendance rate
• # Board violations • Academic achievement scores
• # Law violations • Suspension rate
• Retention rate • Expulsion rate
• % Students with disabilities

Study 3 – Differences in LDOS Compared to HDOS Thus Far
• Larger enrollments • Higher academic achievement scores

The majority of court-involved youth are poor, and have experienced school failure, school exclusion, and dropout. Research in these areas is increasingly important to advance understanding concerning school-based policies and practices that may exacerbate or mitigate the risks for court involvement among youth. The results of these three multi-method studies suggest that school-level characteristics such as supportive leadership, dedicated and collegial staff, school-wide behavior management, and effective academic instruction can help minimize the risks for youth delinquency.

Common Strategies Used in High-Achieving Elementary and Low-Suspending Middle Schools

• High expectations for students by both administration and staff, with help provided.

• Commitment and caring for students by staff and administration.

• Meaningful participation for students in school policy and through numerous extracurricular activities.

• Cohesiveness of staff and administration, working as a team, with the administration highly supportive.

Specific Proactive Strategies used in High-Achieving Elementary Schools

School-wide focus and mission on using research-based strategies to improve student achievement, including resources from the Association for Effective Schools, Inc.

Success For All is a program used to improve student academic achievement and positive behavior.

• Administrative support and involvement was demonstrated by the principal, who monitors the cafeteria everyday during the lunch period.


• An active community resource center continuously strives to get community and parent involvement and support for the school.

Specific Proactive Strategies used in Low-Suspending Middle Schools

• Parent involvement is encouraged by school-sponsored family picnics and "Good News" postcards that are regularly sent to parents reporting positive student behaviors. Parents are recruited as volunteers to tutor students and help in the school store.

• Staff collaboration is encouraged by brief, daily, staff team meetings and frequent parties for teachers to promote communication and camaraderie. All staff are included in planning for student success, even cafeteria workers.

• Students are encouraged to have meaningful connections to school by being involved in policy decisions, such as developing the school dress code and menu planning for the school lunch program. Every teacher is involved in an extracurricular activity and a staff goal is to involve every student in an extracurricular activity. Each teacher and administrator provides mentoring to 15 students through their Advisor/Advisee Program.

• School-wide, positive behavior management programs include the “A Team Program,” in which straight A students get taken out to lunch each nine-week period by the administration. In the Student of the Month Program, the teacher-nominated student gets pizza with the principal. The PRIDE (Personal Responsibility In Daily Effort) Program allows students to earn a Pride Card if they do not miss any assignments, have no more than two absences, and have no discipline tickets for a nine-week period. The card allows the students admission to special parties and field trips, free admission to ballgames and dances, early dismissal each Friday, lunch with principals, free soft drink and treat, and a chance on $25.00 drawing. Teachers also are a part of this program and earn Pride Cards as well. The Renaissance Incentive Program provides rewards for students for good grades and behavior from local businesses.

Christle, C. A., Nelson, C. M., Jolivette, K., & Riney, M. D. (2002). High academic performance in high-poverty schools. EDJJ Notes 2(1), 1-3. Available on line: http://www.edjj.org/edjjnotes/volume2number1.pdf

Christle, C. A., Nelson, C. M., Jolivette, K. (2003). School characteristics related to suspension. EDJJ Notes 2(4), 1-5. Available on line: http://www.edjj.org/edjjnotes/volume2number4.pdf

Leone, P. E., Christle, C. A., Nelson, C. M., Skiba, R., Frey, A., & Jolivette, K. (2003). School failure, race, and disability: Promoting positive outcomes, decreasing vulnerability for involvement with the juvenile delinquency system. Available online: http://www.edjj.org

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