Suburban Residency Shows Little Tie To School, Work Success, Study Finds

By Peter West — February 19, 1992 4 min read
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A longitudinal study of student achievement in science and mathematics in both urban and non-urban schools indicates that enrollment in a suburban school system dot’s not, in itself, appear to be a good indicator of academic or future career success.

It also found a weak correlation between the viewing of science-related television programs and the science achievement of 12th graders.

“Urban location, per se, makes little difference in the levels of student achievement and career interest,” according to the study, released here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Public urban education does not have to be inherently second-rate.”

The study was one of three related reports, including separate studies on the effects of curriculum and tracking and the influence of television on student achievement, produced by the staff of the Social Science Research Institute at Northern Illinois University as part of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, a project funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study comparing the academic performance of urban and non-urban populations, called “The Impact of Parental and Home Resources on Student Achievement and Career Choice,” was conducted by Jon D. Miller, the director of the longitudinal project, and by Herman Green, the director of the Black Experience Center at Clemson University.

It found that while there is a “relatively small difference” in science achievement between suburban and urban students, the difference can be accounted for by such factors as parental education, home learning resources, and the academic climate of individual schools, rather than the school’s location.

The study concludes that, rather than the perceived negative factors of urban settings, “it is the differential distribution of parent education and other resources that appears to account for differences in achievement.”

Parental Resources

The longitudinal study, which began in 1984, tracks the behavior of a cohort of more than 3,000 7th-grade and 3,000 10th-grade public-school students.

The study measured student achievement on the basis of scores attained on an annual test administered by the researchers. The test questions are drawn from those used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The researchers found that roughly 23 percent of the nation’s public school students attend classes in the central cities, while 44 percent are enrolled in suburban districts. The balance attend rural schools.

The question of what effect location by itself has on student achievement is an important one, participants noted, because of a general perception that city schools are inferior to those in suburban areas.

But Mr. Miller and Mr. Green assert that “the public’s concept of urban schools has been distorted by the experiences of a few large urban school systems that have experienced and continue to experience major problems.”

Mr. Miller also noted that a major factor in the success or failure of the students in mathematics is the “academic climate” of a given school.

“Clearly, the combination of poverty and other circumstances have produced a significant number of urban schools without a strong positive academic climate,” he notes.

But the researchers also note that “urban students ... report being pushed toward school achievement at least as hard by their parents as suburban and other students.”

The study also found that while “strong levels” of parent involvement and encouragement exist in urban populations, a crucial difference between urban and suburban populations is the lack of “home learning resources” in urban homes.

“This result suggests that it may be necessary for schools--urban and other--to identify homes without adequate learning resources and to provide joint student-parent loan programs for selected kinds of equipment and resources,” the report states.

Mr. Miller also noted that, according to interviews with students and parents, boys generally are more likely to have access to such scientific equipment as calculators, home computers, microscopes, and the like.

“It seems like parents are more likely to buy telescopes for their sons than for their daughters,” he noted.

Math Tracking

The second study, conducted by Thomas B. Hoffer, looked at differences in academic tracking and school environment in urban and non-urban schools.

It found that urban students are “much more likely” than their counterparts in other areas to attend a school with a “weaker academic climate.”

Another major difference between the populations is that urban students are more likely to remain at a low level of achievement in math, Mr. Hoffer asserts.

The study also notes that virtually all of the disadvantages inherent in urban education “appear to be tied up with the lower socioeconomic status of the individual students and the schools as aggregations.”

The third study, which was conducted by Karen Brown, also of Northern Illinois University, found that television viewing had a “small, but significant negative effect’’ on career interests.

It also found a weak correlation between the viewing of science-related television programs and the science achievement of 12th graders.

A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 1992 edition of Education Week as Suburban Residency Shows Little Tie To School, Work Success, Study Finds


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