School & District Management

Student Jobs Hurt Math, Science Scores

November 15, 2000 1 min read

A study in The Journal of Educational Research‘s November/December issue questions the common belief that part-time jobs benefit high school students and suggests that the more hours students clock, the fewer math and science courses they take.

The study, which looked at more than 26,000 sophomores and seniors from about 1,000 high schools nationwide, examined the impact part-time work had on students’ course-taking and their achievement on math and science standardized tests.

It found that even when students’ socioeconomic status and previous educational achievement were taken into account, jobs still had a “significant negative effect” on coursework and achievement in math and science.

The more hours students logged at their jobs, the less likely they were to take courses and perform well in those subjects, said Kusum Singh, a professor of educational research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the study’s lead author.

“The first 15 hours of work didn’t seem to matter,” she said. “But after that, when students are working 20 hours or more, it starts interfering with school performance.”

The number of high school students holding part-time jobs has risen steadily over the past two decades. Forty-two percent of high school seniors, 33 percent of juniors, and 15 percent of sophomores worked part time in 1994, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The United States is one of the few industrialized nations where adolescents commonly both work and attend school. American students’ performance on science and math tests has lagged compared with that of other countries—an often-cited concern for U.S. policymakers educators.

Previous studies on students who work reveal mixed findings. Some found a small to moderate decline in student achievement; others concluded work had a negligible impact on students’ grade point averages. But some research suggests that when a high percentage of students at a school hold part-time jobs, the school’s teaching and learning atmosphere shifts because teachers begin to lower their expectations for student performance.

Ms. Singh said a more critical look at the issue is needed. “The common wisdom says work is good for children, but that is more theoretical than empirical,” she said.

—John Gehring

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2000 edition of Education Week as Student Jobs Hurt Math, Science Scores

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