- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

Schools with respectful, orderly and friendly classes are linked to lower risks of student violence, substance abuse, suicide and pregnancy, say researchers who are reviewing the nation's largest survey of teens.
"What goes on in the classroom is key to keeping kids from being disenchanted in school," said Dr. Robert W. Blum, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Adolescent Health and Development.
"It doesn't matter whether you have 20 or 30 kids in a class. It doesn't matter whether the teacher has a graduate degree," he said. "What matters is the environment a student enters when he walks through the classroom door."
Most students feel "more than moderately connected" to their schools, he added, but 31 percent are disengaged.
National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) surveyed 71,515 middle- and high-school students in 127 schools during the 1994-95 school year and came up with these findings. Researchers also gathered data about school discipline policies, teacher qualifications and student activities.
In recent years, Add Health researchers reported that if teens felt "connected" to their families and schools, they had lower risks for negative behaviors; their risks increased if they were struggling at school or if they "hung out" with peers who smoked, drank, had sex or carried weapons.
Another previous Add Health finding was that race, income and family structure, such as having a two-parent family, were not as critical to teen well-being as having positive relationships with their schools, family members and peers.
The new findings, released yesterday by Dr. Blum and his colleagues, showed the importance of a "classroom climate" in which students get along with peers and teachers, are engaged in learning and complete their assignments.
Teachers' experience and academic degrees were unrelated to students' attitudes about school, nor were a single teacher's efforts enough to compensate for a poorly run school.
Orderliness "has to be a school-wide phenomenon to make a difference," said Dr. Blum. "We can't expect one hour a day in a well-run classroom to change a kid's life."
The researchers found that smaller schools did a better job fostering connectedness among students and teachers the ideal number of students for high schools is probably between 600 and 1,200, they said.
But they found that the size of individual classes whether they had 20 or 30 students, for instance wasn't relevant to student-school connectedness. It was also irrelevant whether a school was public, private or parochial or whether it was urban, suburban or rural.
The study further found that "zero-tolerance" school discipline policies were linked to poor student attitudes about school, while after-school activities and multiracial in-school friendship groups were linked to good school attitudes.
The new findings also appear in an article by Dr. Blum, University of Minnesota Assistant Professor Clea A. McNeely and James M. Nonnemaker of the Research Triangle Institute in the April issue of the Journal of School Health.

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