Research Shows “Connected” Kids Do Better In School

Glenn Israel, 352-392-0502 ext. 246
Bo Beaulieu, 662-325-3207

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GAINESVILLE, Fla.—A child’s performance in school depends more on how well the child is connected with parents, teachers and adults than on school funding or size, according to a new study by the University of Florida and Mississippi State University.

“The connections or relationships between a student and adults provide what we call social capital,” said Israel, a professor of agricultural education in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Social capital provides a supportive environment for the child, and tells a child where they fit in today’s complex society.”

Israel said a child with lots of positive interaction with adults has a high level of social capital, which means the child will perform better on standardized tests and other measures of success in the school environment.

Social capital cuts across all grade levels, Israel said. Disrupting a child’s social network, through moving or by changing schools, can be costly. “It takes energy to establish social networks, and that can take away from studies,” said Israel. “Conventional wisdom shows that you don’t move when your kids are in high school, and that’s pretty much true.”

When it comes to a student completing high school or dropping out, Israel’s study indicates that family social capital, school social capital and community social complement each other. “The more social capital a student has, the better he or she will do in school. By looking at a student’s social capital, we can predict how likely he or she is to drop out,” Israel said.

“For example, a female student with a high level of social capital has a 97 percent chance of staying in school even if the school is poorly funded,” Israel said. “However, a female with low level of social capital, enrolled in a school in a poor community, has the deck stacked against her. She only has a 44 percent chance of staying in school. And male students show a similar pattern.”

Looking at the big picture, Israel said the importance of a kid doing well in school plays a crucial role in the success of the community. “A community’s long-term economic health is tied to the employability of its citizens. An educated community means better and higher paying jobs. These communities also attract other businesses that want to well-educated and skilled workers.”

Bo Beaulieu, a professor and director of Mississippi’s Southern Rural Development Center and co-author of the study, said parents can help their child acquire social capital by providing opportunities for participating in activities that promote positive relationships with adult mentors and fellow students. These include school activities, such clubs or sports, as well as community-sponsored programs. The efforts help ensure that students are engaged in positive, constructive uses of their time outside the classroom.

“Many policy makers have focused on books and buildings as the means to improve student learning. Little thought and effort has gone into improving student relationships with adults around them,” Beaulieu said. “But our research suggests that building social capital can pay big dividends in terms of test scores and keeping students in school. A smart education policy would include programs to help parents, teachers, and other adults to become better mentors and role models.”

Israel said parents can help by becoming involved with their child in a community group. “By joining with their kids, parents tell their children: ‘What you do has value, and I support you,'” Israel said. “That’s a powerful message for kids to receive.”

Students with high social capital also do well on standardized tests, which measure their academic achievement and the quality of the school, he said. In Florida, students are tested every year from grades 3 through 11; those in the 11th grade must receive a passing score on the high school competency test to graduate.

Schools are assigned a letter grade, based on overall student scores. An “A” school whose students score well on standardized tests receives extra funding and community recognition.



Posted: June 15, 2004

Category: UF/IFAS

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