Access to a good
school may be one of the great equalizers among adolescents at different income levels, according to a study in the August 2014 Pediatrics, "Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents," published online July 21.
The researchers examined whether exposure to successful schools can improve health or healthy behaviors, as well as
academic achievement, among low-income teens. They compared two groups of high school students from low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles, including 521 students who were offered admission to the high-performing public charter schools through the district lottery, and 409 who were not.
Both groups of students were surveyed about their health behaviors, and their
standardized test scores were noted. Those students who were admitted to the high-performing schools went on to perform much better on math and English standard tests. In addition, significantly fewer of the charter school attendees—36 percent vs. 42 percent--engaged in any of a set of very risky behaviors, including
unprotected sex, carrying a
gang membership. School retention appeared to play a significant role in these positive effects, as students who changed schools or
dropped out were more likely to engage in very risky behaviors.
The authors concluded that successful public charter high schools in low-income neighborhoods can have early beneficial health effects, and could help to close the academic achievement gap between wealthy and poor students, which appears to be growing in the U.S.