Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Examining Racial Differences in the Effects of Substance Abuse on High School Students' Academic Achievement

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Examining Racial Differences in the Effects of Substance Abuse on High School Students' Academic Achievement

Article excerpt

Many studies document racial disparities in the American educational system, finding that white students generally outperform black students. Researchers justifiably focus on structural explanations for such disparities, but generally pay less attention to more proximate influences on academic achievement. However, studies have found that substance use negatively impacts adolescent academic achievement; other findings on race and substance use suggest that this relationship could be more damaging for black students. This paper uses National Education Longitudinal Study data to determine if substance use negatively impacts the academic achievement of high school students, and if black students are more negatively affected than whites. The analysis finds that substance use has a negative impact on academic achievement, even while controlling for a range of known influences on academic achievement. However, this relationship is not found to be more damaging to black students, probably due to white students' higher level of substance use.

A long line of social science research illuminates the importance of education for American youth. Education is strongly associated with many positive outcomes, including increased social mobility and wealth (Erikson and Goldthorpe 1992; Jencks 1972). Researchers have documented a variety of factors diat influence academic performance, including social class and cultural capital (Lareau 2000), school characteristics (Lee and Bryk 1989), neighborhood effects (Garner and Raudenbush 1991), and race (Blau 2003; Kao, Tienda, and Schneider 1996; Lewis 2003).

Racial disparities in academics persist, particularly at the high school level, with whites generally outperforming blacks in various measures of achievement, including standardized test scores (Miller 1995), graduation rates (Warren 1996), and educational attainment (Kao and Thompson 2003). Parents' socioeconomic status (SES) explains a significant amount of the racial gap, but still leaves some variation unexplained (Bali and Alvarez 2003; Kao and Thompson 2003). Researchers have explored other factors to account for the racial disparity in achievement, including school-level factors such as segregation and school quality (Kozol 2005), teacher quality (Ferguson 1991), and teacher expectations (Ferguson 2000); neighborhood-level factors (Lopez Turley 2003); parental cultural capital (McNeal 1999); oppositional identity (Fordham and Ogbu 1986; Ogbu 2004); and the influence of negative racial stereotypes (Steele andAronson 1995).

In general, social science researchers have been less interested in student-level factors that impact academic achievement. However, a number of studies have identified the negative effects that substance use - smoking, drinking, and drug use - have on adolescent academic achievement (Codina and Yin 1998; Jeynes 2002; Mensch and Kandel 1988; Rob, Reynolds, and Finlayson 1990; Zimmerman and Schmeelk-Cone 2003). While few studies have considered substance use as a possible explanation for the lesser academic performance of black students, research suggests that black adolescent drinkers may encounter more alcohol-related problems than white adolescent drinkers, despite consuming less alcohol than their white peers (Bailey and Rachal 1993; Weite and Barnes 1987). In addition, research finds that black adolescents drink for more negative and troublesome reasons (e.g., to alleviate psychological distress rather than to celebrate) and in less socially approved settings (e.g., drinking alone or before school) than their white peers. Thus, it is important to consider if substance use contributes to blacks' poorer academic performance.

I analyze data from a large national survey to determine if substance use negatively impacts the academic achievement of high school students. I also test the hypothesis that substance use has a more negative effect on academic achievement for black students than for whites. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.