Study Links Low Academic Levels, High Crime; Shorstein Thinks His Office's Research Underscores the Need to Improve Education

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A State Attorney's Office study has found a link between lower academic achievement in Jacksonville high schools and higher crime rates in the schools' neighborhoods.

Although the findings don't necessarily break new ground, they point to the need for a fix, State Attorney Harry Shorstein said Tuesday.

"I think it is what you would expect," he said. "Schools are, I think, the area in which we should put our primary focus. From a community standpoint, you want better-performing schools, and we are not doing it."

The study was not undertaken at anyone's request, Shorstein said, but a copy has been presented to Mayor John Peyton.

The State Attorney's Office found a link between lower academic achievement in Jacksonville high schools and higher crime rates in the neighborhoods the schools are in.

The study shows students who go to schools with lower average scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test live in neighborhoods where there is more illegal activity.

"I'll tell you there is a causation," Shorstein said. "It's sinful that we neglect the education of our children to the extent that we do."

The report also found:

-- Where there are more poor students, there are also lower scores, higher crime and a lower graduation rate.

-- Where there are more truants, there is a lower graduation rate.

Duval County schools Superintendent John Fryer did not know Shorstein was compiling the report. He said it discusses important issues, but it "confirms what we already know."

Fryer said the district is working on some of the issues the report addresses, particularly truancy. Part of the district's plans for its failing schools -- those schools that have earned two failings grades on the FCAT in the past four years -- involves increasing efforts to find truant students.

"This particular study, as far as it reinforces what we know, is certainly another red flag for the community that we've got to work on parent responsibility to make sure children are in school," he said.

Shorstein said he wants to raise awareness of the problem. In his experience, he said juveniles involved in crime escalate the intensity of illegal activity between ages 11 and 17 and stay most active until about age 25 before tapering off.

Twelve of the city's 19 public high schools were part of the study. Two schools -- Baldwin and Fletcher -- are in areas with separate police departments, making data inconsistent. The five other high schools not in the study are magnet schools, which draw students from throughout the district and not a particular neighborhood.

Their inclusion would have changed the results because they include the district's three top-performing high schools -- Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Paxon School for Advanced Studies and Stanton College Preparatory School.

Also, the geographic areas used to compile crime statistics do not directly correspond with student attendance areas, especially in the city's urban areas. But the study said that isn't significant enough to jeopardize its final conclusions.

"The results of the report will help the State Attorney and our community better focus resources to reduce crime and improve education," the report's summary said. Research shows crime can affect students' performance, according to Janice Wood, early literacy senior fellow at the University of North Florida. …


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