Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Education / An exploration of idea, issues and trends
in education

After-School Jobs May Be Hurting Grades, Experts Warn

Labor: Despite the study, many Ventura County teachers and students say part-time work is often necessary and can build character.

April 20, 1998|TOM SCHULTZ and REGINA HONG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A recent international survey that painted a dismal picture of how American students are doing in math and science also pointed to a possible reason: after-school jobs.

The much-discussed Third International Mathematics and Science Study showed America's 12th-graders ranking in the lower third among 21 nations in tests measuring knowledge of math and science. Among other findings was that American high school seniors work more hours than their counterparts at part-time jobs.

The survey also found that American high school seniors ranked 16th out of 19 nations for which researchers measured dedication to studying. American seniors spent, on average, 1.7 hours on homework and reading per day, compared to an international average of 2.6 hours.

Some experts see a connection.

"Studying and jobs, the two are inversely related," said William H. Schmidt, a Michigan State University professor who coordinated American research on the tests. "The more time you're on the job, the less time you study. That will have an impact on how much you learn."

But in Ventura County, many teachers, students and parents say part-time work is often a necessity for teenagers, and--in moderation--tends to build character and pay dividends later in life.

Typical is Ashley Bertram, a senior at Ventura High School who works at a pizza parlor and restaurant. She points out that work gives her skills that will help her later in life.

Work, she said, helps her "learn how to work with people. Because if you can't work with people you're not going to get anywhere."

But Nick Maria, a junior at Moorpark High School, acknowledges that schoolwork can suffer. He just began work at a laser-tag business in Simi Valley to support his 1990 Acura Integra and earn some spending money.

He said he sometimes finds it difficult to complete his math homework, which often takes him hours. "If I work that day, I usually don't get it done," he said.

Lifestyle Differences Are Being Looked At

Most data about students' everyday life that researchers gathered as part of the Third International Math and Science Study portrayed American and foreign high school seniors as very similar.

Seniors in America watched the same amount of television as international students, for example--an average of 1.7 hours per day.

But increasingly, education experts are focusing on lifestyle to explain the scores of U.S. students, which caused President Clinton to renew his call for sweeping reforms of the public school system.

Although educators concluded that the content of high school math and science courses, including advanced classes, deserved the most blame for Americans' performance, some of the extracurricular findings also created cause for concern, Schmidt noted. "Unfortunately, they raise more questions than they provide answers," he said.

One question to ponder: Why is it that 55% of American seniors spent more than three hours per day at an after-school job, while less than half that figure--27%--among foreign students reported that they worked even one or more hour a day?

A more materialistic culture, some say.

Alexander Astin, who directs the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, said Americans place more emphasis on consumerism than foreigners, and teenagers here flock to after-school jobs in a "logical extension of materialism."

Work "has a direct, negative effect on almost all educational outcomes, on their grades, on whether they get into college," Astin said.

Materialism and the American passion for money are factors, agreed Donna Pitzler, a staff member who handles student work permits at Moorpark High School.

"Our society is very materialistic and it's every man for himself," Pitzler said. "It's competitive and they laud the Bill Gates nerds that come up with an idea and become the richest in the world and we don't laud the teachers that stuck with Gates."

Pitzler said many of the students, in turn, want "to be good consumers"--and that takes money.

Some students, however, work because they must, Pitzler acknowledged. Movie tickets for two and popcorn can add up to $20, more than some parents can spare, she said.

In some cases, "families may have had the need for [their children] to do some earning," said John Hyman, a professor who studies American culture at American University. "While it is tempting to make something cultural of it, I'm a little leery."

Hyman also noted that the students who participated in the international tests, administered during the 1994-95 school year, reached legal, part-time working age during the economic recession.

Jobs Teach Teenagers Important Life Skills

While money is the motivation for many, it's not the only reason to work, say counselors and students. Some have jobs to learn things that school can't teach them.

"There are those that are materialistic and want nice clothes and aren't able to afford that," said Rita Darling, a career advisor at Ventura High School who once informally polled 50 students in a work experience program.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|