What works for reducing risky behaviour?

This report from the RAND Corporation examines whether being assigned to attend a high-performing public charter school in the US reduces the rates of risky health behaviour among deprived ethnic minority teenagers, and whether this is due to better academic performance, peer influence, or other factors. Risky behaviour included alcohol use, drug use, and unprotected sex, while very risky health behaviour included binge drinking, substance abuse at school, and gang participation. The researchers surveyed 521 pupils aged 14 to 18 who were offered admission into a high-performing public charter school through a random lottery (intervention group) and 409 pupils who were not offered admission (control group). The researchers also obtained the pupils’ state standardised test scores.

Results of the study showed that being assigned to attend a high-performing school led to improved maths and English standard test scores, greater school retention, and lower rates of engaging in very risky behaviour, but no difference in risky behaviour. The authors list several factors that may have contributed to these improvements. For example, the school environment may play a role by reducing exposure to “risky” peers but also by improving persistence, resilience, and other non-cognitive skills, and simply being in a demanding school may leave less time and opportunity to engage in very risky behaviour.

Source: Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents (2014), Pediatrics 134(2).

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