Neighborhood Effects on Sense of School Coherence and Educational Behavior in Students At Risk of School Failure

James Nash
Graduate School of Social Work
Portland State University
P.O. Box 751
Portland OR 97207-0751
503.725-5036
FAX: 503.725-5545
nashj@rri.pdx.edu
Purpose: Research indicates that neighborhood characteristics influence adolescents' behavior in the neighborhood, but also influence adolescents' behavior in other microsystems, including school.  Interventions aimed at promoting school success in students at risk of school failure often target student-, school-, and family-level factors.  Such interventions are likely to be more effective if they also target neighborhood characteristics that have been theoretically and empirically linked to school outcomes.  This study uses a conceptual framework based on ecological-developmental, social disorganization, and social cognitive theories to highlight the importance of neighhorhood characteristics and students' sense of school coherence, and to identify proposed links from these factors to students' educational behavior.  The study investigates relationships among: (a)neighborhood informal social control, crime, and negative peer culture; (b) students' sense of school coherence; and (c) students' educational behavior.

Methods: The study uses data from a sample of 4772 middle and high school students identified as being at risk of school failure to examine hypothesized relationships.  Path analysis with manifest variables is used to test hypothesized effects of neighborhood factors on students' educational behavior.  These effects are hypothesized to be fully mediated by students' sense of school coherence.

Results: Path analysis results partially support a mediated model.  The positive effect of neighborhood informal social control and the negative effect of neighborhood negative peer culture are fully mediated.  The effect of neighborhood crime is partially mediated, but this factor has a substantial and negative direct effect on students' educational behavior.

Implications for practice: Discussion focuses on developing comprehensive strategies to promote development in adolescents while building the capacity of communities to support the developmental needs of youth.  Key challenges and potential barriers to this approach are identified.