Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Study shows working students' performance in school lagging

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Jillien Thomas gets out of class at Frankfort High School, tends to her school work then usually goes off to her job as a hostess and server at a restaurant.

        She usually works 24 hours a week or so, two-thirds of it on school nights. But her school work has not suffered. Except for geometry, she's an honor roll student as a junior.

        Ms. Thomas, 16, is an exception to some of the findings of a University of Kentucky study that has drawn a connection between students who work more than about 15 hours a week and diminished academic performance.

        Ms. Thomas, though, knows the connection. “I know a lot of friends who work whose grades suffer,” she said. Many of those students had their parents end their working days.

        The finding is similar to national studies.

        Surveys were sent to about 3,000 Kentucky high school juniors ages 16 and 17. About a third of the surveys were returned, which is a relatively high response rate for such a questionnaire. The survey covered a variety of topics on student achievement and aspirations. The first findings, though, concentrate on student work in the classroom and in the workplace.

        Nearly half of teens age 16 to 19 were working in 1999. Students reported the largest amount of their time outside the classroom was spent on the job. Time spent with friends, sports and hobbies and time with family all trailed.

        Kentucky law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to work up to 40 hours a week during the school year; 14- and 15-year-olds can work up to 18 hours a week. The survey found that a fourth of the students worked more than 20 hours a week, about half worked less than 20 hours and the remaining fourth did not work.

        Grade-point averages were highest among those who did not work and lowest among those who worked more than 15 hours a week. Similarly, students who did not have jobs were more likely to take advanced placement courses, while those who worked more than 15 hours a week were the least likely to take them.

        Skip Kifer, a University of Kentucky researcher, said there are larger implications to the youthful work force than just what it means to academic performance.

        “There would be a real issue of who would be working at McDonald's,” Mr. Kifer said. “You could put the kibosh on the economy if you're too aggressive on this basis.”

        Rep. Frank Rasche, D-Paducah, chairman of the House Education Committee, said the General Assembly is unlikely to follow some other states — notably Connecticut and Massachusetts — in trying to place limits on student jobs.

        “People are reluctant to say something against a work ethic,” Mr. Rasche said.

        On the contrary, Mr. Rasche said students in the workplace are a fact of life policy makers should adjust to and accommodate, not try to regulate or restrict.

        “Is there a way we could acknowledge this as a reality and do a better job of education?,” Mr. Rasche said.

        Department of Education spokeswoman Lisa Gross said the state has not taken a deliberate look at the phenomenon, except to note the growing incidence of sleepy students. As a result, employers are asked generally to keep their school-age workers off the late shifts.

        “Of course we are on the side of academics,” Ms. Gross said. “We are also aware that students need real world experience and that part-time jobs are often the best way to get that.”

        Ms. Thomas said she has been able to juggle work and school. If the classroom suffered, she said she would just buckle down on the books rather than give up her job.


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