In the News: How Domestic Violence In One Home Affects Every Child In A Class

As part of an NPR series on mental health in schools, Gabrielle Emanuel reports on the results of new research that measures the impact of domestic violence on how kids do in school.

ednext-sept16-ototn-npr-domesticviolenceAs she notes

It hurts not only the kids who witness the violence, but also their classmates. The harm is evident in lower test scores as well as lower rates of college attendance and completion. And the impact extends past graduation — it can be seen in lower earnings later in life.

“It’s a sad story,” says Scott Carrell, economist at the University of California, Davis, who has studied this for over a decade.

But, he says, there’s one thing he and his colleagues — economists Mark Hoekstra and Elira Kuka — found that can improve the situation “not only for that family but for all the child’s classmates.” What was it? Reporting domestic violence when it happens.

Education Next published research by Scott Carrell and Mark Hoekstra in 2009 that looked at the impact of domestic violence on children experiencing the violence and also their classmates.

They concluded

Our results confirm, first, that children from troubled families, as measured by family domestic violence, perform considerably worse on standardized reading and mathematics tests and are much more likely to commit disciplinary infractions and be suspended than other students. We find also that an increase in the number of children from troubled families reduces peer student math and reading test scores and increases peer disciplinary infractions and suspensions.

The effects on academic achievement are greatest for students from higher income families, while the effects on behavior are more pronounced on students who are less well-off. The results of our analysis provide evidence that, in many cases, a single disruptive student can indeed influence the academic progress made by an entire classroom of students.

They also noted

Understanding whether troubled children in fact generate spillover effects in school is important for two reasons.

First, the existence of substantial spillovers caused by family problems such as domestic violence would provide an additional compelling reason for policymakers to find ways to help troubled families.

Second, because many education policies change the composition of school and classroom peer groups, it is important to understand how such changes may affect student achievement. For example, a common concern regarding the ongoing push to “mainstream” emotionally disturbed students in regular classroom settings is that doing so may undermine the performance of other students. Similarly, the tracking of students into classrooms based on ability or academic performance may group disadvantaged children with the most disruptive students. The validity of these concerns hinges on whether and how classroom exposure to troubled peers affects student achievement and behavior.

The study, “Domino Effect: Domestic violence harms everyone’s kids,” by Scott Carrell and Mark Hoekstra, appears in the Summer 2009 issue of Education Next.

— Education Next

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