Make School Tougher to Improve Behavior?

by L

The calculus track can keep kids on the straight and narrow! Who’d’ve thought?

For those outside the paywall, the abstract of the original paper.

Previous studies have shown that years of formal schooling attained affects health behaviors, but little is known about how the stringency of academic programs affects such behaviors, especially among youth. Using national survey data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS), we study the effects of mathematics and science high-school graduation requirements (HSGR) on high school students’ risky health behaviors–specifically on drinking, smoking, and marijuana use. We find that an increase in mathematics and science HSGR has significant negative impacts on alcohol consumption among high-school students, especially males and non-white students. The effects of math and science HSGR on smoking and marijuana use are also negative but generally less precisely estimated. Our results suggest that curriculum design may have potential as a policy tool to curb youth drinking.

Mémé’s comment:   The author of the NYT article completed the assignment, but  without saying in so many words conveys the impression that correlation is not causation in this case.   The study’s authors did account for the effects of increased standards on dropouts who are not counted, but they have made a less than half hearted attempt to explain anything else.