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EDUCATION WEEK, February 4, 2004

Student Engagement [Decreasing]

Both elementary and high school students have become less engaged in school in recent years, and participation in extracurricular activities has also dropped slightly, according to the latest "Snapshots of America's Families," an ongoing project of the Washington-based Urban Institute.

Based on the institute's "National Survey of America's Families," the data show that school engagement fell for 6- to 11-year-olds from 43.1 percent in 1997 to 34.7 percent in 2002, meaning that fewer children cared about doing well in school and fewer of them always did their homework.

The survey data is based on parent responses from 40,000 households.

Among 12- to 17-year-olds, school engagement dropped from 38.2 percent to 30.9 percent over that same period.

Beyond those findings, the survey shows that the percentage of elementary school children involved in extracurricular activities dropped slightly, from 82.3 percent in 1997 to 79.1 percent in 2002. The decline was largest among children from low-income families.

For children from higher-income families, the survey shows that behavioral and emotional problems became more common over that five-year period for both elementary and secondary school students.

In addition, it shows, the percentage of parents with higher incomes who showed signs of aggravation with their children increased from 5.6 percent in 1997 to 8.6 percent in 2002.

Still, researchers identified some positive trends.

For example, behavioral and emotional problems became less frequent among teenagers from low-income families, falling from 14.9 percent to 11.1 percent over the five-year period.

The researchers also found evidence that suggests more young children are being read to by parents more often.

"These data cannot explain why school engagement declined while at the same time more young children are being read to by their parents," Sharon Vandivere, a senior research analyst at Child Trends, a Washington-based research group, said in a written statement to the press. Ms. Vandivere wrote a brief on the survey findings for the Urban Institute.

The brief, “Changes in Children’s Well-Being and Family Environments” is online at www.urban.org

—Linda Jacobson

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