Study looks back at schooling some 20 years later

Dr. Miller conducted the study described below after reading the 42nd in ''52 ways to improve schools,'' which suggested that schools make changes in curriculum offerings and guidance counselling after conducting studies on what had happened to their school leavers and graduates.

Public education is one of the largest and most important industries in American society, touching the lives of all children and families. Yet little is known of its impact upon the students in their later adult life.

The model of the little red schoolhouse, set on rural farmlands, supported by the entire community is still a vital myth for many people. Yet, today, 85 percent of all schoolchildren go to large urban schools - schools without the intimacy and neighborhood identity so common to the one-room schoolhouse in the American myth.

How do city children view their schools, and what is the effect of urban schools upon the later careers and life patterns of their students?

To investigate the long-range effects of urban schools upon former students, a study was designed to locate and interview a selected group who had attended a large city school system in California.

A sample of 390 people who attended Oakland, Calif., public schools in the ' 50s were located and interviewed some 20 years later, regarding their adaptation , i.e., their marital, occupational, and socio-economic adjustment as adults.

Oakland is known as the ''All-American City,'' and has a multi-ethnic population, as is reflected by our sample of public school students: white (45 percent); black (45 percent); Latino (8 percent); other (2 percent).

Forty-seven percent of our subjects were male and 53 percent were female. The present median age of our subjects is 29.7 years. Our subjects, on the average, attended three elementary schools and two high schools during their school careers. Over half of our subjects (52 percent) graduated from high school.

In later years, more than one-third of these former students attended trade schools, colleges, and universities. In fact 6 percent of them subjects did postgraduate study before completing their educational careers. Some are continuing their education in their adulthood.

Of those former students who ''dropped out'' of the educational system at the high school level, one-half gave lack of interest or boredom as their reason for doing so. Other major reasons for leaving high school before graduation were marriage and taking a job to help support the family.

We asked each participant how well he or she did in school, and the results are given in the following table: Self-reported overall achievement (N is 390) A, or above average 12% B, or somewhat above average 32% C, or average 46% D, F, or below average 10%

We asked each subject whether he felt he did better in grade school or in high school or whether there had been no difference between grade school and high school. Nearly one-half (48 percent) of the former students felt they had done better in elementary school, while 31 percent felt they had done better in high school. Noting no difference, 21 percent of the subjects indicated they did equally well in both elementary school and high school.

We asked all respondents about who had helped them with homework: no one (50 percent); parents (31 percent); brothers/sisters (16 percent); Friend/tutor (3 percent).

About 80 percent of the subjects reported no problems with reading, while 20 percent had some type of remedial reading help for a learning problem during their school careers. Two-thirds of the former students reported they received no help from school counselors, while one-third reported receiving help from a school counselor for a psychological, discipline, or learning problem. Only 14 percent of the former students reported that a school psychologist was available at their school - the others had counseling available from a teacher or principal.

We asked our subjects about their parents' involvement with their school problems. Forty-five percent of the former students reported they had never had their parents called into school, while 55 percent had.

Of those whose parents were called into school because of some type of discipline or learning problem, 4 percent reported their parents failed to cooperate with the school. Parental involvement was followed by suspension or expulsion in about half of the cases where it occurred. Most suspensions or expulsions were due to truancy, pregnancy, or disciplinary problems. Some students were suspended several times during their school careers.

Extracurricular activities play an important role in the lives of schoolchildren. Among the group studied, over one-third (35 percent) of the students reported no school-related extracurricular activities, while 22 percent reported sports and 43 percent reported social clubs and events as their extracurricular activities.

We looked at each respondent's present social and marital status after completing school careers.

These former students have had a relatively high divorce and separation rate, with 18 percent divorced or separated and 10 percent reporting an unstable common-law marital relationship. Twenty-eight percent had never married and 41 percent are currently married. Two percent (seven of the former students) are deceased.

Over half (52 percent) of the subjects did not have children. Among the other 48 percent, the family size ranged from one to seven children each, with the average being 2.1 children per former student.

The present occupational status (1956-76) of the former students is presented in the following table. Professional 11% White collar 37% Skilled worker 11% Semiskilled 08% Unskilled 08% Housewife, not in labor market 25%

As can be seen, most subjects are identified with professional or skilled worker categories. Housewives constitute about a third of the women in the sample; that is, nearly two-thirds of the women are in the labor market. The biggest occupational group works in ''white collar'' jobs, i.e., sales or clerical work, while 11 percent are lawyers, teachers, nurses, etc., and another 8 percent are attending trade school or college.

Many of the subjects had been in the labor market for 10 or more years at the time of our follow-up study. We examined their occupational mobility - that is, were they climbing the ''ladder'' from one job up to a better job as their occupational careers advanced?

More than one-fourth of these former students were occupationally upwardly mobile, that is, they have gone from one type of job to a better job, while only 4 percent were occupational ''skidders.

''Despite this finding on occupational mobility, many subjects were plagued by unemployment as the economy changed over time.

A considerable portion of the subjects were unemployed (17 percent), employed in an unstable job (20 percent), or on public welfare (5 percent). Thus, the occupational and employment stability of the subjects is somewhat at variance - that is, despite the occupational identity of a subject, he or she may be subjected to periodic unemployment.

The quality of life of these former students was measured by responses to a series of questions about leisure time and citizenship activities, as reported below: Belongs to social clubs 24% Major TV viewing 56% Attends church often 09% Visits friends, relatives often 43% Visit others often 43% Goes out to entertainment often 34% Registered to vote 62% Owns a car 65% (Adds up to more than 100 percent because respondents listed more than one activity.)

As can be seen, former public school students participate in various social activities. Two-thirds are registered to vote, and of these, 60 percent reported they voted in the last major election.

We asked each subject for his or her opinion on a series of ''citizenship attitudes,'' since one of the functions of public education is to prepare an informed citizenry for participation in a democracy. (Percentage is agreement.)

* I try to remain loyal to my beliefs, despite outside influence - 98%.

* Things change too fast and for the worst - 34%.

* Everything is relative, and there just aren't any definite rules to live by - 29%.

* I often wonder what the meaning of life really is - 52%.

* There is little or nothing I can do toward preventing a major shooting war - 70%.

* There's little use writing to public officials because often they're not really interested in the problems of the average man - 53%.

* Despite what some people say, the lot of the average man is getting worse - 48%.

* It's hardly fair to bring children into the world with the way things look for the future - 45%.

* Nowadays a person hss to live pretty much for today and let tomorrow take care of itself - 48%.

We also asked the respondents to evaluate their own personal qualities as these may have related to their public school educational career, as is shown in the following table.

Self items Affirmative answer I am intelligent 49% I am a responsible person 52% I respect myself 56% I have an attractive personality 41% I am satisfied with myself 42% I am ambitious 53% I am a hard worker 70% I like other people 74%

When asked, over half of these subjects indicated that they felt their school careers had not greatly contributed to their ability to get along in their adult life, that what they learned in school was not generally relevant to the problems they now face in everyday life. Yet, nearly all subjects affirm the central importance of the public school system, although many indicated they feel it is failing to achieve its goals.

In summary, our interviews with 390 people who formerly attended Oakland public schools reveal that, in general, they went on from school to relatively stable occupational careers. Marital careers were somewhat less stable, as was their employment status.

Nearly all informants were concerned about the quality of education for their own children and hoped that the present public school system would be more ''relevant'' than their own school careers had been, as viewed in retrospect some 20 years later.

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