EIGHTH and ninth-grade students who work more than 15 hours a week are at risk of performing poorly in school, according to a New Hampshire study. The survey, released in late October, was conducted by the state's Department of Employment Security. New Hampshire is the first state in the country to study the work habits of junior high school students.
``The more hours a student works, on average, the lower his grades will be,'' says Kenneth Yasuda, who conducted the study involving 323 students and 23 schools. It was found that students who made low grades were more than seven times as likely to work over 21 hours a week than those who did not.
Mr. Yasuda says his data suggest one reason why some students work long hours is that they are dissatisfied with school. These students were doing poorly in school before they took outside jobs. The study found that, of students who reported low marks over a three-year period, 87 percent were employed in outside jobs by the time they entered ninth grade.
``These kids are really kind of hanging on in school because they say, `Hey, I don't want to be a dropout,' '' Yasuda says. Policymakers need to be as concerned with why students are getting turned off by school as they are with trying to cut down on the number of hours they work, he adds.
The study was based on student responses to questionnaires filled out in the spring of 1989. It follows a New Hampshire study released last January on students in Grades 10 through 12, which produced similar findings.
Statistics from both studies will be updated annually and used to make a regional data base for New Hampshire and other Northeastern states.
Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University, has conducted youth labor studies that show similar findings.
In a California study, he found that when students work longer than 15 to 20 hours a week during school they are more likely to receive poor grades and be prone to drug and alcohol abuse.
The answer to the problem of youth labor is more complicated than just trying to get kids more interested in school, says Dr. Steinberg.
Working with parents, legislation, and talking with employers should all be part of the process, he says.
``I don't see any evidence that one solution to the problem if better than a combination of many of them,'' Steinberg says.