Research shows that children living in violent neighborhoods experience trauma that makes them more difficult to teach. These students are more likely to get lower test scores, drop out of high school and develop depression, attention problems and/or discipline problems.

Now a new study at Johns Hopkins University finds that students who are in the same classes as these children also don’t learn as well, scoring as much as 10 percent lower on annual tests.

The findings, published in the journal Sociology of Education, show that in schools where more kids have a high exposure to violence, their classmates score as much as 10 percent lower on annual standardized math and reading tests.

“Exposure to neighborhood violence has a much bigger impact that we think it does,” said lead author and  Johns Hopkins sociologist Dr. Julia Burdick-Will. “It seeps into places that you don’t expect. It can affect an entire school and how it’s able to function.”

The study involved students who attended Chicago Public Schools from 2002 to 2010. Since Chicago offers students the option of attending school anywhere in the city, students often commute to schools across town.

In fact, students from nearly every neighborhood attend nearly every school. This means that the violence that many Chicago students face in their neighborhoods does not necessarily remain in their neighborhood, but is taken with them all over the city to the schools they attend.

For the study, Burdock-Will looked at administrative data from the school system, crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department and school surveys from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Burdock-Will evaluated five cohorts of students who were freshmen between the fall of 2002 and 2006, and followed each student for up to four years. About half of the students studied were African-American and about a third were Hispanic.

The findings show that high school students in Chicago public schools experience, on average, about 70 violent crimes a year within a few blocks of their homes. Children with high levels of exposure to violence, however, often experienced double that amount. Schools with students who experienced high levels of neighborhood violence were more than 94 percent African-American.

The neighborhood crimes included homicides, sexual assaults, aggregated and simple batteries, aggravated and simple assaults, and robberies.

It’s possible these effects build over time, noted Burdock-Will.

“This is just one year — we don’t know what the cumulative effects are,” Burdick-Will said. “If you score 10 percent lower in just one year, you’re that much less prepared for the next year. Ten percent less growth in a year is a pretty big deal.”

Chicago’s crime rates are comparable to those of Baltimore, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Houston and Miami, and it is possible that schools in those cities have similar issues, said Burdick-Will.

“Dealing with urban violence has ripple effects we’re only starting to understand,” she said. “We can’t think about violence as something happening to kids in an isolated part of the city where I don’t live. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“High crime rates may be concentrated in specific areas, but their effects can be felt in schools all over the city.”

Source: Johns Hopkins University