The Effects of School Bonding on High School Seniors’ Academic Achievement

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  • Journal of Counseling & Development October 2012 Volume 90 467 2012 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.

    Received 06/03/11Revised 09/03/11

    Accepted 11/22/11

    When students feel connected to or have strong bonds to their schools, they are more likely to experience academic success. They stay in school longer and attend school regu-larly (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2009b). Yet only about 50% of the youth in schools report feeling connected to or engaged in school (Blum, 2005). Given that school bonding and alienation are opposite sides of the same coin, a significant number of students may be experiencing alienation from school (Schulz & Rubel, 2011). School bonding, or students connectedness to their school, is linked to health, social, and educational outcomes for youth (Blum, 2005; CDC, 2009b). Moreover, school bonding is one of the developmental assets that increase students ability to overcome lifes challenges and meet academic success (Ben-son, 2002; Scales, 2005). The resiliency literature identifies developmental assets as protective factors that are precursors to resiliency in youth (Benard, 1991, 2004; Benson, 2002; Bryan, 2005). Three external developmental assets (caring school climate, safety, and school boundaries or rules) and two internal developmental assets (school engagement and bonding to school) are consistently mentioned in the school bonding and connectedness literature (Blum, 2005; Blum & Libbey, 2004; Jimerson, Campos, & Greif, 2003; Libbey, 2004). Also called school connectedness, school engage-ment, and school attachment, school bonding is a negative predictor of school dropout and failure as well as risky health behaviors and school-related delinquency among youth (Lee & Smith-Adcock, 2005; Libbey, 2004; Payne, Gottfredson, & Gottfredson, 2003; Smith & Sandhu, 2004). Bonding or connectedness is a powerful need and motivator for children and adults; however, it is underemphasized and underutilized

    Julia Bryan, Stacey gaenzle, Jungnam Kim, Chia-Huei Lin, and goeun Na, Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education, University of Maryland at College Park; Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Department of Educational Specialties, Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore. Stacey Gaenzle is now at Department of Education and Counseling, Villanova University. Corre-spondence concerning this article should be addressed to Julia Bryan, Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education, University of Maryland at College Park, 3214 Benjamin Building, College Park, MD 20742 (e-mail: jabryan@umd.edu).

    The Effects of School Bonding on High School Seniors Academic AchievementJulia Bryan, Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Stacey Gaenzle, Jungnam Kim, Chia-Huei Lin, and Goeun Na

    The authors examine the effects of school bonding on academic achievement (measured by math achievement scores) in a sample of 12th graders from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (Ingels, Pratt, Rogers, Siegel, & Stutts, 2005). Components of school bonding have proximal and distal effects on academic achievement. Attachment to school and school involvement had direct effects on achievement; attachment to teachers and school commitment behaviors had indirect effects on achievement through school-related delinquency and prior achievement. Implications for counselors are discussed.

    Keywords: school bonding, school connectedness, school engagement, involvement in extracurricular activities, academic achievement

    in promoting students prosocial behaviors and academic success (Bryan, Day-Vines, Griffin, & Moore-Thomas, 2012; Shochet, Dadds, Ham, & Montague, 2006; Smith & Sandhu, 2004; Townsend & McWhirter, 2005). Indeed, school bond-ing is significant and may have important implications for students academic achievement.

    As a result of an emerging research-based link between school bonding and academic-related outcomes for adoles-cents, policy makers, educators, and school counselors have become increasingly interested in ways to more fully under-stand the variables and environments that foster youths bond-ing or connectedness to their schools (CDC, 2009b; Galassi & Akos, 2004; Scales, 2005; Smith & Sandhu, 2004). A complication of this work, however, is that school bonding is studied across a plethora of fields (i.e., education, psychology, sociology, human development, and health disciplines), which use a wide variety of terms, such as school connectedness, school attachment, school engagement, school involvement, school identification, school bonding, teacher support, and school climate, all to mean similar things (Blum, 2005; Blum & Libbey, 2004; Libbey, 2004). Although the varying theoreti-cal frameworks and definitions have led to some interesting perspectives, the interrelatedness among these constructs; the similarities in measures used to measure different constructs; and, concurrently, the differences in measures used to measure the same construct have led to much confusion, fragmentation, and variation in findings (Libbey, 2004).

    In this article, we begin to bridge the gap between the many terms used in the school bonding literature to examine the link between adolescents bonds to school and their academic achievement. Toward this aim, we use the term school bonding

  • Journal of Counseling & Development October 2012 Volume 90468

    Bryan et al.

    and use Maddox and Prinzs (2003) definition to identify the components and measures of school bonding. Maddox and Prinz built on Hirschis (1969) conceptualization of school bonding as a multidimensional construct composed of attach-ment, commitment, involvement, and beliefs components. Using Hirschis conceptualization, they found that school bonding was multidimensional with four specific components: (a) attachment to school, (b) attachment to teachers and school personnel, (c) school commitment (comprising both beliefs and behaviors), and (d) school involvement. We use this defi-nition of school bonding to guide our study and define our purpose. Maddox and Prinzs framework provides an organiz-ing framework to integrate many of the terms and constructs (e.g., school attachment, commitment, and involvement) that have been used in various studies to examine students bonds to school and related outcomes. In the following paragraphs, we cull the literature with terms related to school bonding in an attempt to understand the relationships between each component of school bonding and academic achievement.

    School Bonding and Academic AchievementAttachment to School

    Attachment to school is defined as how much students like school and their sense of satisfaction, fairness, and safety in school (Maddox & Prinz, 2003). Not only is liking school an adequate measure of attachment to school, research indicates that elementary-school-age children who like school and feel satisfaction with their school are more likely to participate in class and perform better academically (Gest, Welsh, & Domi-trovich, 2005; Hallinan, 2008; Ladd, Buhs, & Seid, 2000). School liking does not seem to have been examined among older students. Related to fairness, another element of Maddox and Prinzs (2003) definition of attachment to school, in schools where students perceive rules to be fair and clear, and where the climate is safe, students perform better academically (Gregory & Cornell, 2009; Ripski & Gregory, 2009; Skiba & Knesting, 2001), although more restrictive rules may have negative ef-fects on academic achievement (Way, 2003). Furthermore, in schools where students feel safe, academic achievement tends to be higher (Milam, Furr-Holden, & Leaf, 2010).

    Attachment to Teachers and School Personnel Attachment to teachers encompasses students interpersonal relationships and connections with school personnel (Maddox & Prinz, 2003). Students attachment to their teachers is mea-sured by students feelings that their teachers are interested in them, provide good teaching, and praise and support them (Libbey, 2004). Although research suggests that a students prior academic achievement is one of the strongest predic-tors of academic achievement (Glanville & Wildhagen, 2007; Ma & Intyre, 2005), students relationships and emotional

    connections to their teachers are highly associated with aca-demic success (Hawkins, Guo, Hill, Battin-Pearson, & Abbott, 2001). Indeed, Crosnoe, Johnson, and Elder (2004) found that positive studentteacher relationships were associated with better student outcomes, including higher academic achieve-ment and fewer disciplinary problems, even after controlling for sociodemographics and prior behavior. However, not all the research has been consistent. One recent study indicated that teacher support was indirectly associated with students grades (Wooley, Kol, & Bowen, 2009), whereas a second study using a broad definition of emotional engagement found that attachment to teachers was not a significant predictor of achievement as measured by math achievement scores (Sciarra & Seirup, 2008).

    School Commitment School commitment measures a students level of personal investment in the school and is reflected both in students school commitment beliefs and behaviors (Maddox & Prinz, 2003). Personal investment comprises students beliefs that school and grades are important and valuable as well as students engagement in the school behaviors necessary for success, such as completing homework and coming to school with supplies (Libbey, 2004; Maddox & Prinz, 2003). Students who are committed to school and their schoolwork and have higher levels of behavioral engagement or invest-ment in school report higher academic achievement (Sciarra & Seirup, 2008; Stewart, 2008) and lower levels of school-related delinquency and misbehavior (Jenkins, 1995; Lee & Smith-Adcock, 2005; Stewart, 2003).

    School Involvement School involvement is defined by a students involvement in extracurricular activities and clubs. This includes a students behavioral participation in various activities (Maddox & Prinz, 2003). Positive relationships exist between students involvement in extracurricular activities and academic achievement and other academically related outcomes (Du-mais, 2009a, 2009b; Fredricks & Eccles, 2008; Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2003). Dotterer, McHale, and Crouter (2007) examined the connection between out-of-school ac-tivities (i.e., structured and unstructured) and school engage-ment, which they defined as behavioral (i.e., school grades), affective (i.e., school bonding), and cognitive (i.e., school self-esteem). They found time spent doing homework and engaging in extracurricular activities were positively associ-ated with school engagement.

    Purpose of the StudyAlthough researchers have begun to demonstrate the relation-ship between adolescents school bonding and academically related outcomes such as grades, attendance, dropout, and

  • Journal of Counseling & Development October 2012 Volume 90 469

    The Effects of School Bonding on High School Seniors Academic Achievement

    graduation rates (Blum, 2005; Blum & Libbey, 2004), greater attention needs to be given to understanding how school bond-ing influences academic achievement, especially among high school students. Few longitudinal studies exist that examine the effects of school bonding on student behavior and aca-demic performance (Catalano, Haggerty, Oesterle, Fleming, & Hawkins, 2004; Hawkins et al., 2001), and none of these seem to use a nationally representative sample to investigate these variables during the crucial period of adolescent de-velopment, the high school years. Such research that uses a multifaceted definition of school bonding may provide a better understanding of the effects of school bonding dur-ing students high school experience. For example, if school bonding in ninth or 10th grades contributes to high school students academic achievement in later grades, then educa-tors and counselors could pay greater attention to enhancing students bonds or connectedness to school during freshman and sophomore years to facilitate students academic success throughout adolescence and beyond. This kind of investiga-tion could provide insight on the potential stabilizing nature of schools and significant implications for the healthy devel-opment of academically strong adolescents (Blum, 2005). The purpose of this study, then, was to examine the effects of school bonding on academic achievement using a nation-ally representative sample of high school seniors from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002; Ingels, Pratt, Rogers, Siegel, & Stutts, 2005). In this study, we used math achievement as a measure of academic achievement. The following overarching question (Research Question 1) and subquestions (Research Questions 2 and 3) guided our study:

    Research Question 1: What are the effects of student demographic variables (i.e., gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status [SES], school urbanicity, and type of school), school bonding (i.e., attachment to school, attachment to teachers, school commitment, and school involvement), school-related delinquency, and prior academic achievement on high school stu-dents academic achievement?

    Research Question 2: What are the effects of student demographics and school bonding on students aca-demic achievement?

    Research Question 3: Do the effects of school bonding on academic achievement change once intervening variables (i.e., school-related delinquency and prior academic achievement) are taken into account?

    Given the negative relationship between school bonding and school-related delinquency or school misbehavior (Dorn-busch, Erickson, Laird, & Wong, 2001; Lee & Smith-Adcock, 2005; Libbey, 2004; McNeely & Falci, 2004; Payne et al., 2003; Smith & Sandhu, 2004) and the positive effects of prior academic achievement on current academic achieve-

    ment (Glanville & Wildhagen, 2007; Ma & Intyre, 2005), we included school-related delinquency and prior academic achievement (measured by math achievement scores) as intervening variables (also called mediator or mediating variables; Aneshensel, 2002; Baron & Kenny, 1986; Frazier, Tix, & Barron, 2004).

    MethodData Set and Sample

    We examined the effects of school bonding on academic achievement in a nationally representative sample of high school seniors selected from the ELS:2002, a public-use data set collected by the U.S. Department of Educations National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The ELS:2002 fol-lows a national sample of 10th graders biennially from 2002 to 2004. Our sample comprised 10,426 high school seniors who attended U.S. public, private, and Catholic high schools. Just 91.8% of the students attended public schools, whereas 3.4% attended private, non-Catholic schools and 4.8% attended Catholic schools. Of the 12th graders, 50.4% were female and 49.6% were male. Of the 10,426 students, 3.7% were Asian/Pacific Islander, 12.2% were Black/African American, 13.8% were Hispanic...

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