School Problems

A long history of research has demonstrated a relationship between school problems (poor academic performance, truancy, and dropping out) and delinquency.4 However, the meaning of the relationship is not fully understood. The three sites examined here differed substantially in the evidence each yielded about the prevalence of school problems.

The sites also differed in terms of the extent of co-occurrence of persistent school problems and persistent delinquency. For example, although not significant in Pittsburgh, there is a statistically significant relationship between school problems and delinquency for males in Denver and Rochester. However, at these two sites, less than half of the delinquents had school problems and less than half of those with school problems were delinquent (see table 3).

Table 3

In Rochester, where the relationship is strongest, 41 percent of male serious delinquents had school problems, while 35 percent of those with school problems were delinquent. These figures differed in Denver, where approximately 14 percent of delinquent males had school problems, and slightly less than half of those with school problems were delinquent. In general, the overlap is significant for males, but the majority of persistent serious delinquents did not have school problems, and the majority of those with persistent school problems were not persistent serious delinquents.

The relationship is different for females. In Rochester, where slightly more than half of female serious delinquents also had school problems, the relationship is statistically significant. In Denver, only 11 percent of female serious delinquents had school problems. Among females with school problems, approximately 13 percent in Rochester and 6 percent in Denver were also serious delinquents.

An examination of academic failure and dropping out of school (each examined separately) revealed that academic failure (grades D and F) and delinquency were significantly related only for boys in Denver. Dropping out was significantly related to delinquency only in Rochester, and this relationship was significant for both genders. These findings again indicate that broad generalizations about the relationship between persistent delinquency and other persistent problems are unwarranted. Even taking site differences into consideration, it appears that—given the large number of serious delinquents who were not having school problems—serious delinquents should not be characterized as having school problems, nor should those with school problems be characterized as persistent delinquents.

4 Brier, 1995; Elliott, Huizinga, and Menard, 1989; Elliott and Voss, 1974; Fagan and Pabon, 1990; Gold and Mann, 1984; Gottfredson, 1981; Maguin and Loeber, 1996; O’Donnell et al., 1995; Thornberry, Esbensen, and Van Kammen, 1991; Thornberry, Moore, and Christenson, 1985.

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Co-occurrence of Delinquency and Other Problem Behaviors Juvenile Justice Bulletin November 2000