Study finds link between school retention and crime

Study finds link between school retention and crime

New research from the US has revealed a link between school retention and violent crimes in adulthood.

The working paper posted by the US National Bureau of Economic Research is the first analysis in the literature of the effect of test-based grade retention on adult criminal convictions.

The researchers looked at math and English test cutoffs for promotion to ninth grade in Louisiana using administrative data on all public K-12 students combined with administrative data on all criminal convictions in the state.

Michael Lovenheim – co-author and associate professor of Cornell University's department of policy analysis and management – explained the findings.

“Our preferred models use the promotion discontinuity as an instrument for grade retention, and we find that being retained in eighth grade has large long-run effects on the likelihood of being convicted of a crime by age 25 and on the number of criminal convictions by age 25,” Lovenheim said.

Effects were largest for violent crimes: the likelihood of being convicted increased by 1.05 percentage points, or 58.44%, when students were retained in eighth grade.

“Our data allow an examination of mechanisms, and we show that the effects are likely driven by declines in high school peer quality, lowered non-cognitive skill acquisition, and a reduction in educational attainment,” Lovenheim said.

“However, we find little effect on juvenile crime, which suggests the effects on adult criminal engagement are driven by worse job market prospects and non-cognitive skills that stem from lower educational investments by students.”

Using the method proposed by Angrist and Rokkanen (2015), the researchers also estimated effects of grade retention away from the promotion cutoff and show that their results are generalisable to a larger group of low-performing students.

“Our estimates indicate that test- based promotion cutoffs lead to large private and social costs in terms of higher levels of long-run criminal convictions that are important to consider in the development and use of these policies,” Lovenheim said.