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School Cohesion Perception Discrepancy and Student Delinquency


Research suggests that positive school environments contribute to lower levels of school disorder. Studies have also documented stark differences between how students and personnel perceive their schools. The current study examines such “perception discrepancies” as a meaningful dimension of the school environment, investigating the hypothesis that when students perceive their schools as less cohesive than their teachers, they are more likely to engage in delinquent conduct. The University of Missouri–St. Louis Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (UMSL CSSI) study allows comparisons between student and personnel perceptions of school climate among an analytic sample of 2741 students nested in 12 American middle schools (average age = 13.6; 54% female; 39% black; 39% white). The results of a series of hierarchical regression models demonstrate that students engage in higher levels of delinquency when they perceive their school environments as less cohesive, on average, than do school personnel. This suggests that discrepancies among students and personnel concerning aspects of the school climate represent a deficiency in the school’s ability to protect against student delinquency.

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We are grateful to Finn Esbensen, T.J. Taylor, and the anonymous referees for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. This paper would not have been possible without the leadership and unwavering support of Finn Esbensen. We are also indebted to Elaine Doherty, Lee Slocum, T.J. Taylor, Kyle Thomas, Stephanie Wiley, and Tim McCuddy for their roles in the CSSI effort. Finally, we would like to express our profound appreciation to the research assistants who worked diligently on this project over the past four years. Without their hard work and long hours none of this would have been possible. All errors and omissions are our own.

Authors’ Contributions

J.O. conceived of the study, cleaned the data for analyses, reviewed relevant literature, and drafted the manuscript; M.V. participated in the design of the study, conducted the statistical analyses, and helped draft the manuscript. Both authors read and approved of the manuscript.


This research was supported by Award No. 2015-CK-BX-0021 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice.

Data Sharing and Declaration

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available at this time but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Correspondence to Jennifer O’Neill or Matt Vogel.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Board at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from student respondents and their parents, as well as personnel before participation in the study.

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O’Neill, J., Vogel, M. School Cohesion Perception Discrepancy and Student Delinquency. J Youth Adolescence 49, 1492–1502 (2020).

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  • Delinquency
  • School climate
  • School disorder
  • Perception discrepancy