I received an email from One Pennsylvania/First Suburbs Project of SEPA. Having spent the majority of my life in an inner city or a "First Suburb," I understand the aim of this group and can clearly see the disinvestment of whole metropolitan regions, like my own. Well the email included a link to a study funded by the Century Foundation, a Progressive think tank in New York City.
More about the study below the fold:
The study is called "Housing Policy is School Policy" and yes, it resonates with something I’ve long argued: poor kids given a quality education can and do learn. I’m one of those poor kids who spent three years in a parochial school in the city and 9 years in a First Suburbs public school. It may be difficult for some who have not had to move up the income ladder in a significant way to deemphasize the role that education plays in economic stability. I understand that but for me, if it was not for my education, I would still be among the working poor, if not worse. My mother provided a better education for me than she had. I’m providing a better education for my kid than I had. I live in an inner city where the schools graduate about half of the students that enter high school. There is no learning going on but at a few school that routinely are very selective admissions. The rest are largely delegated to holding pens until the students either drop-out or graduate having barely learned the basics and certainly not ready for college or with few or any skills that would lead to a job. So that is my frame of reference.
"School enrollment patterns are closely tied to residential patterns. In short, housing policy is school policy."
Montgomery County, Maryland, operates one of the most acclaimed large public school systems in the United States. ...Two-thirds of its high school students take at least one Advanced Placement course, and the average SAT score in the district greatly exceeds the national average. A recent book has lauded its educational reforms intended to close racial and economic achievement gaps...
Montgomery County also ranks among the top twenty wealthiest counties in the nation, and has done so since its inception in the 1950s. Less than 5 percent of its residents live in poverty, compared to a national rate of 15 percent. Despite the increasing share of low-income students within its school system, a little less than one-third of its approximately 142,000 students qualified for free and reduced-price meals (FARM) in 2010—a ratio that is somewhat lower than the national average (42.9 percent) and far lower than that in most of the largest urban districts such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City, where about three out of every four students qualify.
Montgomery County’s reputation as both an affluent area with good schools and a district that serves low-income students relatively well is firmly established. Much less known is the fact that it operates the nation’s oldest and by far the largest inclusionary zoning program—a policy that requires real estate developers to set aside a portion of the homes they build to be rented or sold at below-market prices. The zoning stipulation has caused the production of more than 12,000 moderately priced homes in the county since 1976. ...
A singular feature of Montgomery County’s zoning policy is that it allows the public housing authority, the Housing Opportunities Commission, to purchase one-third of the inclusionary zoning homes within each subdi¬vision to operate as federally subsidized public housing, thereby allowing households who typically earn incomes below the poverty line to live in afflu¬ent neighborhoods and send their children to schools where the vast majority of students come from families that do not live in poverty. ...Families who occupy the public housing apartments in Montgomery County have an average income of $22,460 as of 2007, making them among the poorest households in the county...
Economic school integration has long been a model in Montgomery County, Maryland. I wonder what this would do in my city, where the affluent public schools are closed off to the masses and the magnet schools in city are accessed via standardized test scores.
The Housing Opportunities Commission randomly assigns applicants to the public housing apartments. Since almost all of the county’s elementary schools have neighborhood-based attendance zones, children in public hous¬ing thus are assigned randomly to their elementary schools via the public housing placement process. This feature prevents families’ self-selection into neighborhoods and elementary schools of their choice, which in turn allows for a fair comparison of children in public housing in low-poverty settings to other children in public housing in higher-poverty settings within the county.
Building on the strength of the random assignment of children to schools, I examine the longitudinal school performance from 2001 to 2007 of approximately 850 students in public housing who attended elementary schools and lived in neighborhoods that fell along a spectrum of very-low-poverty to moderate-poverty rates. In brief, I find that over a period of five to seven years, children in public housing who attended the school district’s most-advantaged schools (as measured by either subsidized lunch status or the district’s own criteria) far outperformed in math and reading those chil¬dren in public housing who attended the district’s least-advantaged elemen¬tary schools.
So, there is no oft-quoted "self-selection" bias. The SUPER ENGAGED PARENTS aren't sending their kids to the better schools. It is a stroke of luck, a lottery more or less. I think this makes the results very robust due to the randomness of the assignments to the schools.
Findings from the study:
School-based economic integration effects accrued over time.• After five to seven years, students in public housing who were randomly assigned to low-poverty elementary schools significantly outperformed their peers in public housing who attended moderate-poverty schools in both math and reading. Further, by the end of elementary school, the initial, large achievement gap between children in public housing who attended the district’s most advantaged schools and their non-poor stu¬dents in the district was cut by half for math and one-third for reading.
The academic returns from economic integration diminished as school • poverty levels rose. Children who lived in public housing and attended schools where no more than 20 percent of students qualified for a free or reduced price meal did best, whereas those children in public hous¬ing who attended schools where as many as 35 percent of students who qualified for a free or reduced price meal performed no better aca¬demically over time than public housing children who attended schools where 35 to 85 percent of students qualified for a free or reduced price meal. (Note that fewer than 5 percent of schools had more than 60 percent of students from low-income families, and none had more than 85 percent in any year, making it impossible to compare the effects of low-poverty schools with truly high-poverty schools, where 75 percent to 100 percent of the families are low-income).
In Montgomery County, inclusionary zoning integrated children from • highly disadvantaged families into low-poverty neighborhoods and low-poverty schools over the long term. The county’s inclusionary zoning program generally, and its scattered site public housing pro¬gram in particular, have been a highly successful means of expos¬ing low-income persons to low-poverty settings. As of the years in which this study took place, families with school-age children living in public housing had stayed in place for an average of eight years, which resulted in long term exposure of their children to low-poverty settings.
Residential stability improved students’ academic outcomes.• Even though the families living in public housing in Montgomery County earned very low incomes, they stayed in place for longer periods of time than is typical of public families nationally with similar incomes. Their residential stability was a crucial aspect that allowed their chil¬dren to reap the long run benefits of attending low-poverty schools.
Children in public housing benefited academically from living in low-poverty • neighborhoods, but less than from attending low-poverty schools. There is suggestive evidence that, above and beyond which schools they attended, low-income children who lived in very low poverty neighborhoods (where 0 percent to 5 percent of families live in poverty) experienced modest aca¬demic benefits as compared to those children in public housing who lived in low-poverty neighborhoods (where 5 percent to 10 percent live in poverty). School-based economic integration had about twice as large an effect as neighborhood-based economic integration on low-income children’s academic performance. However, the prevailing low poverty rates within Montgomery County only allowed for a limited test of neighborhood poverty effects.
This last point is important. It is saying that living in a low poverty area is LESS important than going to a low poverty school. Children returning to public housing every day can still do well in school. We don't have to "eradicate poverty" to achieve significant and positive educational outcomes. Although, no poverty would be ideal, I believe that until we increase the percentage of children that receive a quality education, we are pissing at windmills.
In order not to violate Fair Use laws, I will stop there. Needless to say, if you go on to read the study in full, I want to note that I do not agree with everything the study lists as common theories. Although, they are common of course, I think there is a more nuanced argument that is missed.
Given a quality education, poor kids can achieve higher educational achievement. You don’t have to "eradicate poverty" to do so. And the only truly long term way to "eradicate poverty" is through quality education.