…Who coulda thunk it? A while ago, I asked if parents choose schools or student bodies:
But what if parents aren’t choosing better schools, but better student bodies? What if parents are paying exorbitant housing costs, not because the schools perform better, but because those high housing costs are able to exclude students who perform poorly?
…The point is when parents are choosing schools based on test scores, they are not necessarily assessing school quality, but child poverty. The educational system that they’re leaving might stink too, but there is a massive conflation going on here. Even if they don’t think they’re doing so, families who are moving in order to secure a better education are, to a considerable extent, fleeing ‘undesirable’ student bodies.
Well, a recent study suggest that these parents might be right–poor students do better in schools with fewer poor students overall:
Low-income students in Montgomery County performed better when they attended affluent elementary schools instead of ones with higher concentrations of poverty, according to a new study that suggests economic integration is a powerful but neglected school-reform tool….
But the study, to be released Friday, addresses the potential impact of policies that mix income levels across several schools or an entire district. And it suggests that such policies could be more effective than directing extra resources at higher-poverty schools…
The study tracked the performance of 858 elementary students in public housing scattered across Montgomery from 2001 to 2007. About half the students ended up in schools where less than 20 percent of students qualified for subsidized meals. Most others went to schools where up to 60 percent of the students were poor and where the county had poured in extra money.
After seven years, the children in the lower-poverty schools performed 8 percentage points higher on standardized math tests than their peers attending the higher-poverty schools – even though the county had targeted them with extra resources. Students in these schools scored modestly higher on reading tests, but those results were not statistically significant.
Oddly enough, I wrote about this previously:
In the D.C. area, it is virtually impossible for low-income families to find housing in the inner suburbs (the wealthy suburbs of Arlington, Fairfax, and Montgomery counties). The housing that is available is concentrated in small areas, and those schools that cater to those communities do poorly (who coulda thunk it?). This exists largely due to zoning regulations: to build small-lot houses or apartment buildings is often illegal. In essence, low-income students are ‘zoned out’ (erm, that didn’t come out right…). Until we make our communities more integrated economically–and that means having low-income people nearby–it will be very difficult for urban schools to have the same results suburban ones do.
Warehousing the poor does stem from cultural dysfunction, but this dysfunction is a problem of the comfortable and the wealthy. The poor don’t want to be isolated in the ghetto, after all.
An aside: One reason that Adrian Fenty, former mayor of D.C. and who brought in Michelle Rhee as school chancellor, lost big in the black wards is because Rhee wanted to relocate an arts-oriented school from Georgetown to Southeast that catered primarily to poor black children. Most whites in D.C. weren’t even aware of this, but it didn’t go over well among blacks. I can’t imagine why not….