Argument: improve educational performance of poor children by moving them to the suburbs

Academic achievement is a familiar topic in recent American discourse: how exactly do we improve student performance, particularly for those who are behind? One foundation president suggest the answer is to have more poor kids move to the suburbs and attend suburban schools with wealthier children:

One of the most important recent pieces of education research was released last year — and promptly ignored. The Century Foundation’s report “Housing Policy is School Policy” confirms the seminal 1966 finding of Johns Hopkins University sociologist James Coleman: The school-based variable that most profoundly affects student performance is the socioeconomic composition of the school. In short, poor children do better if they attend schools with affluent children.

The “new” news in the report? It highlights the critical out-of-school influence of where the low-income children reside. Poor children attending an affluent school do even better, it turns out, if they also live in an affluent neighborhood.

There is more interesting material in here, including reference to the Gautreaux program in Chicago (see some of the academic research generated in studying this program) that was one of the first programs that moved public housing families to suburban neighborhoods. (However, there is no mention of over similar and bigger programs, like HUD’s Moving To Opportunity.)

As the article suggests, this is a difficult solution to implement. The suburbs tend to have more expensive housing, suburban residents can be resistant to minorities and the lower classes, support networks can be lacking, and transportation by automobile is often required (and is costly). Additionally, it is very hard to create laws that would force movement or impel suburban communities to build affordable housing.

More broadly, this piece is a reminder of the price of segregated housing in America. We have an ethos that says people can move wherever they want (particularly if they have the money) but there are a variety of factors that inhibit this. As American Apartheid suggests, residential segregation “is the ‘linchpin’ of American race relations.”

One thought on “Argument: improve educational performance of poor children by moving them to the suburbs

  1. Pingback: Why Americans love suburbs #2: family life and children | Legally Sociable

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