The effect of neighborhoods on persistent inequality between races

A new book by sociologist Patrick Sharkey highlights how neighborhood conditions contribute to persistent inequality by race:

Put more bluntly:

Even if a white and a black child are raised by parents who have similar jobs, similar levels of education, and similar aspirations for their children, the rigid segregation of urban neighborhoods means that the black child will be raised in a residential environment with higher poverty, fewer resources, poorer schools, and more violence than that of the white child.

This might not seem to make sense: education gains have been fairly substantial, so shouldn’t income and wealth follow? The problem is that whites are more likely to lock in gains over generations. Blacks are more likely to be in a higher income centile than their parents than whites (55/50), and less likely to be in a lower one (44/49). But they’re more likely to be in a lower income quintile (53/41) and less likely to be in a higher income quintile (35/45). Whites are more likely to inch down and leap up the socioeconomic ladder; for blacks, vice versa.

By way of explanation, Sharkey points to the work of Northwestern sociologist Mary Pattillo on the black middle class: “When white families advance in economic status, they are able to translate this economic advantage into spacial advantage by buying into communities that provide quality schools and healthy environments for children. An extensive research literature demonstrates that African Americans are not able to translate economic resources into spacial advantage to the same degree.” In the real world, this is the reality for middle-class neighborhoods like Chatham, which struggle to maintain their economic and residential base while buffeted by violence creeping in from neighboring communities.

This research counters the idea that decreased educational differences necessarily leads to reduced wealth and spatial differences. There are other important factors at work, including the spatial context. Education is not a silver bullet that solves all of the issues related to poverty.

This would seem to line up with research on wealth differences between whites and blacks (see Black Wealth/White Wealth by Oliver and Shapiro). Even if blacks have made educational gains, wealth is partly generational. Wealth really helps with buying a home in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods that then offer better schools, environments, and social capital. And this homeownership gap is still large in the first quarter of 2013 (Table 16): 73.4% for whites, 43.1% for blacks, 45.3% for Hispanics, and 54.6% for all other races.

Sociologist on the growing achievement gaps between upper, middle, and lower-class children

A sociologist explains the “substantial” growing achievement gaps in recent decades among students of different classes:

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago…

The same pattern is evident in other, more tangible, measures of educational success, like college completion. In a study similar to mine, Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, economists at the University of Michigan, found that the proportion of students from upper-income families who earn a bachelor’s degree has increased by 18 percentage points over a 20-year period, while the completion rate of poor students has grown by only 4 points.

And why is this happening?

It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school…

High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.

In other words, it appears social reproduction is occurring through the schooling system. Sounds like the ideas of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who argued social class differences are reinforced by education systems, as well as sociologist Annette Lareau who suggests different classes have different parenting approaches. In the end, those who already have resources can put them to use in getting the best out of the system while those with fewer resources can’t keep pace.

Brookings report: zoning laws help lead to school achievement differences

A new report from the Brookings Institution suggests that zoning laws are behind differences in school achievement:

The report found that students from poorer households tend to go to schools where scores on state standardized tests are lower while more affluent students tend to go to schools with higher test scores. The findings confirm what numerous studies and a recent Sun analysis have also found.

The average student from a low-income family in Las Vegas attended a school that tested in the 43rd percentile. The average student from a middle- or high-income family went to a school that scored in the 66th percentile, according to the report, which used state test score data listed on…

Rothwell’s research went further than other studies that looked at socioeconomic data and school performance, however. His report is among the first looking at how zoning policies affect home prices and student access to high-quality schools.

Rothwell argues municipal zoning policies that restrict affordable housing have segregated students from low-income families from their more affluent peers, creating achievement gaps in schools.

Where people can live matters. We tend to have the idea in America that anyone can live anywhere. Theoretically, this is true but economically, this is not possible as it takes quite a bit of money to move to areas with better amenities like high-performing schools. Zoning plays into this by giving local governments control over how land is used. If communities decide that land can only be used for more expensive single-family housing, then housing options are limited. The summary of the full report sums it up this way:

Across the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school. This housing cost gap reflects that home values are $205,000 higher on average in the neighborhoods of high-scoring versus low-scoring schools. Near high-scoring schools, typical homes have 1.5 additional rooms and the share of housing units that are rented is roughly 30 percentage points lower than in neighborhoods near low-scoring schools.

Large metro areas with the least restrictive zoning have housing cost gaps that are 40 to 63 percentage points lower than metro areas with the most exclusionary zoning. Eliminating exclusionary zoning in a metro area would, by reducing its housing cost gap, lower its school test-score gap by an estimated 4 to 7 percentiles—a significant share of the observed gap between schools serving the average low-income versus middle/higher-income student. As the nation grapples with the growing gap between rich and poor and an economy increasingly reliant on formal education, public policies should address housing market regulations that prohibit all but the very affluent from enrolling their children in high-scoring public schools in order to promote individual social mobility and broader economic security.

A fascinating argument: eliminating some of the zoning differences across communities would reduce the educational achievement gap. However, zoning is at the heart of local government and municipalities don’t give this up easily.

ACT scores suggest most students not ready for college

The ACT has released a report that says the majority of students who take the test are not ready for college:

Only one in four college-bound high school graduates is adequately prepared for college-level English, reading, math and science, according to report released Wednesday by the ACT college admissions test.

Some 28 percent of the members of the high school class of 2011 failed to meet readiness benchmarks in any of the four core subject areas.

“ACT results continue to show an alarmingly high number of students who are graduating without all the academic skills they need to succeed after high school,” the report stated…

Readiness was defined as a student having a 50 percent chance of getting a B or a 75 percent chance of getting a C in first-year courses English Composition, College Algebra, Biology and social sciences.

Additionally, there are some pretty big gaps between racial and ethnic groups.

Here are some possible courses of action in response to this information:

1. Tell colleges that they need to offer more remedial classes and get students up to speed.

2. Add to the argument that perhaps college isn’t for all students.

3. Tell high schools that they need to keep their standards high and improve their ability to prepare students for college.

3a. Push the issue further down the educational ladder before high school.

4. Attack the ACT test. Perhaps it isn’t a great predictor of success, perhaps it is culturally biased, perhaps the students who take the ACT are not the same who take the SAT, etc.

I wonder how colleges will respond to this information. I would guess that this really doesn’t impact more elite schools who have their pick of students who have higher ACT scores. But where does this leave schools that accept a broader range of students?

Ending summer vacation

Time makes an argument for ending the typical American summer vacation from school. Numerous studies indicate that children lose ground during the summer and low-income students lose a lot of ground:

And what starts as a hiccup in a 6-year-old’s education can be a crisis by the time that child reaches high school. A major study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University concluded that while students made similar progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, the better-off kids held steady or continued to advance during the summer — while disadvantaged students fell back. By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind. By ninth grade, roughly two-thirds of the learning gap separating income groups could be blamed on summer learning loss.
The article also mentions the romanticism linked with summer vacation: trips, outdoor activity, freedom. This seems particularly crucial for American teenagerdom when teenagers get a first taste of being away from their parents. Even though I really liked school, I did enjoy summer vacation and all the options that were available to me (which not everyone has).
Would it be too difficult to split the summer vacation into two sections of about a month or a month and a half long? This seems like a reasonable compromise: some time off for everyone, shorter gaps for students to lose knowledge.