Mike the Mad Biologist

…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….

Comments

  1. #1 Vivian
    October 27, 2010

    One of the dirty little secrets of the recently trendy “group learning” and “mainstreaming” vogues in public education is that placing more of the learning/teaching process on students only works well if the students are already doing well themselves. Doing group projects with a bunch of other kids who have behavioral problems or are barely literate is a far cry from doing one with a group who can actually participate in the project.

    No reason the same shouldn’t hold true for entire schools. If you have five kids and four of them are up to a certain academic level, they bring the under performer up with them. If you have five kids and three or four of them can’t do the basic coursework, they drag the one or two who can down instead. Of course, back when I was the over performer being constantly put in group learning activities with some average kids and two paste eaters, I put it a lot less politely. And this was in a reasonably decent rural school, not a really bad inner city one.

  2. #2 Kecia Holman
    October 27, 2010

    Interesting points! Have any of you given thought to the idea that if the parents, teachers, students and the education department of the under achievers were more involved it would change the entire scenario? The concept of No Child Left Behind was precisely that! It did not indicate that passing a student regardless of his/her academic achievements was acceptable! If a child does not pass the class, they take summer school or get held back….period! This is not a matter of income level – it is a matter of commitment from parents, students, teachers, school districts and society as a whole. The current thoughts teach children, and adults for that matter, that being below average and snobery are acceptable.

  3. #3 Vivian
    October 27, 2010

    That’s such a nice sentiment. Of course it’s awful damn hard for all those parents working 3 jobs for $8 an hour to be super committed to their childrens’ educations, sadly. Then there are the less committed poor parents who’s children all have fetal alcohol syndrome or untreated, often undiagnosed developmental disabilities or psychological issues. That “no adequate healthcare” thing tends to come into play here. Pretending that the effects of poverty can be erased by everyone trying harder is disingenuous.

  4. #4 katydid13
    October 28, 2010

    Any DC voter, white or black who read anything about education in the Post knew about the Rhee and the Hardy Middle School mess. That was probably the smallest of her mis-steps. The closing of schools, the firing of teachers, and very condescending style did her in.

  5. #5 Ian
    November 1, 2010

    Insane, stupid, or malicious zoning has done more to ruin this country than any other single factor. This is just another example of how.

  6. #6 Joanne
    November 8, 2010

    This article particularly caught my eye because at school I’m currently taking a Sociology class and we just learned something like this. Throughout the semester so far, I learned about the different social classes and poverty. Our next unit is on education so I thought it was interesting how this post related poverty and education together. As I read this blog, I was nodding my head in agreement until I read that ‘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’. The question how could the students with more poverty do worse, even if they had help from the county, than the students who don’t have as much poverty?’ was running through my mind. As my inner sociologist mind tried to think of logical reasons for this, I thought of factors such as the different attitudes of the students. Maybe some students didn’t have the supportive environment growing up and had the mind set of ‘I don’t care about education,’ because they were never shown that education matters. I could elaborate more and more on this concept but I think that’s all I’ll write for now. I think sociology is a very fascinating topic to learn about and that might be the reason why I’m so interested in this blog!

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