Relo is no cure for low achievement

Relocating poor families to less-poor neighborhoods doesn’t lead to improved academic achievement, according to the fall issue of Education Next.

A randomized evaluation of the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program — a federal housing program piloted in five major U.S. cities that sought to relocate poor families by providing housing vouchers — shows that, contrary to expectations, moving families out of high-poverty neighborhoods has no overall positive impact on children’s learning.

Comparing families that won the housing lottery with those who didn’t, researchers saw no difference in children’s reading or math scores or in behavior or attitudes toward school; there also was no effect on retentions in grade or suspensions.

Schools in the new neighborhoods had slightly higher test scores and slightly lower percentages of poor and minority students. It’s possible that moving the poor to truly affluent neighborhoods with high-scoring schools might make a difference, the authors say. It would cost a lot of money, of course.

The research is here.

In Baltimore, parents who used vouchers to move often didn’t enroll their children in better schools, Stefanie DeLuca writes. Parents didn’t see school quality as important; they believed learning depends on hard work and a good attitude.

Many MTO parents told us about frightening conditions in their children’s schools and their concern for their children’s well-being. Yet these fears and realities did not always translate into efforts to remove their children from these environments. Poor mothers and their children juggle myriad extreme conditions, and schooling is not always on the top of the list.

John Edwards’ education plan calls for housing vouchers to move the poor to better neighborhoods — that is, more funding for Moving To Opportunity — as well as spending more on magnet programs to lure middle-class students to inner-city schools. I wonder if he’ll respond to the research.

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  1. Just shows that you can take a kid out of the slums, but you can’t take the slums out of the kid. It’s not the environment that weakens the kid, it’s the parents.

  2. There’s one other solution–granted, it’s so radical, even outlandish, that it is almost impossible to comprehend, let alone execute–but:

    Improve the schools that these children are currently attending.

  3. Reality Czech says:

    Moving more poor, disinterested, disruptive students to better neighborhoods (and neighborhood schools) will just result in more flight to escape the problems.  The schools have taken away tracking and other means of escaping the problems in place, so the only way to have a say in their children’s education is to either use private schools or vote with their feet.

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    In her last paragraph, Joanne brings up Democratic candidate John Edwards advocating these Move to Opportunity vouchers even though they, as this new research shows, don’t seem to help children’s school performance.

    But she doesn’t mention that this new research equally casts doubt on one of her favorite subjects, school vouchers. The poor families interviewed by the researchers are not making school choices on the basis of which school would improve their children’s education. If given school vouchers, presumably they’d make school choices the same way.

  5. It is disappointing to learn that relocating families to “better” neighbourhoods and schools has not achieved the outcome hoped for. One would think that with better schools, kids would do better. I think though, that how kids do at school depends to a great degree on how school friendly home is. Sometimes parents’ own school experience was not positive, and they pass that on to their kids. In some homes, families live in quiet desperation and cannot look to the future and education as a way out. They can barely get through the day . Some kids work part-time and give the money to their parents to help pay bills so they don’t really have time and energy left for school. Sometimes the kids I teach tell me that so and so is doing really well in life, and he didn’t finish school. A school friendly home is so important to the success of kids.

  6. Fixing the schools in urban areas will have little effect as long as the children have the same parents… it is what the children bring to school that causes failure and violence.

    Honestly, the best thing for inner city youths is boarding school at a young age (maybe after 3rd or 4th grade), when they are still impressionable and can find good role models, as opposed to those at home.

    My education fantasy world would close down most of the city schools and instead use the funds to create boarding schools outside the city.

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I suspect that JJ might say that vouchers ae no guarantee, but they are an option. I believe boarding schools were tried, years ago, to civilize the heathen Redskin, with mixed rsults and much angst.

  8. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I’m curious– at what age were these families moved?

    I would think that a move to a better, less crime-ridden neighborhood would have a MUCH greater effect on a two year old than a 16 year old……

    If the kids have already had a chance to be exposed to a decade of low expectations and crime, how can moving be a magic solution?

    And if they started out in schools that didn’t teach the basics of reading and math, how can moving magically make things better? At that point one-on-one tutoring is probably called for……

  9. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Ok… according to the article, the kids were ages 6-20 at the time of the move….

    So perhaps the problem is that they’re intervening too late..

    Also, it mentioned that the families took steps that undid the benefits of living in a middle class neighborhood…

    What sort of steps, exactly?

  10. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Oh! Sorry one more thought…..

    I think this study probably does reinforce the idea that it;s family make-up, more than where a family lives, that causes these problems…

    I used to tutor a girl who lived in one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago…. But her parents were married, her dad was a good disciplinarian, and all the kids were active at church (sang in the choir, volunteered in soup kitchens, etc….).

    Most of their 8 kids went on to college (some very good ones!) or the military. None went to jail, even though the incarceration rate for the neighborhood was through the roof….

    But they had an intact family with good parents who cared about education and character……

    Unfortunately, there’s really no good way to give kids in trouble better families at birth……

  11. Researchers hypothesized that young children would benefit more from the move than older children. This didn’t prove to be true. However, I don’t think they tried to compare children who moved before starting school to the control group.

    Some parents kept their children in school in the old neighborhood or moved after a few years back to the old neighborhood. On the flip side, some parents had found better schools for their kids before moving by using a friend’s or relative’s address.

  12. The downfall of a nation begins in the homes of its people. –Ashanti

  13. A teacher can try every possible approach to working with a student, but if the student does not put forth any effort then there will not be a positive result.

    Usually, the attitude of the student starts in the home. However, that is not a politically correct view. It begs the issues of child raising approaches, parental behaviors, and parental attitudes.

    Poverty is just an indicator. Frequently, the parents involved have a “give things to me” attitude. Adult responsibility for behavior is often missing, and the adults themselves aggressively refuse to control their own actions. Drug use is common, as is drama for the sake of drama.

    Moving a kid to a different neighborhood will not change that.


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