Poor learn more in low-poverty schools

Poor children learn more when they go to school with middle-class children, writes Daniela Fairchild on Education Gadfly. She cites a Century Foundation study that looks at Montgomery County, Maryland.

For forty years, this affluent Washington suburb has required developers of new subdivisions or condominiums to set-aside units for low-income residents, creating opportunities for poor children to live—and go to neighborhood schools—with more affluent agemates. What’s more, families who apply to these housing units are randomly selected, creating perfect conditions for rigorous social science.

The study tracked 858 low-income-elementary students in mixed housing units from 2001 to 2007.   Students attending low-poverty schools (less than 20 percent of students eligible for subsidized lunch) made significant gains, cutting the math achievement gap by half and the reading gap by a third.  However, gains faded in schools where more than 35 percent of students qualified for a subsidized lunch and “all but vanished from schools with 60 percent or more low-income students, notwithstanding that the school system spent significantly more money in those high-need schools.”

“Coleman was right: peers matter, and money doesn’t,” concludes Fairchild.

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  1. But what’s the impact on the non-poor?  If there is a “drag” from including them, you’ll still have lower property values, self-segregation and flight to private schools.

  2. Interesting. That was one of the findings in the Coleman Report, way back when (1965?). But it was, as I recall, a weak relationship.

    And that finding helped inspire busing for racial balance, because there weren’t enough middle class blacks then.

    (It would be interesting to know whether rural schools, which often mix poor kids with middle class kids, get better results with the poor kids than one would expect, otherwise.)

  3. CarolineSF says:

    Schools that enroll a critical mass of high-need, at-risk, low-income students become overwhelmed — those are the schools we cruelly brand with the harsh epithet “failing.” A functioning school can cope with a percentage of high-need, at-risk, low-income students — perhaps a “better” school (or better-functioning school) can effectively teach a larger percentage.

    Those of us who are educated, middle-class parents of kids in diverse urban public schools already know that our kids will do fine, even though their classmates from more challenged backgrounds achieve lower test scores and are at higher risk for dropping out. In my opinion, our kids also reap some major benefits from experiencing the urban diversity. (Word is that college admissions officers tend to agree, too — the same kid coming from a diverse urban high school tends to be looked on more favorably than from an all-white, all-higher-income suburban high school or private school.)

  4. Marktropolis says:

    How is it that “money doesn’t” matter, when the entire study was about *economic* integration. Of course money matters. The issue with economic integration is that the school lies within the boundaries of a jurisdiction with a decent tax base. Not to mention the availability of parents who have the economic freedom to do things like go to PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences, and make sure Johnny gets his homework done.