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.