Housing Policy is School Policy: Economically Integrative Housing Promotes Academic Success in Montgomery County, Maryland

Beginning with the Coleman report in 1966, there has been
evidence that poor students learn more when they go to school with
middle-class children. Thanks to Montgomery County, MD, that evidence is
a lot stronger today. 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. Availing itself of this opportunity, the Century Foundation
tracked 858 low-income-elementary students in these mixed housing units
from 2001 to 2007. They found that students attending low-poverty
schools—those with less than 20 percent of students eligible for
subsidized lunch—made significant gains compared to their peers in
higher-poverty schools, and compared to their non-poor peers. These
youngsters cut their initial math achievement gaps vis-à-vis non-poor
students by half. In reading, the reduction was a third. These gains
began to evaporate, however, in schools where more than 35 percent of
students qualify for 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.
So what’s the conclusion? Policies that work to bring poor kids into
middle class schools do more for them than simply pumping resources into
high-poverty schools. Coleman was right: peers matter, and money
doesn't.

Heather Schwartz, “Housing Policy is School Policy: Economically Integrative Housing Promotes Academic Success in Montgomery County, Maryland,” (New York, NY: Century Foundation, 2010).

More By Author