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).
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