The Long-Term Effects of Moving to Opportunity on Youth Outcomes

In the mid-1990s—channeling Pygmalion—the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided 4,600 low-income families  with housing vouchers and relocation counseling to move them into lower-poverty neighborhoods. According to this new analysis in Cityscape, this Moving to Opportunity (MTO) initiative was “disappointing” as regards education: It did very little to improve student achievement and related schooling outcomes (such as attendance and graduation rates). This was true across all age cohorts, including children six and younger. The one statistically significant effect of the program was an increase in “health awareness” among female participants. Why such a flop? The analysts found that the socioeconomic makeup of the schools to which the program moved children was still very similar to the schools in their old neighborhood; for example, youth in the study moved into schools with a free-or-reduced-price-lunch rate only 10 percentage points lower than those of the schools they exited. And they were unable to ensure that the quality of the schools was any better. As this report makes painstakingly clear, social engineering is no antidote for the opportunity gap. Instead, we might think about opening stronger educational options for students, no matter their zip code, and giving parents the options to choose their child’s academic setting.

A version of this review originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.

SOURCE: Lisa A Gennetian, Matthew Sciandra, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, et al., “The Long-Term Effects of Moving to Opportunity on Youth Outcomes (Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, Volume 14, Number 2, 2012).

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