Jay Mathews of the Washington Post is reporting the results of a study in which "researchers examined what happened to 4,248 families that were randomly given or denied federal housing vouchers to move out of their high-poverty neighborhoods." Interestingly enough, seven years later, it was determined that changing neighbourhoods for families did not lead to higher student achievement.
Some critics, and the researchers themselves, suggest that the new neighborhoods may not have been good enough to make a difference. Under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity program, one group of families received vouchers that could be used only to move to neighborhoods with poverty rates below 10 percent, one group got vouchers without that restriction and one group did not receive vouchers. Families with the restricted vouchers moved to neighborhoods with poverty rates averaging 12.6 percent lower than those of similar families that did not move, but not the most affluent suburbs with the highest-performing schools.
"There is a wide body of evidence going back several decades to suggest that low-income students perform better in middle-class schools," said Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Washington-based Century Foundation. "But, in practice, Moving to Opportunity was more like moving to mediocrity."
Harvard University sociologist William Julius Wilson said that although the families that were studied moved to neighborhoods that weren't as poor, they still had many disadvantages. Three-fifths of the families relocated to neighborhoods that were still "highly racially segregated," he said, and "as many as 41 percent of those who entered low-poverty neighborhoods subsequently moved back to more-disadvantaged neighborhoods."..
They cite several possible explanations why students' performance did not improve when their families moved to less poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York areas. Some families returned to poorer neighborhoods after sampling a more middle-class environment. "For many families who remained in their new tracts, the poverty rate in their neighborhood increased around them," the researchers said.
Stefanie DeLuca, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist who wrote the second report based on interviews of Moving to Opportunity families in Baltimore, said many of the parents had little faith that better teaching in better schools would help their children. They felt it was up to their children to make education work.
I'm still pondering what all of this might mean. Student achievement is such a network of factors. Teacher quality is said to have the largest impact---and many studies have claimed that children in high-poverty areas have fewer highly qualified teachers than students in other areas. So, if moving kids to a place where there are (ostensibly) better teachers didn't raise achievement, what's the deal? Did the last statement in the article (up to children to make education work) represent a factor which over-rode what happened in the classroom? Was moving the family away from its known environment and support system too much "culture shock" to overcome? What do we do in order to ensure that all students have access to a high quality education?