This is not news, but it still makes depressing reading.
Research has shown again and again that we only need look at the zip codes of students to predict what their scores on standardized tests will be. Numerous studies have demonstrated that children of affluence score higher on standardized tests than children of poverty.
And now a new report from the Brookings Institution confirms that test scores at schools with high concentrations of low-income students are significantly lower than schools in the same areas where most students are from middle- or high-income families.
How Is This Study Different?
Senior research analyst Jonathan Rothwell said his research is among the first to explicitly link economic segregation and zoning practices, and tie the results to access to high-quality schools. In this case, quality was determined by state test scores calculated from data listed on GreatSchools.org.
From Education Week:
“I haven’t seen anything that tries nationally to document the financial barriers that low-income families face to get into high-scoring public schools,” Mr. Rothwell said, noting that charter schools and voucher programs are some of the more-popular methods used to help families get around having access only to district-run schools near where they live. “I do think zoning is an underlying problem.”
Using test scores from schools in the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country, Rothwell found that housing costs an average of 2.4 times more—close to $11,000 more per year—near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring one.
Housing prices can be a barometer of zoning practices because near high-scoring schools, the homes are typically larger and fewer and more expensive than in the areas surrounding low-scoring schools. Zoning regulations that intend to keep population density low segregate cities and towns by race and income, according to the study released today.
It shows that the average low-income student attends a school that scores at the 42nd percentile on state exams, while the average middle/high-income student attends a school that scores at the 61st percentile on state exams.
Northeastern metro areas with relatively high levels of economic segregation exhibit the highest school test-score gaps between low-income students and other students.
Politically Charged Process Of Housing Construction
Deciding where different types of housing will be constructed in a given city can be a highly politically charged process, and there are few drivers for changing existing housing patterns, Mr. Rothwell said.
Modern zoning practices came about in the 1920s, along with the rise of the automobile, making living farther away from urban centers more practical. Suburbs emerged, created by families who felt they were losing political power in cities. In their own cities and towns, they could create housing laws and schools in a way that suited them, Mr. Rothwell said, adding that reforming these entrenched systems is unlikely to happen without the involvement of the federal government.
How To Tackle These Disparities?
School boards have found some ways to circumvent long-established living patterns, an issue they have struggled with since schools were required to be desegregated almost 60 years ago. Complex patterns of busing students emerged, magnet schools were created, and some districts have eliminated school boundaries based on geography.
Some charter schools and some magnet schools have also performed miracles, but these are in the minority.
This study proves yet again that it’s impossible to tackle school issues in isolation; schools are a part of the community where they are located, and inextricably linked with the overall condition of that community. The achievement gap and poverty levels go hand-in-hand.
What do you think? What can we do about the achievement gap?
Photo Credit: MikeFett