Wednesday, October 3, 2007

throw me the money

In Joanne Jacobs' discussion of the educational failure of a housing voucher program--a lottery for impoverished families that let them move into better neighborhoods--comes this surprise.
Well, what about moving poor kids to better schools?

That's been tried too with no effect on academic achievement. The journal Education Next reports on a study of families who moved out of public housing projects and into better neighborhoods in Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York: "A randomized evaluation of the 'Moving to Opportunity' (MTO) program—a federal housing program piloted in five major U.S. cities that sought to relocate poor families by providing housing vouchers—shows that, contrary to expectations, moving families out of high-poverty neighborhoods has no overall positive impact on children's learning."
Why might this be the case?
In Baltimore, parents who used vouchers to move often didn't enroll their children in better schools[.] Johns Hopkins researcher Stefanie DeLuca writes, "Many MTO parents told us about frightening conditions in their children's schools and their concern for their children's well-being. Yet these fears and realities did not always translate into efforts to remove their children from these environments. Poor mothers and their children juggle myriad extreme conditions, and schooling is not always on the top of the list."
Educational voucher systems are justified in part by a premise of rational economics: give them the money, and people will make the best choice. But Jacobs' finding refutes that premise. That could explain why straight-up voucher programs have, overall, made little difference.

That doesn't mean schools can't have an impact, though:
In my book, Our School, I describe the struggles and triumphs of a charter high school in San Jose, California, that recruits 'D' and 'F' students, works their butts off and sends all graduates to college. Downtown College Prep succeeds because it targets instruction to struggling students who come from low-income and working-class families; most are the children of poorly educated Mexican immigrant parents.
Jacobs worries that trying to mix in "middle class whites" would "dilute the focus." (So long, Brown v. Board.) Yet for every Downtown College Prep there's a Charter School Fraud, making suckers out of those who need the most help.

It's not the money, really. It's the ethos.

No comments: