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Forum Looks At How Housing Can Help Close Achievement Gap

Maryland Housing Policy was "Back-Door School Policy;" Led to Higher Achievement for Some Students


February 16, 2012

Gary Highsmith, principal of Hamden High School, knows it well: "You tell me your address and I can pretty much predict your standardized test scores."

Highsmith was part of a panel Thursday in Hartford that brought education and housing advocates together to discuss how housing relates to a child's achievement in school. It was sponsored by the Partnership for Strong Communities.

A child from a poor and troubled neighborhood is far less likely to do well in school, said Susan Eaton, research director of the Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School, because they face "violence .. economic instability, the normalization of incarceration a whole host of things."

But there are solutions.

Heather Schwartz, a policy researcher with RAND Corporation, described a 1970s housing policy in Montgomery County, Maryland -- a "back-door school policy" that led to academic benefits for some poor children.

The policy required developers to set aside 12 to 15 percent of their homes to be sold or rented at below market prices. This "inclusionary zoning," as Schwartz described it, led to the availability of more than 13,000 residences at below market prices. The housing authority purchased about 1,000 of these homes and operates about 700 of them on scattered sites across the county.

Schwartz studied children from public housing residences during their elementary school years from 2001 to 2007 and compared the success of those attending schools with few poor children, to those attending schools with a larger number of poor kids. She found that the children attending the more affluent schools did markedly better than those attending the schools with more poor children. By the end of elementary school, the poor students at the more affluent schools had cut the achievement gap with their non-poor peers by 50 percent in math and by one-third in reading.

Schwartz said the study shows that "economic integration in school matters for low-income kids."

Allan Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education and a panel member Thursday, said that there is an "obvious benefit" to mixed housing. But he said, "the absence of those benefits cannot be an excuse for not doing everything we can do for the schools."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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