A study exploring economic integration in public schools suggests that low-income students perform better when they attend more affluent schools.
The report looked at 858 students from low-income families who were enrolled in public schools in Montgomery County, Md. All students lived in public housing; about half of the students ended up in schools where less than 20 percent of students qualified for subsidized meals. Most of the remaining students attended schools where up to 60 percent of students were from low-income households, but where the county had directed extra funds.
Researchers began tracking the performance of these 858 students in 2001. Seven years later, the children in the more affluent schools performed 8 percentage points higher on standardized math tests than their peers who attended the higher poverty schools. The disparity in scores existed despite the fact that the county had targeted those in higher poverty schools and provided them with additional resources. By the end of elementary schools, the public housing students in the low-poverty schools had cut the achievement gap with their classmates by half in math and one-third in reading.
Montgomery County was an ideal environment to study, according to the report. The county operates one of the largest and most acclaimed public school districts in the nation, with 144,000 students and consistently high test scores and graduation rates. Additionally, the county also requires developers to reserve a portion of the homes they build for low-income residents. These low-income residents are selected by lottery, which adds an element of randomness that strengthens the study, according to the author of the report. The report concludes by arguing that enrolling low-income children in low-poverty schools is a promising method to strengthen the academic performance of low-income students.
The report was published in October 2010 by the Century Foundation, a nonprofit policy research institution.
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