Low-SES students who attend affluent schools outperform similar students at poorer schools, study finds

The Washington Post reports:

Low-income students in Montgomery County [Maryland] performed better when they attended affluent elementary schools instead of ones with higher concentrations of poverty, according to a new study that suggests economic integration is a powerful but neglected school-reform tool…

The study tracked the performance of 858 elementary students in public housing scattered across Montgomery from 2001 to 2007. About half the students ended up in schools where less than 20 percent of students qualified for subsidized meals. Most others went to schools where up to 60 percent of the students were poor and where the county had poured in extra money.

After seven years, the children in the lower-poverty schools performed 8 percentage points higher on standardized math tests than their peers attending the higher-poverty schools – even though the county had targeted them with extra resources. Students in these schools scored modestly higher on reading tests, but those results were not statistically significant.

“The conventional wisdom – and I don’t want to knock the foundation of it – is that we really need to infuse the poorest schools with lots of resources,” said Stefanie DeLuca, associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, who has studied the issue and read an advance copy of the report. “This study turns that wisdom on its head to some extent. It says, actually, it’s who you are going to school with.”

The report, by Heather Schwartz of the RAND Corporation, is available from the Century Foundation‘s Web site here.

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