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Is Montgomery County’s Housing Policy One Answer to Baltimore’s Education Achievement Gap?

May 2011 / Community Development, Education / Abell Reports

Montgomery County offers lessons about the educational benefits of housing-based economic integration.

In 1966, the Coleman Report firmly established the link between a family’s socioeconomic status and a child’s educational outcomes. Known as the “income achievement gap,” the disparity between the achievement of poor and rich children has become entrenched in our nation’s educational landscape: with few exceptions, schools with high concentrations of students from low-income families perform far worse than schools with lower concentrations of poverty. Some 45 years after the report’s release, debate continues about how to positively impact the achievement of economically impoverished children.

Education and housing are two primary means in U.S. public policy to promote social mobility. Yet the vast majority of our efforts to improve school performance focus on what happens within the walls of the schoolhouse with reforms such as reducing class size, increasing time spent in school, promoting school competition and choice, or developing more rigorous standards. While some reforms have shown promise, it is not clear that schools alone can close the large achievement gap between rich and poor children.

Fifty miles to the south of Baltimore City, Montgomery County operates two policies that aim to close the income achievement gap. One is a more traditional school-only reform that invests extra resources and funding in its neediest elementary schools, or “red zone” schools. The other illustrates the power of housing and schools to improve the outcomes of disadvantaged students: It is a novel housing policy that provides
robust economic integration to reduce the negative effects of poverty on children through combined housing, neighborhood, and school influences.