NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 10, 2006

A growing body of research suggests that while schools can make a difference for individual students, the fabric of children's lives outside of school can either nurture, or choke, what progress poor children do make academically, say observers.

At Johns Hopkins University, two sociologists, Doris Entwisle and Karl Alexander, collected a trove of data on Baltimore schoolchildren who began first grade in 1982. 

They found:

  • That contrary to expectations, children in poverty did largely make a year of progress for each year in school.
  • But poor children started out behind their peers, and the problems compounded when school ended for the summer.
  • Then, middle-class children would read books, attend camp and return to school in September more advanced than when they left, but poorer children tended to stagnate.

"The long summer break is especially hard for disadvantaged children. Some school is good, and more is better," Alexander said.  "Family really is important, and it's very hard for schools to offset or compensate fully for family disadvantage," he said.

In Chicago, a court order to empty public housing projects, which dispersed families and children into the suburbs, led to a rise in children's academic achievement.

"The evidence is pretty clear that the better their housing, the better kids do on tests," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan group.

Source: Diana Jean Schemo, "It Takes More Than Schools to Close Achievement Gap," New York Times, August 9, 2006.

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