Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Housing Policy & Educational Opportunity: Some Notes

Today I had the pleasure of being a panelist in Richmond at HOME's (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) Blogger Luncheon on Housing & Opportunity. Besides being treated to a tasty lunch (& free parking!) I got to listen to and partake in interesting conversations about Richmond Metro Area housing, public and mass transportation, families, parenting, entrepreneurship, politics, democratic process and institutions, social media, real estate, communities, and, of course, education. Here I'm going to summarize what I shared there, including links.

Three ways I could think of that housing influences educational opportunities and outcomes are:

1) Housing conditions, meaning the conditions and environment that students and their families live in. Such conditions can affect a child's readiness to learn.

  • Is the dwelling and surrounding neighborhood safe?
  • Is the housing well-maintained?
  • Is there running, potable water? 
  • Is there adequate heating/cooling? Is the heating and cooling affordable? 
  • Is there a lot of noise? Is there a quiet place to study or read?  
  • Is the housing in an area of concentrated poverty? Is the child in an environment causing toxic stress for them and/or for a disproportionate number of their neighbors?
  • What is the air quality in the neighborhood?
  • Is there access to supermarkets and healthy food?
  • Are there adequate public transportation options?
  • Is there access to adequate health care?

2) The strength and existence, even, of a neighborhood school. Studies show that most parents prefer to send their children to schools in their neighborhood. It's more convenient but also serves as a positive community and support systems builder. Of course, this practice can conflict with making schools diverse and providing equality of access, which bring me to point 3.

3) Housing and zoning policies. Economic integration of housing and neighborhoods is an over-looked yet proven tool for school reform (N.B.: I am by no means saying it's the only one).

  • According to the (must-read!) book The Color of Their Skin about the Richmond Public Schools desegregation process (the book also covers other districts in Virginia), school desegregation only occurred in any substance for a few years before the schools in Richmond proper and the surrounding areas re-segregated. Busing was a temporary and heavily protested solution. Housing policies needed to change but did not. In fact, zoning policies became more discriminatory, serving as de facto segregation laws.
  • According to a study reported in 2010 by The Century Foundation, low-income students in Montgomery County, Maryland, who go to high-performing public schools in more affluent districts do better academically than their peers who live in lower-income districts attending schools with majority low-income populations, even if those schools are given more resources.
  • Furthermore, a study by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program released last week showed that metropolitan areas' housing policies keep low-income students from attending high-performing schools. Restrictive or exclusionary policies that prohibit the development of apartment buildings and smaller houses on smaller parcels cause economic segregation. 
  • In high-performing, mixed-SES schools, all kids benefit from: lower rates of teacher and principal turnover; parents with more time and resources to give to the school; parents who feel more empowered to advocate for rich, meaningful, and vital educational opportunities; fewer families who are under significant stress; and being part of a diverse, pluralistic learning community.
  • Additional links:

  1. Study of Montgomery County schools shows benefits of economic integration
  2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/14/AR2010101407577.html
  3. Interactive: Housing Costs, Zoning and School Access:

  4. The New Brookings Report on Economic Segregation

  5. http://botc.tcf.org/2012/04/the-new-brookings-report-on-economic-segregation.html 
  6. Could new zoning laws help educate poor kids?

  7. Study Links Zoning to Education Disparities

  8. Education For Poor Students Threatened By Exclusionary Housing Policies, Report Says



  1. Great summary of the educational side. Sorry I didn't get to formally meet you but it was nice to be on a panel together.
    PS. Loved the idea that "good" schools and good test-taking or getting into "good" colleges needs to be teased apart to really understand a neighborhood school

  2. It was great to hear what you had to say, too. I especially appreciated what you said about being used to blogging instead of speaking publicly--it's been a few years since I've been in the classroom and I felt very rusty. Can't wait to check out your blog!

  3. "Is there a lot of noise? Is there a quiet place to study or read?" It is important to add the question of is there a quiet place to sleep? I was just asking one of my 5th graders why he seemed so sleepy the other day. He explained that his family's apartment was on a busy and noisy street and near the light rail station, which made it hard to sleep. Another sleepy student earlier in the week explained that he couldn't sleep well the night before because his room was hot, and opening the window let in too much noise. Another student has complained of loudly quarreling neighbors, who also play loud music. These are all kids who live in inner city low income apartment complexes. They are also kids who try hard and want to do well in school. Being too sleepy to focus on learning frustrates them. It is just another barrier for the kids who are not so motivated.