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In the mid-1990s—channeling Pygmalion—the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided 4,600 low-income families  with housing vouchers and relocation counseling to move them into lower-poverty neighborhoods. According to this new analysis in Cityscape, this Moving to Opportunity (MTO) initiative was “disappointing” as regards education: It did very little to improve student achievement and related schooling outcomes (such as attendance and graduation rates). This was true across all age cohorts, including children six and younger. The one statistically significant effect of the program was an increase in “health awareness” among female participants. Why such a flop? The analysts found that the socioeconomic makeup of the schools to which the program moved children was still very similar to the schools in their old neighborhood; for example, youth in the study moved into schools with a free-or-reduced-price-lunch rate only 10 percentage points lower than those of the schools they exited. And they were unable to ensure that the quality of the schools was any better. As this report makes painstakingly clear, social engineering is no antidote for the opportunity gap. Instead, we might think about opening stronger educational options for students, no matter their zip code, and giving parents the options to choose their child’s academic setting.

A version of this review originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.

SOURCE: Lisa A Gennetian, Matthew Sciandra, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, et al., “The Long-Term Effects of Moving to Opportunity on Youth Outcomes (Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, Volume 14, Number...

Fourth-quarter drives—even the most impressive—are often not enough to alter game outcomes. So it is with educational interventions: Getting students on track by third grade (and keeping them there) yields greater long-term results than high school interventions. However, this paper from two Dartmouth and UC Davis professors argues that certain late-game pushes can help college-going and college-persistence rates for some K–12 pupils. Analysts targeted “college-ready” high school seniors in twelve large New Hampshire high schools who had shown interest in college but had made little to no progress on their applications (guidance counselors helped ID these students). They randomly assigned about half of these students to receive targeted college coaching, meaning college-application mentoring from a Dartmouth student, money to cover application fees and ACT/SAT exams, and a $100 bonus if they completed the application and filing process. The authors found no statistically significant impact from the program for men but did find one for women: Young women who completed the treatment were 24 percent likelier to enroll in college than their control-group peers. Even those who received only part of the treatment saw a bump in college attendance. And this positive effect appeared greater for large, resource-challenged high schools with comparatively low baseline college-going rates. Further, when analysts examined persistence in four-year college—defined as attending three or more semesters or being enrolled for two years—the treatment effect was also 12 percentage points higher than the control group of women. (Analysts speculate that this gendered success story may be because...

The Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Program (MTO), the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s twenty-year attempt at a real-life Pygmalion, has failed. The department experimentally relocated low-income families and children out of poverty-stricken areas and into ones populated by the middle class. Unfortunately, these children did not achieve better schooling results. As said by the journal Cityscape, “MTO’s effects on achievement and related schooling outcomes were disappointing, particularly among the youngest cohort of children.” The results, while disappointing, are no big shocker. This program takes an approach that is far too hands-off for comfort. Imagine Pygmalion’s Mr. Higgins asking Eliza Doolittle to come live in his house but neglecting to provide her with lessons in grammar or etiquette.

MTO provided 4,600 families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York with housing vouchers and additional housing counseling to help them move out of impoverished neighborhoods. The goal of the program is to help these families “choose modestly priced private housing in neighborhoods that can offer ample educational, employment, and social opportunities.” But there is no guarantee that the schools in the new neighborhood will be much better or more affluent than the ones in the school districts they left. The Cityscape analysis found that the socioeconomic makeup of the schools to which the program moved children was still very similar to the schools in their old neighborhood; for example, youth in the control group, on average, attended schools that were around 90 percent minority enrollment, while youth...

Inaugurations and graduations

Mike and Kathleen are skeptical about the President’s education agenda and newly released high school graduation rate data. Amber thinks about low-income high-flyers.

Amber's Research Minute

The Missing "One-Offs": The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low Income Students by Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery, The National Bureau of Economic Research

This report by Stanford’s Martin Carnoy and the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein offers a catchy press-release headline: The U.S. Fares Better on International Assessments than Previously Thought. But that isn't actually true. Analyzing PISA data, Carnoy and Rothstein argue that the U.S. educates its disadvantaged students about as well as similar nations—and, for that, America should be praised. But the problems with the study are myriad. First, the authors use a “very approximate” index—the number of books in a student’s home—to determine social class. Others have explained the methodological flaws with this approach. Second, the authors engage in some dangerous statistical gymnastics to prove their point: Based on the assumption that students of low “social class” bring down average U.S. scores, Carnoy and Rothstein re-estimate PISA attainment (by using the books-in-the-home index) to norm the proportion of students in each class. They find that, if the U.S. had the same proportion of students in lower social classes as other nations, then it would rank fourth in reading (instead of fourteenth) and tenth in math (instead of twenty-fifth). The conclusions of this report only affirm the very significant education problem that it’s trying to downplay: We have a greater proportion—and a significantly greater number—of low-scoring and low-income students than other OECD countries. Carnoy’s and Rothstein’s flawed analysis and misleading primary conclusion is at best a diversionary ploy.

SOURCE:Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein, What do International Tests Really Show About U.S. Student Performance? (Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, January 15, 2013).


Diverse Schools Dilemma

Mike’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools, continues to garner attention. Here are some recent articles and interviews worth checking out. (And if you haven’t yet, buy the book now!)

  • Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of All Together Now, reviewed Mike’s book in the Washington Monthly: “… This book may be a significant—and hopeful—harbinger that the center-right school reform community, battered down by the humbling experience of trying to make separate schools for rich and poor work, may be willing to take a new look at how to reinvent Brown v. Board of Education for the twenty-first century.” (1/13–2/13)
  • In Education Next, Michael Thomas Duffy called Diverse Schools “nifty” and unflinchingly honest: “The strength of The Diverse Schools Dilemma as a handbook for urban middle-class parents is borne of Petrilli’s willingness to steer clear of cant. No pious lectures from him, and once he finishes making the case for enrolling in a multi-racial public school containing large numbers of poor kids, he turns around and makes equally strong counter arguments: schools serving affluent students are safer; the disruptive students found in greater numbers in low-income urban schools slow the pace at which lessons are delivered and learning happens; plus, what’s
  • ...
Education Next

This week, Ed Next’s Mike Petrilli was a guest on "What’s the Big Idea?," a podcast hosted by Josh Starr, superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Starr has been in the limelight because he has criticized the amount of standardized testing taking place in schools, arguing that there should be a three-year moratorium on testing while we put the new Common Core standards in place. Montgomery County is currently rolling out a new curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core standards.

Some parents in Montgomery County are unhappy that the county is hoping to limit tracking under the new curriculum. In the past, many students in the wealthy county were offered accelerated instruction in math, but Starr believes that because the new curriculum is more challenging, it should not be necessary to accelerate so many students. He also suggested (in the podcast) that some parents push for their children to receive accelerated math instruction for the wrong reasons.

In the podcast, Petrilli challenged Starr’s claim that students with a wide range of abilities (in math in particular) will be able to be taught effectively in the same classroom using the new curriculum. (The issue of how to ensure that all students are challenged in diverse classrooms is a focus of Petrilli’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma.) Petrilli described his visit to an elementary school in Montgomery County (which was the subject of an Education Next article) that has been praised for its...

There is a chasm between research and practice.
Photo by g|e.

The Gates Foundation’s MET study was a grand success in K–12 research. But what happens next is what matters.

The very good news is that there is reason to believe that the report’s results might change behavior in meaningful and lasting ways.

The problem is that this is far from guaranteed. The Foundation itself will need to take the lead in translating this research into activity, and that will be its toughest role to date.

We should begin by acknowledging that the gap between policy and practice is huge. Mandating something and having it actually happen as envisioned are two entirely different things. We can see that in the struggles to implement high-minded, well-intentioned initiatives like NCLB choice and Common Core.

But there’s an even bigger chasm between research and practice. Very little makes it from one side to the other.

There are countless examples of powerful K–12 research findings that never get the traction deserved; consider Hanushek’s work on funding or Hoxby’s on choice. But the nearest cognate to MET is Chubb and Moe’s outstanding Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools. With the possible exception of the Coleman Report, it’s all but impossible to find a study of K–12 schooling with a more powerful combination...


Mike and emerging scholar Morgan Polikoff discuss accusations of discrimination in gifted-and-talented programs, Quality Counts, and lightning rod/tiger mom Michelle Rhee. Amber contemplates whether multiple-choice tests lead students to learn or forget.

Amber's Research Minute

Genna Angello, Elizabeth Bjork, Robert Bjork, and Jeri Little, “Multiple-Choice Tests Exonerated, At Least Some of the Charges: Forgetting Test-Induced Learning and Avoiding Test-Induced Forgetting,”

Kids reading
Should we trust the judgment of pre-adolescents to decide for themselves what makes educational sense?
Photo by slightly everything

While visiting a local high school as a liaison between my department at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and the high school’s Advanced Credit program, I had occasion to speak with its young principal—a newly minted doctor of education. I told him about a challenge facing those of us who teach in K–16 education: the difficulty of getting students to summon the patience, stamina, and will to read dense text, particularly book-length writings, in an age of instant gratification, sound-bites, jazzy graphics, and condensed versions of knowledge. In short, I asked him, do students still have the capacity for deep reading, followed by deliberation and reflection? Can they conduct serious discourse? The principal’s response struck me: “Today’s students are actually smarter and better than students of yesteryear, since students today get to choose their own readings.” Really? I immediately wondered whether we should trust the judgment of adolescents, much less pre-adolescents, to decide for themselves what makes educational sense. And for that matter, since when has the mere act of “choice” been a measure of intellect?

Bizarre as this principal’s comment seemed at the time, it was grounded in mainstream progressive thinking—the student-centered, active, discovery-learning paradigm—that goes back to Rousseau, Dewey, and Piaget...