Friday, May 11, 2012

Some education research possibly applicable to Delaware

(For John, who always wants to see the research.)

From Market Urbanism:

Last week the Brookings Institute released a study by Jonathan Rothwell on the relationship between exclusionary zoning and school performance. He points out that this is the first study linking zoning to educational outcomes. The findings demonstrate that cities with stronger exclusionary zoning policies have larger differences in test scores across schools. This finding makes sense, as exclusionary zoning policies segregate households by income, and household income is strongly correlated with children’s educational outcomes.
This research is important because school district quality is a key factor in families’ decisions of where to live. I think that school quality is likely an important factor behind many NIMBY efforts too, as parents in a neighborhood may be afraid that lower-income residents moving into the school boundary will bring down the quality of education. Whether or not this is a valid concern on NIMBYs’ part, perception is all that matters.

Why this is particularly interesting with regard to Delaware is that what functionally appears to have replaced zoning as a method of insuring that middle-class families will have access to high-quality education is the choice/charter movement.

I can remember buying a house in northern Delaware in 1997, and telling the realtor to restrict the areas she would show us to Red Clay, and in particular Red Clay in the McKean HS feeder pattern (we were intending to place our older daughter there for special programs she required).

This reminds me that careful real estate shopping by middle-class parents represented the first, albeit kind of clunky, school choice mechanism.  (I know that in Red Clay there are always stories--possibly true, possibly apocryphal, I've never checked--about parents who rent apartments within the feeder patterns of the schools they cannot choice their children into.)

This leads me to think about three other potential connections.

1.  What other social mechanisms/strategies are being used by middle-class families to insure the best possible educational outcomes for their children when school choice/charter and perhaps even exclusionary zoning are not available?  Private schools are obviously an option, but I'm wondering if there are other strategies that impact access to high-quality schools.

2.  I read several articles (no links because it's that kind of morning) a couple of months back about the objective of Finnish schools being social equity more the excellence, with the thrust of the articles being to wonder why we couldn't learn lessons from Finland's model.  It occurs to me that maybe we can't learn lessons from Finland's model because they simply don't apply here.  Finnish society, through both culture and government policy, is considerably more egalitarian than American society, and education is not perceived as a way to advance (or secure) social/socioeconomic status, nor is it necessary to avoid poverty.  So the driving factors are different.  What the example of Finland allows us to do is not emulate, but to use the data for self-description.

3.  As an historian I don't think that education was always looked upon as the major factor in maintaining or improving social/socioeconomic status in this country.  That's a relatively recent development in mainstream popular thought, dating back only to the 1960s and (probably not coincidentally) the fight over integrated schools.  Stephan Thernstrom's classic study, Pvoerty and Progress, Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City points out both that what we think of as exclusionary zoning and competitive public education did not exist as such during the Industrial Revolution, and that education as such did not play a major role in at least the popular perception of how and why people improved their social standing.

All of which is a convoluted way of saying something that both John Young and pandora have been saying for a long time.  John points out relentlessly that we haven't done enough research on educational reform to know what we're doing; I agree, with the caveat that I would extend the field to researching the purpose of public education itself.  And pandora criticizes (sometimes caustically :) ) those who over-simplify the whole mess into charter vs anti-charter, choice vs anti-choice.

It ain't that simple.  Not by a long shot.


Emily Washington said...

Steve, thanks for the link. I'm in complete agreement that there is so much room for further research on education. While charter schools/school choice are often billed as a free market solution, a choice between government funded goods is not a very exciting one.

pandora said...

And pandora criticizes (sometimes caustically :) ) those who over-simplify the whole mess into charter vs anti-charter, choice vs anti-choice.

I simply criticize the intellectual laziness displayed in that argument.

People who buy into this pro/anti simplistic nonsense are merely useful pawns - who are allowing those running the show to play... prey?... upon their insecurities.

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