[Hpn] New York, NY - Education Is a Housing Issue - New York Daily News - March 11, 2002 Archives

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Tue, 02 Jul 2002 09:15:05 -0500

Education Is a Housing Issue
Note: Mayor Bloomberg takes over NYC Schools July 1, 2002

By DALTON CONLEY - New York Daily News - March 11, 2002 Archives

New York City's high school dropout rates are rising. Authorities debate whether
the stricter Regents requirements are the culprit, while Schools Chancellor
Harold Levy backs the higher standards. But the dirty little secret of the
educational world is that, in the end, schools matter little.

If George W. Bush really wants to be the education President, he should lend an
ear to Mel Martinez, his secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Martinez
has been talking about increasing home ownership and housing equity for
minorities and the poor. If he's successful, his policies will be more
responsible for bettering the educational prospects of the nation's most
disadvantaged than teacher testing, merit pay, national student standards or any
of the other proposals emerging from the U.S. Department of Education.

Why does home ownership make good education policy? Exactly 35 years ago,
sociologist James Coleman and his co-authors issued what today remains the most
controversial report on inequality in schooling. The document, later known as
the Coleman Report, concluded that the strongest predictor of academic
performance wasn't school-based dynamics, but the student's family background.
That is, household income, parents' occupations and so on.

But if we acknowledge that schools matter little in the grand scheme, what are
we to do to better our children's academic prospects?

One idea is to foster greater wealth among underprivileged groups  something
Martinez is talking about. A New York University study just released found that
parental net worth had the second-largest impact on kids going to college of any
background factor, second to the education of the parents themselves.

Take the following example: Two kids who just graduated high school come from
families with the same income, same parental education, same race and same
family structure. But one kid's family has a net worth of $10,000, and the other
kid's family owns $150,000 of net assets (close to the median for the nation).
The kid with the bigger nest egg is one-third more likely to go to college. If
we increase the net worth of that kid's family to $650,000, he's more than 1 1/2
times more likely to go to college.

The results of this study have particular relevance to the issue of race,
because it is in parental assets where the black-white gap is the largest and
has been growing  even since the civil rights triumphs of the 1960s. Black
families, on average, own about one-eighth the assets of white families.

The news for New Yorkers, in particular, is mixed. On the one hand, the city has
one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the country. This could mean
exacerbated inequalities in school achievement for rich and poor New Yorkers.
But mitigating this possibility is the lack of a definitive link between home
ownership, housing equity and neighborhoods in New York.

In this city, renters literally live in the same buildings as owners, schools
aren't financed on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis and there is lots of
mixing across neighborhoods in the school system. So New York renters with
little wealth may not have to panic just yet because they may get lots of the
benefits of wealth by virtue of living in a high-wealth community.

Expanding home ownership and fostering asset equity aren't the only policy
options that emerge when we expand our thinking about education beyond school
walls. For example, recent research also shows that when kids live in crowded
conditions at home  are unable to sleep well, have no privacy to do homework
and so on  they tend to concentrate poorly in school and perform worse overall.

Though Martinez is talking about these issues, housing and wealth are simply not
on the lips of educational policymakers and pundits. Many players  not just
elected officials, but also educational researchers, teachers unions, school
voucher advocates, even custodians  have an institutional stake in keeping the
debate focused on the time period between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Hopefully, Martinez on the national front and those on the local front with the
power to make a difference in housing will be able to muscle their way into the
conversation. Our children would be the better for it.

Dalton Conley, is director of New York University's Center
for Advanced Social Science Research

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