Three things that will make a school bad: child abuse, homelessness and mothers who dropped out of high school

This article also appeared here.

This article also appeared here.

Conventional wisdom has it that schools with high concentrations of poverty are bad. But when a team of researchers led by Dr. John Fantuzzo from University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE) studied every third grader in the Philadelphia public schools, they found strong student achievement in some schools with high concentrations of poverty. The low-achieving schools were ones with high concentrations of homelessness and child abuse. Not only did the performance of the students experiencing abuse and homelessness suffer, so did their classmates. High concentrations of students whose mothers did not complete high school were similarly harmful. The whole grade level had lower achievement.

“It’s not poverty itself that predicts achievement. It’s other risk factors that are associated with poverty,” said Heather Rouse, one of the study’s authors.

“We can’t cure poverty. But we could work on interventions to connect with kids who experience these other risk factors, through department of housing and other agencies,” Rouse added.

Rouse’s study was published in Educational Researcher in Februrary 2014 and presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual conference in April. She and her colleagues had access to a treasure trove of data on all 10,000 third graders in the Philadelphia public schools during the 2005-06 academic year. In addition to education records, the researchers were able to look at birth, health, public housing and human services records for each student.

About 70 percent of the entire population qualified for free and reduced price lunch, a measure of poverty. Only 26 percent of the population had a mother without a high school degree. The schools that had a 10 percent higher concentration of low maternal education had significantly worse math scores, reading scores and attendance records.

The researchers found that some risk factors, such as high lead exposure or having a teenage mother at birth, didn’t affect student achievement much. But substantiated cases of child maltreatment, which affected 10 percent of the population, and low maternal education were particularly harmful risk factors. Episodes of homelessness, which affected 9 percent of the students, came in third.

Related story citing research by John Fantuzzo: Poverty and education reform — and those caught in the middle


POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON April 10, 2014

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Jane Boykin

More relevant, perhaps, is a different but recent study led by North Carolina State University.

“Good schools make a difference, but parent involvement better
predicts a child’s academic performance than the qualities of
the school he or she attends… Our study shows that parents
need to be aware of how important they are, and invest time in
their children — checking homework, attending school events
and letting kids know school is important,” study researcher Toby
Parcel of North Carolina State University said in a statement.
“That’s where the payoff is.”

The parental involvement required is very different from the way schools conceptualize parental involvement. I’d love to see you take a look.

Jill Barshay

@Jane Boykin. Thank you for your comment. This March 2014 Atlantic article, Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework, cites another data-driven study on parental involvement by researchers at University of Texas and Duke. They found that checking homework and attending school events were unimportant to student achievement. In fact, homework checking can even backfire. They found that reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans were the only two parental-involvement activities that mattered. Inspires me to look at all the big research on parental involvement and try to write a post about it.

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