Jonathan Rothwell at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute has completed a study to document the cost of housing and its relationship to school performance. It makes a difficult read. To describe it as ludicrous would be putting it very gently. Mr. Rothwell blames the lack of high performing schools on poor housing zoning policies. (And I believed the most important variable in getting a good education was the teacher in the classroom!) Who could have believed it was as simple as “managing” housing in a community? Apparently, if everyone lived in a wealthy neighborhood, then the schools in those neighborhoods would be high performing. This is some very serious stuff-economic segregation.
It seems as if economic segregation prevents many students from receiving a quality education. If one looks at Anchorage, one will note that the under-performing schools are concentrated in the lower socioeconomic areas of the city. But does the cost of housing really affect a school’s performance? Mr. Rothwell believes one can use zoning laws to change education. By subsidizing low income housing and locating this housing in wealthy neighborhoods, the author believes large educational gains could be achieved for low income children. He actually suggests housing vouchers to allow low income families to move to neighborhoods with high performing schools as well as mandating low income housing in higher income neighborhoods.
Would moving low income families to the Hillside area of Anchorage lead to better schools? Or would the wealthy place their children in private schools? Maybe we should mandate that the higher income folks build in the lower income neighborhoods so they could share the “wealth” of the lower performing schools! How about giving all parents the right to choose where they want to send their kids to school? (Now that’s a rather novel idea.) Mr. Rothwell does mention the successful school voucher programs in Milwaukee, WI and Washington, DC and how the lower income students have increased achievement. He further suggests, “Led by the federal government, school funding could be linked to individual children rather than schools, such that a child could apply to multiple public schools in his or her area.” A better idea would be to link school funding to individual children and let the parents choose any school, public or private, for their kids. So which do you prefer-housing vouchers or school vouchers? It’s time to make a choice.