Why Place May Matter in the D.C. Achievement Gap

It is not breaking news that D.C. has a persistent achievement gap, a gulf, really, between black and white students. Many studies attribute this kind of achievement gap to income. In fact, the New York Times just ran an analysis of the widening gap between children from high- and low-income families, and the NPR show Talk of the Nation also had a recent segment on the issue.

What these studies usually compare is family income. Our new KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot, “D.C.’s Achievement Gap: Why Place Matters,” questions whether this is the correct income to measure.

When we compared the achievement gap by race to the achievement gap by family income, we found that these phenomena look different. The achievement disparity between black and white students was double the income gap, though the past five years show a slight decrease in the race gap and a small uptick in the income gap. We think more is going on here than simply race and income.

Our new hypothesis: the confluence of race, place and neighborhood income (“concentrated poverty” or “concentrated privilege”) may have more of an influence on achievement than any one of those factors alone. Specifically, we think these factors may be more influential:

•    The economic status of neighborhoods where students attend school, and whether they are neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or neighborhoods of concentrated privilege. This has implications for school resources.

•    The economic status of the neighborhoods where students live, and whether they are neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or neighborhoods of concentrated privilege. This has implications for neighborhood and family resources and how children and families are doing, including how hospitable the environment is for learning.

•    Differences in school quality by neighborhood. Simply put, lower-income neighborhoods are more likely to have under-resourced schools (not to mention other institutions).

We think our analysis points to the need to strengthen neighborhoods – to make sure every neighborhood in our city has the resources it needs – so children, families and community institutions can succeed.

We look forward to hearing what you think about our data and conclusions.

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