a chalkbeat cheat sheet

Here’s a list of studies showing that kids in poverty do better in school when their families have more money

Want to boost test scores and increase graduation rates? Give low-income families benefits or money.

That’s the conclusion of a story we published looking at the link between anti-poverty programs and better outcomes for poor students in school. Along the way, we compiled a list of studies of anti-poverty programs and the effects on children and families. We’re providing that here as a reference; it also includes a handful of studies that go against the main trend. Our full story summarizes these results and also points to these studies’ limits.

This list is generally limited to those published in the last decade focusing on the U.S. (One paper focuses on Canada and two others that were published before 2008; these studies are included because they are mentioned in the original story.)

You can also reviews of similar research from the Brookings Institution, Future of Children, and London School of Economics, some of which Chalkbeat drew from for our own story.

Earned income and child tax credits

  • “An additional $1,000 in EITC exposure when a child is 13–18 years old increases the likelihood of completing high school (1.3%), completing college (4.2%), and being employed as a young adult (1.0%) and earnings by 2.2%.” Journal of Labor Economics (2018)
  • “An increase in the maximum EITC of $1,000 (2008 dollars) in a given year significantly increases math achievement by about 0.072 nationally normed standard deviations. This change in EITC generosity during childhood also increases the probability of graduating high school or receiving a GED at age 19 by about 2.1 percentage points and increases the probability of completing one or more years of college by age 19 by about 1.4 percentage points. Estimated effects are larger for boys and minority children.” Institute for Child Success (2015)
  • Increased income through EITC “raises combined math and reading test scores …. Test gains are larger for children from disadvantaged families.” American Economic Review (2012 and 2017 update)
  • “We find that a $1,000 increase in tax credits raises students’ test scores by 6% of a standard deviation, using our most conservative specification.” IRS (2011)
  • “We exploit changes in child benefits in Canada to study the impact of family income on child and family well-being. …The findings suggest that child benefit programs had significant positive effects on test scores, maternal health, and mental health, among other measures…an increase of 6.9 percent of a standard deviation for an increase in $1,000 of benefits.” American Economic Journal (2011)

Income, wealth, or cash benefits

  • “We collected individual-level administrative records of applicants to the Mothers’ Pension program … Male children of accepted applicants lived one year longer than those of rejected mothers. They also obtained one-third more years of schooling.” American Economic Review (2016)
  • “We find a $10,000 increase in housing wealth increases the likelihood of public flagship university enrollment relative to nonflagship enrollment by 2.0 percent and decreases the relative probability of attending a community college by 1.6 percent. These effects are driven by lower-income families, predominantly by altering student application decisions. … Furthermore, for lower-income students, each $10,000 increase in home prices leads to a 1.8 percent increase in the likelihood of completing college.” Journal of Human Resources (2013)
  • “Family Rewards offered cash assistance to low-income families to reduce immediate hardship, but conditioned that assistance on families’ efforts to build up their “human capital” to reduce the risk of longer-term and second-generation poverty. … The program … did not improve school outcomes overall for elementary or middle school students, perhaps in part because, for these children, the program rewarded attendance (which was already high) and standardized test scores (rather than more immediate performance such as good report card grades).” MDRC (2013)
  • “Although each additional quarter of either mother’s employment or welfare use results in only a small increase in a child’s standardized math test score, the total effects after several quarters are sizable. A child who has the mean level of observed innate ability with a mother who simultaneously worked and used welfare in all 20 quarters after childbirth experiences an 8.25 standardized‐point increase in standardized scores. The positive impact is more pronounced for the more disadvantaged children.” Economic Inquiry (2012)
  • The study examines a “set of welfare and antipoverty experiments conducted in the 1990s … Our estimates suggest that a $1,000 increase in annual income increases young children’s achievement by 5%–6% of a standard deviation.” Developmental Psychology (2011)
  • “An additional $4000 per year for the poorest households increases educational attainment by one year at age 21 and reduces having ever committed a minor crime by 22% at ages 16−17.” American Economic Journal (2010)

Food stamps/SNAP

  • “Results indicate differences in students’ math and reading performance based on the recency of SNAP benefit transfer. … Test scores peak in the third week following benefit transfer.” American Educational Research Journal, Chalkbeat story (2018)
  • “Scores are notably lower when the exam falls near the end of the benefit cycle and when food stamps arrive on the four days immediately preceding the exam.” Economics of Education Review (2018)
  • “I next explore the effects [of food stamps] on other health outcomes including the likelihood the child was hospitalized overnight in the past year, the number of school days missed and chronic school absence (>15 days) in the past year, and the likelihood the child visited the doctor at all or 2 or more times in the past year. … The point estimates on all the outcomes measuring poor health are negative, but the standard errors are large. The only estimate that is statistically different from zero is chronic school absence.” Journal of Human Resources (2018)
  • “For SNAP recipient children, a ten percent increase in SNAP purchasing power is associated with a decrease in missed school days of just over 1 day (or a 22 percent decrease relative to the mean of approximately 5 days missed).” Working paper (2017)
  • “We find that students whose families received SNAP were more likely than students whose families did not receive SNAP to have disciplinary infractions at the end of the monthly SNAP disbursement cycle than at the beginning of the cycle. This effect is particularly pronounced for male students.” Social Service Review (2016)
  • “We focus on the introduction of the Food Stamp Program, which was rolled out across counties between 1961 and 1975. … All coefficients with the exception of employment status suggest that exposure to food stamps leads to an improvement in later life economic well-being: increases in education, earnings, and income and a reduction in poverty and participation in public assistance programs. However, only the coefficient on educational attainment reaches statistical significance.” American Economic Review (2016)
  • “Starting [Food Stamp Program] participation during the 4 years from K to third grade was associated with about a 3-point greater improvement in reading and mathematics score as compared with stopping FSP participation during that period.” The Journal of Nutrition (2006)

Health insurance and services

  • “We evaluate how an expansion of Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and infants affected the adult outcomes of individuals who gained access to coverage in utero and during the first year of life. … We also find that the expansions increased high school graduation rates.” Journal of Human Resources (2018)
  • “We find consistent evidence that Medicaid exposure when young increases later educational attainment. Our baseline estimates suggest a ten percentage point increase in average Medicaid eligibility between the ages of zero and 17 decreases the high school dropout rate by 0.4 of a percentage point, increases the likelihood of college enrollment by 0.3 of a percentage point, and increases the four-year college attainment rate (BA receipt) by 0.7 of a percentage point. … We find that the high school completion effects are larger among nonwhites, while the college enrollment and completion rate impact sare largest among white children.” Journal of Human Resources, Chalkbeat story (2016)
  • “We estimate a substantial decrease in antisocial behavior among individuals whose BLL test results trigger eligibility for an intervention. Relative to our control group, we find a 0.184 standard deviation decrease in antisocial behavior for adolescents using a summary index. We also estimate a marginally significant 0.117 increase in primary and middle school educational performance among children eligible for an intervention that is administered prior to school entry.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Chalkbeat story (2018)
  • There was “no evidence Medicaid implementation affected high school completion, college attendance, or college graduation probabilities.” NBER (2016)
  • “We find that both male and female Medicaid eligibles are more likely to have attended college. This effect is more pronounced for women. … On a base of 68% of the female population that has ever attended college by age 20, one additional year of eligibility from birth to age 18 increases the likelihood of having ever attended college by 0.40 percentage points.” NBER (2015)
  • “I study a federal law that expanded Medicaid eligibility discontinuously for low-income children born after September 30, 1983. Using administrative data on students in Chicago Public Schools, I demonstrate that Medicaid enrollment increased significantly for those children likeliest to be affected by the expansion. I also offer suggestive evidence that these children were more likely to graduate high school, and that this effect is particularly strong for males.” Working paper (2015)
  • “We find that test scores in reading, but not math, increased for those children affected at birth by increased health insurance eligibility. A 50 percentage point increase in eligibility is found to increase reading test scores by 0.09 standard deviations.” NBER (2009)

Public housing and housing vouchers

  • “Our findings provide evidence that children whose households received housing assistance make small academic gains. Specifically, we find some evidence that housing recipients experience minor math gains two years following housing receipt relative to future recipients. Further analyses suggest that these gains are concentrated among Black students. In addition, and unlike much of the past research on housing assistance and educational outcomes, we are also able to test whether rental subsidies or public housing assistance is more strongly associated with academic performance. We find weak evidence of a positive association between rental subsidies and math test scores two to three years after receipt, but, surprisingly, we also find a negative association between public housing receipt and later test scores.” AEFP working paper (2018)
  • “We find that the receipt of housing assistance has little, if any, impact on neighborhood or school quality or on a wide range of important child outcomes.” Quarterly Journal of Economics (2014)
  • Housing vouchers through the Moving to Opportunity program “had few detectable effects on a range of schooling outcomes, even for those children who were of preschool age at study entry.” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (2012)
  • “I find that children in households affected by the demolitions do no better or worse than their peers on a wide variety of achievement measures. Because the majority of households that leave public housing in response to the demolitions move to neighborhoods and schools that closely resemble those they left, the zero effect of the demolitions may be interpreted as the independent impact of public housing.” NBER (2003)

chronically absent

One in four students are chronically absent in Tennessee’s state-run district. Here’s what educators are doing about it.

PHOTO: (Lance Murphey, Memphis Daily News File Photo)
About 25 percent of students at Humes Preparatory Academy Middle School were chronically absent last year, a drop of 6 percent from 2017.

More than one in four children in Tennessee’s state-run turnaround district were chronically absent from school last year. Until recently, Armani Fleming, an eighth-grader in Memphis, risked being among them.

Armani struggled with attendance until a student support specialist with Communities in Schools, a Memphis nonprofit focused on wrap-around services for children, worked with him to identify and resolve barriers keeping him from class at Humes Middle School, apart of the Frayser Community Schools charter network.

“I realized Mr. B really cared about me, and he’s helped me make sure I come,” Armani said of the support specialist, Cadarius Buckingham. “He’s more of a counselor to me. I come and talk to him about everything, he’s the person I come to when I need help … and me coming to school has gotten a lot better.”

In the Achievement School District, getting kids to show up at school matters. Recent research has shown that when students have more “familiar faces” around them in class, they’re less likely to be chronically absent. Which is why nonprofits like Communities in Schools are sending staff members into local schools to connect with students like Armani.

Tennessee created the Achievement School District in 2012 to fix its lowest-performing schools by turning them over to charter organizations, but it has struggled to move the needle. Last year, 27.4 percent of the district’s students were chronically absent — representing a 2.4 percent drop from the previous year, but still alarmingly high. Now composed of 30 schools, the district faces higher rates of student mobility and poverty, contributing to its challenges with absenteeism.

Statewide, more than 13 percent of students are chronically absent, defined as having missed 10 percent of the school year, which is typically 18 or more days, for any reason (including excused absences and suspensions), but the average rate was significantly higher, 21 percent, for students who live in poverty.

The stakes are high for improving attendance numbers. Chronic absenteeism is now a major part of Tennessee schools are held accountable by the federal government. And research shows that children who are chronically absent from school are often academically below grade-level, more likely to drop out of school, and more frequently involved in the criminal justice system.

Communities in Schools is now in 19 Memphis schools, eight of them state-run. Those schools have seen, on average, a 5 percent reduction in chronic absenteeism, according to Michael Russom, the group’s director of operations and communications.

One school, Cornerstone Prep Denver Elementary, saw even more dramatic results: an 18 percent drop in chronic absenteeism year-over-year. Last year, just 13.7 percent of the school’s students were chronically absent.

What made the difference? Capstone Education Group, the charter school operator that runs Cornerstone schools, has a staff member dedicated to improving attendance and a partnership with Communities in Schools, said Drew Sippel, executive director of Capstone, which runs two state-run schools in addition to Denver that also had low absenteeism numbers.

“Whenever a parent expresses some concern related to regular attendance, [Patricia] Burns works to resolve impediments to consistent attendance,” Sippel said of the school’s Manager of Student Information and Business Systems. “These impediments range from transportation, homelessness, and inability to purchase school uniforms.”

Untreated health issues is sometimes another factor.

Denver Elementary’s principal also worked with Capstone staff to increase the number of meetings with parents, and therefore, to pinpoint the root causes of students’ absences.

Agape, Whitney Elementary, Memphis
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Two of Agape’s staff members work with students on reading at Whitney Achievement Elementary School. The staff members, though employed by the Memphis nonprofit, are integrated into school life.

“There’s often an assumption or judgment with parents, ‘Why don’t you just make your kids go to school?’” said David Jordan, CEO of Agape, a Christian nonprofit that has also seen success in reducing chronic absences in Memphis schools. “We keep data on this, and it’s not that parents don’t care. There’s a lot of issues that can prevent students from making it to class.”

The program has grown every year from when it began in 2013 with 113 students. Now, more than 550 students are a part of Agape programs in 16 schools throughout Memphis — and all students they work with are now at school for at least 85 percent of the school year. This is just shy of the group’s goal for Agape students: to attend more than 90 percent of the year.

For its part, Communities in Schools hopes to expand onto additional Memphis campuses, but for now, the focus is the schools they are already serving. And they have added additional staff to some of the highest-needs schools.

One such school is Fairley High School, an Achievement District school run by the charter operator Green Dot Public Schools. There, about 56 percent of students were chronically absent last year, a 19 percent increase from 2017. Russom said they placed two full-time support specialists within Fairley earlier this school year.

Last year, absences spiked at Fairley amid a change of leadership at the school, and it took time for the new principal to gain students’ trust, said Zachary Samson, Green Dot’s area superintendent.

“That’s one huge piece of chronic absenteeism that’s hard to quantify,” Samson said. “It makes such a difference when a student walks in the door, and I as a school leader am able to greet them by name. I know their mom. It’s students feeling seen and appreciated.”

To improve attendance, Samson said his staff is working with Communities in Schools to create an incentive program for students, in which students who meet their attendance goals can attend school parties. He added that they are also focusing on their communication with parents, as many parents may not be aware their children are chronically absent or of the consequences.

Samson said he’s confident attendance can improve at Fairley because he’s seen it happen at another Green Dot school – Wooddale Middle School. About 15 percent of students were chronically absent at Wooddale last year, a drop of 3 percent from the previous school year.

Communities in Schools has a full-time staff member at Wooddale, and that has made an enormous difference, Samson said, noting: “For schools where budgets are very, very tight, having another passionate educator in your school whose big focus is to address attendance and behavior with students – that’s a huge help.”

Update: This story has been updated to clarify that the state defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent of attended school days, which is typically 18 or more days for the school year.

Correction: This story has been corrected to say that one in four students in the Achievement School District were chronically absent last school year, not one in three.

behind the budget

Surprise: Most funding for New York City’s ‘community schools’ going to academics, not social services

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat
Principal Asya Johnson of Longwood Preparatory Academy, a community school, corrals a student between classes.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a new “community schools” program during his 2013 campaign, it was in part a repudiation of his predecessor’s focus on improving academic results.

Rather than punishing schools when students struggle, the theory went, the city should flood schools with services to combat the problems that hold students back from succeeding. The city has included schools with a range of academic performance levels in the program, and officials have said their main goal is to increase equity, not test scores.

So it’s surprising that just a small fraction of this year’s extra spending at the city’s 239 official community schools is going toward physical and mental health services, while about 60 percent of the $198.6 million being spent on the program is going to academic services.

That’s according to a new analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office, which looked at school-level spending plans produced for the first time this year under a new state transparency law.

The city education department is disputing the budget office’s methodology but not the conclusion that community schools are spending heavily on academic services. Community schools choose which programs and services to offer, based on their students’ needs; the academic services category includes spending on anything beyond traditional classroom instruction, including gifted programs, extra tutoring, and services for students with disabilities.

The spending analysis offers important context for an external evaluation of New York City’s program by the Rand Corporation, which is expected in 2019. It could potentially add to an existing body of research suggesting that efforts to combat poverty by providing “wraparound services” in schools often — though not always — generate improved test scores. The research has so far not answered the question of what makes some programs more successful than others, so knowing that New York City’s results come after spending heavily on academic services will add an important data point.

Early in the program’s development, some advocates pressed the city to tackle academics in addition to social challenges. But how much the community schools model is boosting academic improvement remains an open question locally, and the spending analysis offers important context for an external evaluation of New York City’s program that is expected in 2019.

Education department spokesman Doug Cohen said the state’s fiscal reporting requirements don’t reflect the city’s “holistic” approach to supporting schools. He said the discrete spending categories obscure the reality inside schools, where various programs interact in complex ways.

After-school programs, for example, might offer emotional support for students, Cohen said, adding that the overlap is an important feature of the community schools model.

“If we were only doing mental health alone,” he said, “it wouldn’t really be a community schools strategy.”