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)

cracking the code

Newark schools partner with Girls Who Code to expand access to coding clubs

PHOTO: Kei-Sygh Thomas/Chalkbeat
Students at announcement of Girls Who Code partnership with Newark Public Schools at Rafael Hernandez School

Starting in the spring, more Newark middle schoolers will be learning how to code, owing to a new partnership between Newark Public Schools and Girls Who Code. Schools Superintendent Roger León announced the initiative at Rafael Hernandez Elementary School on Thursday. The partnership will establish Girls Who Code clubs in 24 of the district’s middle schools, providing an introduction to coding skills to more than 3,000 girls.

“If we are serious about equity and opportunity, especially when it comes to communities of color, we have to teach them how to code,” said Reshma Saujani, the CEO of Girls Who Code. “I think it’s an opportunity to reach the hardest-to-reach communities.”

The initiative complements a push to increase computer science education statewide. In January, New Jersey passed a law requiring every public high school, starting this fall, to offer a computer science class. And in October, Governor Murphy committed $2 million to increasing the number of public high schools making advanced computer science classes available to students. Priority consideration will be given to schools that receive Title I funds.

Girls Who Code already offers clubs in six Newark schools, according to its website: Newark Tech High School, East Side High School, Barringer High Schools, TEAM Academy, Hawkins Street School, and First Avenue. The new partnership will increase that number and target middle schools exclusively.

By age 15, girls have often lost interest in math, science or technological subjects, according to one report. The program wants girls “to act or think like a computer scientist,” said Chrissy Ziccarelli, the director of education at Girls Who Code.

It also hopes to inspire girls to enter technology-related fields. The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects that there will be approximately 4.6 million computing jobs nationwide by the year 2020 but not enough people with the skills to fill those jobs.

“A majority of our girls want to take another computer science class after they participate in a club,” Ziccarelli said. Alumni of the program are also more likely to major in computer science, she said.

The challenge for districts, however, isn’t just exposing students to computers, says Darrin Sharif, Executive Director of Newark Kids Code, another organization that provides extra-curricular enrichment programs for Newark students, but also showing them how to use them. The Thirteenth Avenue School has two computer labs, for example. Rather, schools struggle to find teachers who are trained in how to teach computer science.  

“It’s not a digital divide, it is a digital use divide,” Sharif said.

According to a report by Code.org, universities in New Jersey only graduated three new teachers prepared to teach computer science in 2016. Because of the shortage in computer-science instructors, Girls Who Code will use volunteer facilitators, who are not required to have a technical background (and often do not). Their training consists of two, 15-minute videos to introduce the structure of the program.

The facilitators are then encouraged to learn alongside their female students by completing tutorials with them. The clubs in the new Newark Public Schools partnership will also have access to one club specialist, who has a technical background, whom facilitators can reach out to online or by phone for support.

Newark Kids Code is approaching the teacher shortage by working to tap more homegrown talent. “There is a lot of tech activity that is happening downtown, but there’s no connection to our schools at all. It may be a while before [NPS] can fill that gap,” Darrin Sharif said.  

To compensate, Newark Kids Code recruits computer science students from New Jersey Institute of Technology. These NJIT student facilitators then use curriculum from Code.org to teach six-hour workshops to elementary school students every Saturday at the Urban League’s headquarters for ten weeks. Students learn to develop websites, animations, and games with HTML and Scratch.

Stephanie Burdel has been teaching coding at Hawkins Street Elementary School for almost two years and attends “training” at Newark Kids Code on Saturdays, where she assists students, some of whom attend Hawkins and can observe the NJIT student facilitators. Burdel uses the time to learn best practices for teaching coding to her own students.

“I get extra engagement with students and see what problems they come across in the Scratch program,” Burdel said. “I learn what to do when students have problems when they’re coding and speak with the facilitators if I have questions.”

Last week, Burdel’s kindergarten and first-grade students participated in an Hour of Code, a national event designed to encourage interest in coding. She was amazed by how engaged students were. Burdel believes that learning to code in school can help students build character and improve in other subjects.

“I especially love seeing the little ones sitting and talking through the problems together,” she said. “You don’t think they have the capability especially with shorter attention spans. But they sat engaged the whole time and they loved it.”

Ana Quezada is one of Burdel’s students. She is 10 years old and sees herself becoming a programmer so she can understand computers to make them better.

“When I’m not able to figure something out on my own after ten minutes, I look around to see who can help me,” Ana said. “I ask them to explain it so I know how everything works.”

Kei-Sygh Thomas is a Newark-based journalist, who grew up and went to schools in the city.

First Person

The SHSAT helps Manhattan families like mine. I finally stood up last week to say that’s wrong.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Parents in Manhattan's District 3 gathered in June to learn about the middle school admissions process.

Choosing schools in New York City can be a formidable challenge. That was evident at a Community Education Council meeting in District 2 last week, when I spoke in favor of a proposal to phase out the exam that governs admissions to the city’s sought-after, specialized high schools — and many other parents voiced opposition to the plan.

In 2011, when my husband and I began to think about where our daughter would go to kindergarten, we realized what a complex educational landscape we would have to navigate. In the years since, we have struggled, as former teachers ourselves, to reconcile our values and self-interests. And sometimes our choices have reflected the latter.

I’ve come to see these choices through a different, critical lens, and I think our family’s story — just one in a school system with more than one million schoolchildren — may shed light on how the system isn’t yet set up to make the right choices the easy ones, and why I’ve come to believe elevating these values is so important at this moment.

The first decision we confronted was where our daughter should go to elementary school. She was zoned to attend P.S. 51 in Hell’s Kitchen. Although State Sen. Brad Hoylman would later call P.S. 51 “one of the jewels in our city’s school system,” in 2011, by traditional measures, the school faced steep challenges. Almost 70 percent of P.S. 51’s students lived in poverty, and only 61 percent of the school’s third-graders passed the state’s standardized tests. This performance still exceeded the citywide average by a significant margin but remained far below the city’s top-ranked schools. In addition, the school itself was in the middle of a construction zone.

As plans were finalized to build a new housing development and school facility where P. S. 51 stood, it was relocated to the Upper East Side, where the school stayed for two years. And so, although school buses were provided, our neighborhood school was no longer in our neighborhood.

We had another possible option. Midtown West, also known as P.S. 212, an unzoned school that accepted children via a lottery system, was a block away from our home. Years earlier, Hell’s Kitchen parents had founded the magnet school based on the progressive pedagogy championed by Bank Street College as an alternative to the neighborhood’s existing public schools, P.S. 51 and P.S. 111.

The combined efforts of school administrators, teachers, and parents led to a strong program at Midtown West. Increasing numbers of middle-class students from Hell’s Kitchen and neighborhoods around the city began to apply to the school, which attracted more resources of all types. By the time we applied to Midtown West in 2011, 87 percent of third-graders passed state tests, and 22 percent of students lived in poverty. In addition, although P.S. 51 and Midtown West were only four blocks apart, P.S. 51 had 73 percent black and Latinx students, whereas Midtown West had 38 percent. The demographics, performance, and resources of the two schools (which parents often look up) were starkly different.

In addition, we had a third possibility. Our daughter tested into the citywide Gifted and Talented program. The closest gifted program was at P.S. 11 in Chelsea, and we attended an orientation. The majority of the parents there (ourselves among them — I am white and my husband is Indian-American) were white and Asian. The gathering was a reflection of the program’s overall demographics; in 2011, more than 70 percent of kindergartners in gifted programs were white and Asian.

This stood in contrast to the broader demographics of the city’s public schools, where 70 percent of children were black and Latinx. We were deeply uncomfortable with the racial disparities between the gifted and general education classrooms but were also daunted as parents by the logistical nightmare of getting one child to school in Chelsea and another to daycare in Hell’s Kitchen — and still getting to work on time.

So here were our choices: We could send our child to a school in transition that had relocated across Manhattan. We could send her to a sought-after school that served those lucky enough to make it through a lottery system. Or, we could send her to a gifted program that served a fraction of New York City’s children. Options one and three would place our child outside of our neighborhood and in deeply segregated environments. Midtown West was closer and less segregated than most gifted classrooms, but only marginally so.

Ultimately, we were among the few to make it through Midtown West’s lottery system and we chose to enroll our daughter there. But this choice, I now see, was a Faustian bargain between our self-interest and our values.

As former teachers who had benefited from quality educations ourselves and with remunerative careers, we could have enrolled our child at P.S. 51. We could have become active parents, making positive contributions to a school in need of advocates and racial and socioeconomic diversity. But as two working parents with young children, we already felt stretched too thin. We determined that we needed a school that would successfully educate our child — with or without our involvement. P.S. 51’s relocation across town cemented our decision. So we made our own needs a priority and abandoned our zoned school.

Geography and school performance had combined to shape our choice. Midtown West was a short walk from our apartment and offered a well-rounded program. But in the process, we became inured to a system that lifted our choice about what was best for our child over the needs of the majority of the city’s schoolchildren.

By not enrolling our child in P.S. 51, we divested our zoned school of whatever resources we could have provided. Our values were in conflict with our actions. And we participated in this system again as we made our way through the screened middle school process. Our daughter received an offer from the Salk School of Science, one of the most selective and least diverse middle schools in the city. We accepted the offer, and she is at Salk today.

Now, with our daughter two years away from high school, our city is immersed in a battle over the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT, a conflict that often pits families’ interests against one another, and the needs of the city’s children as a whole.

A small but vocal group of largely white and Asian parents has mobilized to protect the SHSAT, a mechanism that has historically preserved seats in the city’s most selective high schools for their children. Today those schools are comparable to gifted programs in their racial disparity. The majority of specialized high schools’ students are white and Asian; only 10 percent are black and Latinx.

The energy of these parent advocates for their cause could measure on the Richter scale. I know because I felt the tremors when I spoke out at the District 2 CEC meeting in favor of the city’s initiative to make the system more fair by phasing out the test and offering seats to the top 7 percent of each of the city’s middle schools. Education department projections show this measure would increase black and Latinx enrollment at the city’s specialized high schools to 45 percent — still far below the average citywide but a step closer to representative.

If the SHSAT is eliminated, the odds of these parents’ children attending specialized high schools will be significantly reduced. The same will be true for our daughter. Last year, in a school system with almost 600 middle schools, students from just 10 middle schools received 25 percent of the overall admissions offers from the city’s specialized high schools. Salk was one of those 10 schools; 70 Salk students received such offers. If the city’s plan is adopted, Salk’s number of admitted students will likely plummet.

So why did I speak out in support of phasing out the SHSAT? When our daughter was entering elementary school and middle school, we chose what was most advantageous to our family. Why change course now? Some will say the answer is because the hard choices are behind us. Many great New York City high schools exist beyond just the specialized ones. But that’s not quite it.

In 2011, as our daughter was about to enter the New York City school system, this country stood poised to elect President Obama for a second term. A common perception — one that we naively shared — was that the critical mass of American politics and culture was moving in a progressive direction. And in such a climate, my husband and I reflected less on how our choices made in self-interest might undermine the momentum toward a greater public good.

The state of our country in the last two years has increasingly reshaped our thinking and helped us begin to grapple with and develop a new understanding of how our individual actions, however great or small, contribute to the weaving or unraveling of a more just society.

Our evolution is also related to changing family dynamics. During earlier decisions about our daughter’s education, my husband and I had to answer only to each other. We had long discussions during which we weighed our options against our values and could more easily accept and forgive rationalizations and expediency. Now we are making choices in the presence of a highly engaged third party: our perceptive young daughter, who has a keen sense of social justice honed in New York City’s public schools.

How do we look her in the eye and continue to seek privilege in an educational system that is structured to favor some children, including our own, and not others? She is old enough to understand that our choices define and reveal who we really are.

The fervor of the parents at the SHSAT meeting is surely driven by their desire to secure the best opportunities for their children. That’s something we have in common with all parents across New York City.

So what would happen if we united to demand that the New York City public schools genuinely serve the public good? What if we took to heart the words issued by the city’s Board of Education in 1954, in the wake of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision: “Public education in a racially homogeneous setting is socially unrealistic and blocks the attainment of the goals of democratic education, whether this segregation occurs by law or by fact.” What would happen if we insisted that the goals of a democratic education — equal educational opportunities for all children — be realized?

Committing to those values would mean scrapping more than the SHSAT. It would mean rethinking gifted programs and middle school screening, and all the ways we separate and isolate children, which have contributed to making New York City’s school system one of the most segregated in the country.

Committing to these values would mean integrating our schools, so all children can benefit from the enhanced ability to participate a multiethnic, democratic society. It would mean offering well-funded, high quality schools to all children in all New York City neighborhoods. Yes, it would also likely mean more discomfiting conversations, like the ones at the meeting where I spoke — conversations with each other and also with ourselves. And it would mean living in harmony with what we say we believe and what we actually do.

Alexis Audette is a parent of two children in District 2. Portrait photo credit: Mark Weinberg.