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)

Unmet needs

A social worker in every grade? Perhaps for 10 Colorado elementary schools

PHOTO: Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat
Fifth-graders practice mindfulness at Munroe Elementary School in Denver.

Educators, parents, and social workers told of students struggling with depression, younger and younger children attempting suicide, and youths ending up in prison. A bill approved Thursday by a Colorado House committee would pay for a three-year trial to provide social and emotional help for elementary students in the hopes of addressing some of these challenges.

If approved by the full legislature and signed into law, the measure would create a three-year pilot program at 10 high-needs schools. It is estimated to cost about $5 million a year. House Bill 1017 would place social workers, counselors or psychologists in every elementary grade at the test schools starting next year.

In an impassioned presentation, bill sponsor state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, said schools need more social workers “to stop our children from dying by suicide, from ending up incarcerated, from being failed by our system.”

Suicide is a leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24 in Colorado, and advocates of the bill said schools are often ill-equipped to deal with children suffering from trauma, bullying and behavioral challenges.

The bill was scaled back from an original version that would have cost $16 million a year. Michaelson Jenet said the nearly $5 million annual cost would be funded in part by $2.5 million from the state’s marijuana cash fund, with the rest from private foundations.

The National Association of Social Workers recommends one social worker for every 250 students, and one for every 50 students at high-needs schools.

Colorado schools don’t come close to those numbers.

About one-third of the state’s 178 school districts employed social workers during the 2016-17 school year, the most recent for which data was available from the Colorado Department of Education. Those districts represented about 89 percent of that year’s 905,000 pre-K through 12th grade students.

The nearly 590 social workers employed worked out to less than one full-time employee per 1,000 students.

Englewood’s Sheridan School District had three social workers for 1,511 students, while Yuma County had 1½ social workers for 807 students.

The two largest districts, Denver and Jefferson County, employed more than one-third of school social workers that year, with more than one social worker for every 1,000 students. Denver voters approved a 2016 tax to help pay for more social workers.

But many districts have no social workers. And most school social workers are stretched thin.

Jessie Caggiano is a social worker who serves more than 3,000 students at four high schools in Weld County.

“I’m not able to meet with students effectively on a one-on-one basis, because I’m trying to implement other services schoolwide,” she said. “I’m only at each of my schools one day a week, so I’m not able to meet their needs by any means.”

Darlene Sampson, president of the Colorado chapter of the Association of Black Social Workers, recalled working at a Denver school when a student was killed in the cafeteria.

“Many kids are carrying their trauma in their backpacks into the school,” Sampson said.

And Cam Short-Camilli, representing the Colorado School Social Work Association, said students are facing increased emotional problems at most schools. The increase in youth suicide and suicide attempts is especially difficult, she said. One Denver incident last fall attracted national attention.

“Every school district, every student is impacted, that’s rural, urban, suburban schools,” Short-Camilli said. “In the past five years, I’ve been at elementary schools, and it’s been extremely shocking. Kids at those schools, there’s an immense ripple effect.”

But state Rep. James Wilson, a Salida Republican, questioned whether the pilot program would be possible to replicate because of the high number of professionals needed.

“I’m sitting here feeling like the Grinch,” Wilson said. “I cannot bring myself to put together an unrealistic pilot. Will it really work in the real world?”

State Rep. Janet Buckner, an Aurora Democrat, also expressed concerns, but voted for the bill.

“I’m concerned how we’re going to fund it,” she sad. “The suicide rate is off the chart and our kids need so much help. I don’t think we can wait. I have a lot of phone calls and emails about this bill, people who really need the help.”

HB-1017 next goes to the Appropriations Committee before being considered by the full House, then the Senate. It is one of several measures aimed at offering help for students and their families beyond academics at public schools.

Story time

This Memphis teacher’s favorite student didn’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. She taught him a powerful lesson.

PHOTO: Xzavier Bonds
Daniel Warner teaches at East High School in Memphis.

When one of Daniel Warner’s favorite students refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, he could feel the tension in himself rising.

It was August 2017, the first week of classes, and Warner said he knew how important setting a tone was during the first few days of school.

“Didn’t my teacher prep program teach me that I have to set high expectations in that first week or the year is lost?” asked Warner, a U.S. history teacher at East High School in Memphis. “If I don’t set those, we’re done for.”

But before Warner reacted, he said he took a few moments to reflect on what could be going through her head.

Chalkbeat TN Storytelling Event
PHOTO: Xzavier Bonds
Daniel Warner tells his story to a crowded room.

It was the Monday after a violent white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Stories of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick were again dominating the news, as he remained ostracized for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality.

Instead of punishing her, Warner said, he refocused on what she might be thinking through as a black American high schooler.

“The lesson she taught me that day was that some of the most harmful instances of school discipline happen when we are too focused on ourselves as teachers,” Warner said.

Warner was one of seven educators and students who participated in a February story storytelling night hosted by Chalkbeat Tennessee, Spillit, and The Knowledge Tree. The stories told centered around school discipline practices, a topic Chalkbeat recently dove into in this special report.

Video Credit: Gillian Wenhold, The Social Exchange. The Social Exchange is a pay-as-you can PR & content creation firm for nonprofits and responsible, women/minority owned businesses.

Here’s an edited transcript of Warner’s story. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

It’s a week into school in early August. And kids are just trickling into my senior homeroom mostly asleep, sitting quietly in their desk as 18-year-olds do at 7:15 in the morning…And then morning announcements come on. “Please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”

So I stand up, and I say, “Alright y’all, go ahead and stand up with me.” I see these seniors throwing their bodies out of their seats, trying to stand up while they are still asleep. And almost everyone stands up but one girl doesn’t…  

So, my eyes meet this girls eyes as she stays in her seat during the pledge. And I can feel the tension in me of my authority being challenged in the room. And I wonder if everyone else is looking at me, my other students. So I give her a teacher look meant to communicate, “Are you going to stand up?” And she looks at me from across the room and shakes her head and mouths, “I can’t.”

So this student was one of my best students the year before in honors U.S. History. She engaged deeply with the material and personally. She asked questions of herself, of her country, of democracy, what this whole thing is about. She processed the double consciousness she feels of being both black and American. And she did so while being kind, thoughtful hardworking. The student you think of that makes you want to cry, you love that kid so much. I wonder what’s going on, what is she thinking about…

This is a Monday and the weekend before had been the white supremacists march in Charlottesville… When she told me, that she couldn’t stand, I went and sat in the desk next to her…I asked, “What’s keeping you from standing up?”

She started by saying, “I hate,” and she stopped herself. She took a breath, calmed herself down and said, “I just can’t.” And so we just sat there for a second. I could see as I got closer to her that she was flooded with emotion and feeling something deeply. And so we let the announcements end and I tell her, “When I say the pledge I say it more as a hope and a prayer…that there would be liberty and justice for all.” She said, “Yeah, I was thinking about that,” like a good U.S. History student, but she said “things don’t’ seem to be headed that way right now…

The lesson she taught me that day was that some of the most harmful instances of school discipline happen when we are too focused on ourselves as teachers. She showed me that I was a little too focused on how I was being perceived by other students in the classroom. And that I wasn’t focused enough on her and what she might be processing. As teachers, we have all of this opportunity to escalate conflict, I’ve done it plenty of times. But we also have an opportunity to be gracious to students who are working out who they are in public…

This girl wasn’t being disengaged by saying no to me, she was being especially engaged with who she is… When we talk about restorative justice, the first step we have to take is for us as educators and adults, and it’s doing your own emotional work. And we have to ask ourselves questions about our identities. You can only lead someone somewhere if you’ve gone there yourself…

What is it about us when it sets us off when a kid says no to us? Why are we that insecure? … When we pay attention to ourselves, our emotional status, the hurt we’ve felt, the pain we’ve lived through, that is when we can begin paying attention to how formative schools are. They are spaces where folks are working out their identities in public, and that’s when you feel the most self conscious and vulnerable and in need of grace offered by someone else.

So, I hope as we talk about this, we think of ways where we can make school a space for people to be figuring out who they are and not just punished into compliance. In high poverty schools, you talk about compliance like it’s the ultimate behavior. I hope we can make schools where students can learn what it is to seek justice, even when and especially when, things just don’t seem to be headed that way right now.