Impact of Long-Term Exposure to Concentrated Disadvantage on High School Graduation
Conventional wisdom has maintained that a child growing up in a neighborhood with low household per capita incomes and elevated levels of violent crime and unemployment is disadvantaged in terms of educational attainment due to cultural isolation, scarce resources and assorted local hazards. However, more recent scholarship has suggested that while neighborhood conditions certainly play a significant role in educational outcomes, the length of time a child spends in such a neighborhood is a critical variable.
A 2011 study by researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison published in the American Sociological Review, “Neighborhood Effects in Temporal Perspective: The Impact of Long-Term Exposure to Concentrated Disadvantage on High School Graduation,” focuses on the correlation between length of exposure to neighborhood disadvantage and academic performance as measured by high school graduation rates. The researchers recruited 2,800 low-income U.S. households with a one-year-old infant over ten years (between 1968 and 1978), and then tracked the children’s high school graduation rates. Data on student performance was measured against neighborhood information from the GeoLytics Neighborhood Change Database.
Key research findings include:
- Only about 9% of non-black children spent the majority of their childhoods in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, while 65% of black children were similarly exposed. “Black children, therefore, were about seven times more likely than non-black children to experience long-term residence in the most disadvantaged 20 percent of American neighborhoods.”
- More than one in three black children and about one in six non-black children remained in a disadvantaged neighborhood throughout their childhoods. But they did not necessarily remain in the same disadvantaged neighborhood: 30% of black children and 44% non-black children moved among different disadvantaged neighborhoods at least three times by the time they were 17 years old.
- Compared with those who experienced a medium-quality neighborhood, long-term residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood reduced a black child’s chance of graduating from high school by about 65%, and a non-black child’s graduation chances by about 40%.
- Sustained residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood — versus a high-quality neighborhood — reduced a black child’s chance of graduating from high school by about 90%, and a non-black child’s graduation chances by about 70%.
The authors conclude that “the consequences of long-term exposure to disadvantaged neighborhoods documented in this study suggest that neighborhood effects research is essential to understanding the reproduction of poverty. While the present study does not speak to the efficacy of specific policy interventions … it seems likely that a lasting commitment to neighborhood improvement and income desegregation would be necessary to resolve the problems identified here.”
Tags: African-American, poverty, inequality, race
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the American Sociological Review study titled "Neighborhood Effects in Temporal Perspective: The Impact of Long-Term Exposure to Concentrated Disadvantage on High School Graduation."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related Miller-McCune article titled "Poor Neighborhoods Mean Fewer High School Grads."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example, does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.