Housing Influences Children's Education, but What Works and How?

Housing Influences Children's Education, but What Works and How?
Mary Cunningham, Graham MacDonald
Publication Date:
May 2012
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What do we know about housing's connection with children's education outcomes, and what more do we need to know? The What Works Collaborative, convened by the Urban Institute, brought together a team of experts to assess the state of the evidence base and the remaining gaps. The What Works Collaborative's report, Housing as a Platform for Improving Education Outcomes among Low-Income Children, offers clarity about the major methodological issues facing housing and education research, and offers a model for understanding how the two fields relate to one another.

Of key concern for understanding housing research is which aspect of the "housing bundle" it addresses. The report notes four housing dimensions that can affect children's education:

  • housing quality,
  • residential stability,
  • housing affordability, and
  • neighborhood location.

To improve future research, the Collaborative outlined some common challenges, largely about measurements and controls, that affect the policy relevance and clarity of the findings. Methodological challenges include inadequately controlling for family characteristics, not fully measuring or unbundling housing, insufficiently describing the housing program or policy being studied, and taking too simplistic an approach to school quality or education measures.

Major findings:

  • Residential instability and neighborhood location have well-documented effects on education outcomes.
  • When it comes to children’s education outcomes, housing and education policy are interconnected. Therefore, these two policy areas (and research on them) should be more linked.
  • Given government budget realities, researchers should evaluate whether modest ("shallow") housing subsidies can reduce the frequency of unwanted moves.
  • For research to improve policy and practice, the methodology must focus on definitions and measures in order to answer exactly what works and how.