Neighborhood Predictors of School Performance for Latino and African American Children

Neighborhood Predictors of School Performance for Latino and African American Children
George Galster, Anna Santiago, Lisa Stack, Jackie Cutsinger
Journal of Urban Economics
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How are neighborhood contexts and educational outcomes for low-income Latino and African American youth linked? George Galster and his colleagues examine this question, quantifying the educational benefits of living in certain types of neighborhoods for this population in Denver. Conducting telephone surveys between 2006 and 2008 as part of the Denver Child Study, the authors interviewed caregivers who currently live or previously lived in Denver Housing Authority (DHA) housing for at least two years since 1987, were African American or Latino, and had at least one child under age 18 when the family moved into the DHA unit. The interviews provided data on children’s secondary school performance, as measured by three categories: repeating a grade, grade point average, and dropping out before earning a diploma. Using census data and information from The Piton Foundation’s Neighborhood Facts Database, the authors matched neighborhood indicators with where respondents lived. To minimize geographic selection bias among those surveyed, the authors limited the selection of participants to those who lived in DHA housing after 1987, when the DHA began matching housing assistance applicants with units that acted like pseudo random assignment, creating a natural experiment. By exploring the relationship between school performance and neighborhood indicators for these youth, the authors identify neighborhood characteristics that are predictors of better educational performance.

Key findings:

  • Neighborhoods with high-prestige workers are associated with fewer children dropping out of school, especially among Latinos.
  • Increased vulnerability—a measure that includes socioeconomic indicators like poverty, single female headship, and renter occupancy—in a neighborhood were linked with more students repeating a grade and receiving public assistance as a young adult, especially for Latino children.
  • Neighborhoods with higher concentrations of African American residents were linked with lower grades for students, particularly for African American children.
  • Larger percentages of foreign-born residents living in a neighborhood were correlated with fewer African American students dropping out.