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A study suggests the house you live in could shape your kid's kindergarten readiness

Jul 1, 2016

Here at State of Opportunity, we've been talking a lot lately about how your neighborhood can shape the person you become.

Researchers have narrowed down the impact of neighborhoods to factors as specific as the city block where you live.

Today I read a post from The Atlantic about a recent study from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland that suggests the impact of where you live could be narrowed down even more.

According to the study, "Leveraging Integrated Data Systems to Examine the Effect of Housing and Neighborhood Conditions on Kindergarten Readiness," a child's development may also be affected by the physical condition of the house where they live.

Study authors wanted to find out if a home's condition could be linked to a child's academic performance, and if dilapidated housing correlated with a higher risk of child abuse, residential instability, and lead poisoning.

According to The Atlantic:

One of the most important findings they came across was that the amount of time a child spent living in housing units that were tax delinquent, in foreclosure, or owned by a speculator had significant effects on kindergarten readiness. Children who fared the worst were those who had spent the most time in neglected houses and neighborhoods and, perhaps relatedly, also who had tested positive for lead poisoning. Researchers estimated that these children’s scores were 15 percent lower on literacy tests than those living in the best conditions. Poor housing conditions were also linked to higher rates of child abuse and familial instability, which are known to hurt kindergarten performance. One factor that seemed to have no correlation with a child’s kindergarten outcomes was living in a home with a low market value.

For the study, researchers examined the literacy scores of every kid entering kindergarten in Cleveland public schools between 2007 and 2010 - nearly 14,000 kids. They compared their literacy scores to assessments of the house where they grew up. While this large sample size is one of the study's strengths, there were also some limitations.

According to The Atlantic, it relied on a kindergarten test that only measured literacy skills, which has since been replaced by the state of Ohio with a more comprehensive assessment of literacy and social and emotional developments.

Also, almost 70 percent of kids in the study were black, more than three-quarters were from low-income families, and about a third lived in homes worth less than $30,000. Researchers didn't have access to data from Cleveland's private or charter schools. 

But study author Rob Fischer says this research still reflects the need for public policy to focus on more than just ending family homelessness in urban areas like Cleveland. He told The Atlantic:

The discussion also needs to include getting people into better housing, instead of just being satisfied that they have an address. There needs to be much more on the quality of housing and moving up toward better housing opportunities.