November 25, 2009

Mandel School Professor Looks at Roles Schools Play in Revitalizing Cities

Before families with young children buy a new home, many parents want to know the quality of the neighborhood public schools.

For that reason, Mark Joseph, assistant professor at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, examines how public schools also have a role in the revitalizing urban neighborhoods–especially neighborhoods where new mixed-income developments are being built.

He's particularly interested in housing under development in Chicago and other major cities with HOPE VI funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While it is an ideal to have good schools in these new neighborhoods under construction, Joseph and co-author Jessica Feldman from the University of Chicago report challenges facing these schools in the article, "Creating and Sustaining Successful Mixed-Income Communities: Conceptualizing the Role of Schools," which appeared in the journal Education and Society.

According to Joseph, schools are a critical component in linking middle-class families and lower-income families to the broader social and economic mainstream.

In a prior study, Joseph found that the income groups do not always mix in these housing situations and many middle class families do not have children.

But schools have a role that can build and strengthen the neighborhoods over time.

"Beyond their value in attracting and retaining families," Joseph says, "schools also have unique qualities as local institutions that can bring diverse constituencies into meaningful and sustained contact with each other."

Building mixed-income neighborhoods requires local amenities such as stores and services but schools can be a stabilizing factor, Joseph says.

The researchers outline five ways in which high-quality schools can play an important role for mixed-income housing:

  • As a setting to build positive social and behavior skills used to navigate broader society.
  • As an amenity that attracts and retains middle-class families with school-aged children.
  • As a forum for interactions between children and parents and build relationships and networks beyond the school walls.
  • As a place that builds a collective identity to the neighborhood
  • As an institutional resource for the entire community.

The situation isn't as easy as just building a school. The learning and social activities within the building must be geared toward children with a wide range of abilities, levels of preparation, aptitude and familial support, the researchers say.

And it takes time for a neighborhood school to build its reputation as a high-performing school.

The increasing trend is for people to migrate to neighborhoods reflective of their income levels, but a successful mixed income neighborhood has to break that trend and attract low-, moderate- and high-income levels.

Schools can be part of that solution if sound boundaries include the mixed income neighborhood.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, November 25, 2009 01:09 PM | News Topics: Collaborations/Partnerships, Community Outreach, Faculty, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Provost Initiatives, Research

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