Cool People You Should Know: Stefanie DeLuca
DeLuca's work on the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program, which attempted to relocate poor families from high-poverty neighborhoods by providing housing vouchers, is a good example of her ability to get her head around tough problems in novel ways. Though everyone expected that moving to a better neighborhood would have a positive impact on students' academic achievement, the MTO project found no effects. DeLuca, who interviewed program participants in Baltimore, has attempted to explain why in this article in Education Next. You can read an interesting bio-profile about her experiences conducting this research here. Her conclusions are worth quoting at length:
The interviews conducted in Baltimore shed light on the explanations for why the MTO experiment didn’t lead to better schools and educational achievement. Many MTO parents told us about frightening conditions in their children’s schools and their concern for their children’s well-being. Yet these fears and realities did not always translate into efforts to remove their children from these environments. Poor mothers and their children juggle myriad extreme conditions, and schooling is not always on the top of the list. Murder, crippling drug addiction, suspicious landlords, diabetes, and depression took center stage in the lives of many, if not most, MTO families we interviewed. While neighborhood change could be a necessary condition to protect children and improve their schooling, it is not sufficient in light of the deep morass of issues that characterize the lives of the urban poor.DeLuca's other projects will also be of interest to many eduwonkette readers. She has examined the effects of delaying entry into postsecondary education after high school, finding that delaying college is associated with lower odds of getting a BA. Another strain of her work looks at the effects of non-cognitive skills - for example, student effort, engagement, and motivation - on students' educational attainment (i.e. how long they stay in school and what degrees they earn). Very much looking forward to the papers coming out of that project.
Many social policies assume that all low-income parents approach opportunity the same way that most middle-class families do, and that the main problem is a lack of financial resources. Our interviews provide a reminder that poor families are not just wealthy families without a bankbook. Poor parents often have less information about school choice programs and school quality than do middle-class parents. Poor families may approach opportunities, and in particular may secure schooling for their children, in ways that diverge from many research models of educational decision making.
These insights are also relevant to school choice policy in general. Many cities, including those in which MTO families were living, have expanded school choice programs. No Child Left Behind gives parents the option of sending their child to another school if the current one doesn’t make adequate progress. The success of these policies in enhancing education opportunities for the types of families who participated in the MTO experiment will depend on gaining a better understanding of how these families view the school choice process and where it fits into their overall strategies for well-being.
If all of that wasn't enough, here's one more tidbit: It's rumored that DeLuca has impeccable taste in shoes. Can't vouch myself, but it came from a good source. A girl after my own heart indeed.