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Award Honors Ed Research That Casts Light on the 'Long Shadow' of Poverty

Public education may provide a path to success, but many children born in poverty never find it. A trio of Baltimore researchers who tracked 30 years of pitfalls and roadblocks that hobble those children have been honored with a national award.   

Last year, my colleague Karla Reid over at K-12 Parents and the Public wrote about Johns Hopkins University researchers Karl Alexander, the late Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson's book, "The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood." It described a three-decade study tracking nearly 800 Baltimore students from the time they entered 1st grade, through school and into the workforce. 

The University of Louisville this morning honored the research with its 2016 Grawemeyer Award in Education, given for "outstanding works in ... ideas improving world order, psychology, and education."

"Studies of this depth and breadth that include census data, historical narratives, personal interviews, race, gender, family background, neighborhood and school conditions and social mobility over a lifetime are quite rare," said Melissa Evans-Andris, who directs the award, in a statement. "The authors conclude that children's life outcomes are substantially determined by the families they are born into. For example, just 4 percent of the youngsters from low-income families went on to get a college degree by age 28."

By contrast, 45 percent of students from middle-class backgrounds went to college, the researchers found. Poor children fared worse than wealthier ones across an array of adult issues, the researchers found.


They also found that schools helped perpetuate race-based inequities. For example, high-income black and white students were more likely to attend racially integrated elementary schools, while students in poverty were more likely to be segregated both by race and socio-economic status. 

Chart: Poor children were more likely to have problems as adults, the researchers found. Source: The Long Shadow, 2014.

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