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Journal Issue: The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies Volume 17 Number 2 Fall 2007

Improving the Education of Children Living in Poverty
Richard J. Murnane


  1. Data are from the Current Population Survey and were taken from the Economic Policy Institute Data Zone,
  2. Richard J. Murnane and others, “How Important Are the Cognitive Skills of Teenagers in Predicting Subsequent Earnings?” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 19, no. 4 (Fall 2000): 547–68.
  3. Richard J. Murnane, John B. Willett, and Frank Levy, “The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills,” Review of Economics and Statistics 77, no. 2 (May 1995): 251–66.
  4. National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2005 Mathematics Assessment (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences).
  5. Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters, “Locating the Dropout Crisis—Which High Schools Produce the Nation’s Dropouts? Where Are They Located? Who Attends Them?” (Johns Hopkins University, September 2004),
  6. For example, 16 percent of public school students in Boston have limited English proficiency, compared with 5 percent of students statewide ( 164&view=enr).
  7. This description of standards-based educational reforms is taken from Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane, The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market (Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 134–35.
  8. See Center on Education Policy, Title I Funds: Who’s Gaining, Who’s Losing and Why (Washington, 2004),
  9. Robert L. Linn, “Accountability: Responsibility and Reasonable Expectations,” Educational Researcher 32, no. 7 (October 2003): 7.
  10. For a discussion of the difficulties in getting the incentives right in accountability systems and the consequences of not doing so, see Helen F. Ladd and Randall P. Walsh, “Implementing Value-Added Measures of School Effectiveness: Getting the Incentives Right,” Economics of Education Review 21, no. 1 (February 2002): 1–17.
  11. Robert L. Linn, “Fixing the NCLB Accountability System,” Policy Brief 8 (Los Angeles, Calif.: Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, Summer 2005).
  12. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “Education at a Glance: Highlights” (Paris, 2006), p. 10,, p. 10.
  13. Robert Linn is distinguished professor emeritus of education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In this section, the ideas for revising the adequate yearly progress formula are taken from Robert L. Linn, “Toward a More Effective Definition of Adequate Yearly Progress,” paper prepared for the Measurement and Accountability Roundtable sponsored by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, Washington, November 16–17, 2006.
  14. Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O. Staiger, “Unintended Consequences of Racial Subgroup Rules,” in No Child Left Behind? The Politics and Practice of Accountability, edited by Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West (Brookings, 2003), pp. 152–76. As these authors explain, the greater difficulties that schools with heterogeneous student populations face in meeting adequate yearly progress stem from the instability of statistics based on small numbers of scores.
  15. For a discussion of methods of using growth in student achievement to measure adequate yearly progress, see Martin R.West, “No Child Left Behind: How to Give It a Passing Grade,” Policy Brief 149 (Brookings, December 2005).
  16. Christina A. Samuels and Michelle R. Davis, “2 States Selected for ‘Growth Model’ Pilot,” Education Week 25, no. 38 (May 24, 2006): 27–28.
  17. The National Governors’ Association (NGA) provides a brief description of the Graduation Counts Compact at (accessed December 19, 2006). According to the document on this website, states have agreed to “take steps to implement a standard, four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. States agree to calculate the graduation rate by dividing the number of on-time graduates in a given year by the number of first-time entering ninth graders four years earlier. Graduates are those receiving a high school diploma. The denominator can be adjusted for transfers in and out of the system and data systems will ideally track individual students with a longitudinal student unit record data system. Special education students and recent immigrants with limited English proficiency can be assigned to different cohorts to allow them more time to graduate.”
  18. Lynn Olson, “Number of Graduation Exams Required by States Levels Off,” Education Week 26, no. 1 (August 30, 2006): 28, 32.
  19. The American Diploma Project, Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts, executive summary, p. 2,
  20. For a discussion of the reason why these skills are increasingly important in workplaces full of computers, see Levy and Murnane, The New Division of Labor (see note 7).
  21. James J. Kemple, Career Academies: Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes and Educational Attainment (New York: MDRC, March 2004).
  22. For a discussion of the standard-setting collaborations among states taking place under the auspices of Achieve, see Closing the Expectations Gap 2006 (February 2006). In its September 2006 electronic newsletter, Perspectives, Achieve reported that the number of states participating in the American Diploma Project had grown to twenty-five.
  23. Sean Cavanagh, “NAEP Governing Board Gives Nod to More Complex 12th Grade Math,” Education Week 26, no. 1 (August 30, 2006): 9.
  24. This section draws heavily from 12th Grade Student Achievement in America: A New Vision for NAEP, a Report to the National Assessment Governing Board, National Commission on NAEP 12th Grade Assessment and Reporting (March 5, 2004).
  25. Daniel M. Koretz, “Limitations in the Use of Achievement Tests as Measures of Educators’ Productivity,” Journal of Human Resources 37, no. 4 (Autumn 2002): 752–77.
  26. While the law specifies that school districts must create transfer options for students in schools that do not make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row, to date this provision has rarely been enforced.
  27. Goodwin Liu and William L. Taylor, “School Choice to Achieve Desegregation,” Fordham Law Review 74, no. 2 (November 2005): 791–823.
  28. Joshua D. Angrist and Kevin Lang, “How Important Are Classroom Peer Effects? Evidence from Boston’s Metco Program,” American Economic Review 94, no. 5 (December 2004): 1613–34.
  29. See Liu and Taylor, “School Choice to Achieve Desegregation” (see note 27) for a description of this evidence.
  30. See, for example, Steven G. Rivkin, Eric A. Hanushek, and John F. Kain, “Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement,” Econometrica 73, no. 2 (2005): 417–58.
  31. Paul T. Decker, Daniel P. Mayer, and Steven Glazerman, The Effects of Teach for America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation (Mathematica Policy Research, June 2004).
  32. Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen, “Do School District Takeovers Work?” State Education Standard (National Association of State Boards of Education) (Spring 2002): 19–23.
  33. Lynn Olson, “Financial Evolution,” Education Week 24, no. 17 (January 6, 2005): 8–12, 14.
  34. Cynthia Prince, “Higher Pay in Hard-to-Staff Schools: The Case for Financial Incentives” (Arlington, Va.: American Association of School Administrators, June 2002), higher_pay.pdf.
  35. Learning First Alliance, “A Shared Responsibility: Staffing All High-Poverty, Low-Performing Schools with Effective Teachers and Administrators” (May 2005), p. 6, In addition to initiatives that focus specifically on improving the quality of instruction in high-poverty schools, there is a growing interest in basing teachers’ pay, at least in part, on evidence of students’ test score gains. See, for example, Jennifer Azordegan and others, “Diversifying Teacher Compensation,” issue paper (Education Commission of the States, December 2005). A critical question is how particular performance- based pay plans would influence the relative attractiveness of teaching in high-poverty schools.
  36. See Gary Orfield, ed., Dropouts in America: Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis (Harvard Education Press, 2004).
  37. This list is taken from Janet Quint, Meeting Five Critical Challenges of High School Reform (New York: MDRC, May 2006).
  38. The Department of Health and Human Services’ policy was a response to Section 1115 of the Social Security Act, which allowed the federal government to grant waivers from provisions of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children law to states that wanted to test new welfare reform provisions. One condition for a waiver was that the state commission a rigorous evaluation of the consequences of the trial provisions. See Judith M. Gueron and Edward Pauly, From Welfare to Work (New York: Russell Sage, 1991); and Judith M. Gueron and Gayle Hamilton, “The Role of Education and Training in Welfare Reform,” Policy Brief (New York: MDRC, 2002).
  39. For an example of a high-quality random assignment evaluation of a program to improve high school education, see James J. Kemple, Career Academies: Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes and Educational Attainment (New York: MDRC, March 2004).
  40. The estimated cost figures for the proposals to increase high school graduation rates are taken from Adria Steinberg, Cassius Johnson, and Hilary Pennington, Addressing America’s Dropout Challenge (Center for American Progress and Jobs for the Future, November 2006). I also draw heavily on this document for ideas about the design of programs to increase high school graduation rates.
  41. This figure includes only the suggested annual increase of $25 million in grants to states to improve data systems. It does not include the $25 million currently allocated to such grants.
  42. The $12.7 billion for Title IA of ESEA is the recommendation of the Senate Committee for 2007, as reported on the Department of Education’s website: 07action.xls.
  43. H. Wilbert and M. Van Der Klaauw, “Breaking the Link between Poverty and Low Student Achievement: An Evaluation of Title 1,” Journal of Econometrics (forthcoming 2007).
  44. Nora Gordon, “Do Federal Grants Boost School Spending? Evidence from Title I,” Journal of Public Economics 88, nos.9-10 (2004): 1771–92.
  45. The argument in this paragraph is based on Gordon, “Do Federal Grants Boost School Spending?” (see note 44).