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«Moving to opportunity voluMe 14, nuMber 2 • 2012 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»

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Cityscape 159 Gennetian, Sciandra, Sanbonmatsu, Ludwig, Katz, Duncan, Kling, and Kessler social conditions. Children assigned to the two treatment groups attended schools that served students who were slightly less likely to have very low test scores, be poor, or be members of racial and ethnic minority groups compared with the student served in the schools that children in the control group attended, but they were still in generally low-performing schools that served overwhelmingly poor and majority-minority student populations. These findings raise questions about whether investing directly in schools might be more effective for improving schooling outcomes among economically disadvantaged youth (see a recent review of literature in Duncan and Murnane, 2011). For example, studies have found Success for All, a comprehensive reading intervention that involves extra time for reading, ability grouping, frequent assessment, and remediation (including tutoring), to improve reading scores for elementary and perhaps middle schoolchildren (Borman et al., 2007; Chamberlain et al., 2007). High schools organized as career academies that integrate academic and technical curricula and work-based learning opportunities with local employers produced sizable long-term (11-year) earnings improvements for youth in low-income urban settings (Kemple, 2008).

The MTO design is not well suited to answer how or why MTO produced the effects it did, particularly the differences between females and males. The survey data measured several of the proposed mechanisms, however, and future research will investigate them. Qualitative interviews can further deepen our understanding of how MTO altered the lives of families. Qualitative interviews with families after the interim followup survey suggest that the nature of how boys and girls interact socially with peers may mean that girls are more likely to successfully adapt to life in low-poverty areas. Parents reported that girls were more likely to visit with friends on their porches or inside their homes, in part because they placed their girls on a shorter leash than they did their boys. Boys, on the other hand, often hang out in public spaces, elevating the risk for conflict with neighbors and police and increasing their exposure to delinquent peer groups and opportunities to engage in delinquent activities themselves (Clampet-Lundquist et al., 2006; Popkin, Leventhal, and Weismann, 2008).

MTO generated large reductions in the neighborhood poverty and improvements in the neighborhood safety experienced by families in the two treatment groups relative to the families in the control group during the 10 to 15 years after random assignment. The low-poverty and traditional vouchers led to much smaller changes in MTO children’s school quality than in their residential neighborhood conditions, however. Because of its random-assignment design, MTO provides crucial data and compelling evidence on the likely effects on families of such moves from extremely poor to less poor neighborhoods. One difference between the MTO experiment results and those from the broader literature on neighborhood effects is that MTO did not result in many families moving to truly affluent neighborhoods. Another is, of course, that most of that broader literature is nonexperimental, which raises concerns about the nonrandom sorting of families into neighborhoods, even conditional on rich controls for the variables contained in standard data sets. Our overall conclusions about those effects on youth outcomes after 10 to 15 years are similar to those we reached after 4 to 7 years. For educational outcomes in particular, we conclude over both time horizons that if achievement effects exist, they are small and not detectable in our analysis. Most surprisingly, that result holds for children who were very young at the time of their initial moves out of poor neighborhoods.

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Authors Lisa A. Gennetian is a senior research director of economic studies at The Brookings Institution.

Matthew Sciandra is a research analyst at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Lisa Sanbonmatsu is a senior researcher at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Jens Ludwig is the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law, and Public Policy at the University of Chicago and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Lawrence F. Katz is the Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics at Harvard University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Greg J. Duncan is a distinguished professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine.

Jeffrey R. Kling is associate director for economic analysis at the Congressional Budget Office and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Ronald C. Kessler is the McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School.

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