MSASS Professor Learns More About Schools' Role in Revitalizing Neighborhoods

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

Cleveland, Ohio

John Adams High School, located in Cleveland, Ohio, serves grades 9-12 in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

Mark Joseph, assistant professor at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, does too. He's examining how public schools have a role in 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.

Joseph and 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.

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 can shake things up. According to Joseph, they are a critical component in linking middle-class families and lower-income families to the broader social and economic mainstream.

"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."

He and Feldman 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 behavioral 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 building relationships and networks beyond the school walls.
  • As a place that builds a collective identity for the neighborhood.
  • As an institutional resource for the entire community.

The solution 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 performer. The increasing trend is for people to migrate to neighborhoods reflective of their income levels, but build a successful school and they will come.