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Going the Distance! How Distance to School Relates to Education Outcomes

  • Author(s): Thomas, Crystal Anne
  • Advisor(s): Freisthler, Bridget J.
  • et al.

Introduction: More education contributes to cumulative advantage across the life course and is strongly associated with a variety of social welfare outcomes. Educational inequality is spatially concentrated in segregated neighborhoods and primarily impacts students from low-income households. Consequently, education reform has long centered on the process of transporting minority students to presumably better schools outside of the local neighborhood and similar policies persist today. Yet, it remains unclear how travelling far distances might impact student’s achievement, particularly in an urban sprawl such as Los Angeles. This study seeks to understand the relationship between distance to school and educational outcomes in order to better understand the impact of current educational policies on children’s education.

Methods: Secondary analyses were conducted using the LA Family and Neighborhood Survey, Wave 2, collected during 2006-2007. The study sample was composed of 1,014 children. OLS regression models assessed key relationships. Distance to school is measured in miles from home to school location. Neighborhood segregation indices were created to assess income segregation and racial segregation separately. Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement measured reading ability, mathematical ability and basic vocabulary skills.

Results: Distance to school is significantly related to mathematical ability. Neighborhood income segregation and racial segregation are both significantly, negatively related to mathematical ability and reading ability, but not basic vocabulary skills. The interactions between distance and income segregation and distance and racial segregation are significantly, positively related to mathematical ability.

Conclusions: Greater distance to school is associated with higher mathematical scores; however, results also suggest that additional factors, such as school satisfaction, account for improved mathematical outcomes. While the interactions between neighborhood segregation and distance are positively significant, the effects are not large enough to completely offset the negative association between neighborhood segregation and educational ability. Students in highly segregated neighborhoods score significantly lower on all three measures of academic ability. These findings suggest that greater distance to school is not a significant pathway to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged students. Consequently, school choice programs that seek to improve educational outcomes by transporting students farther distances to school may not be significantly effective in improving educational ability.

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