ResearchUNC Charlotte

Charlotte Research Links School Zone Quality To Student Achievement

In groundbreaking research conducted by UNC Charlotte Belk College of Business Assistant Professor of Economics Kelly Vosters and colleague Thomas Mayock, it has been revealed that families with low and moderate incomes who reside in communities zoned for higher quality schools witness significant improvements in their children’s academic performance.

“Historically, access to single-family homes in neighborhoods with top-tier schools was limited to those who could afford to purchase them,” remarked Vosters, who also serves as a Gambrell faculty fellow at UNC Charlotte. “Finding a single-family home for rent in a high-quality school zone was a considerable challenge.”

However, during the Great Recession that commenced in 2007, the landscape shifted dramatically as rental homes in desirable school zones became more accessible. This phenomenon was spurred by the acquisition of foreclosed properties, which were subsequently converted into rental homes by companies and individuals. Notably, the number of single-family homes available for rent in North Carolina surged by approximately 30% from 2007 to 2016, echoing a national trend that persisted even beyond the recession’s aftermath.

While policymakers and homeowners expressed apprehensions about this trend, Vosters and Mayock, alongside Virginia Tech’s Michael G. Miller Professor of Real Estate, Michael G. Miller, sought to explore its potential implications, leveraging their expertise in education, intergenerational mobility, and housing.

Their groundbreaking research, outlined in their May 2024 paper titled “Educational Achievement Gains Afforded by Moving to Single-Family Rentals,” indicates that children from lower-income families experience substantial academic gains when attending higher-performing schools accessible through single-family rentals.

Utilizing a unique database that links statewide student-level education records with housing units, the researchers observed that a one standard deviation increase in school quality corresponded to over a 0.5 standard deviation increase in student achievement. Importantly, these gains were not confined to specific demographic groups, as Black students and previously low-achieving students also benefited.

Vosters emphasized the significance of their findings, noting, “We’re among the first to examine how this shift in the single-family rental housing market impacts opportunities and outcomes for children.” She underscored that their analysis encompassed all single-family rental units, not solely those owned by corporations.

Expanding their research beyond North Carolina, the team explored metropolitan areas in other states, utilizing math test scores as a key metric for academic achievement.

In addition to enhancing academic outcomes, the researchers posit that moves to single-family homes in high-performing school zones facilitate increased exposure to high-income peers, a factor strongly correlated with upward economic mobility.

However, the study also acknowledges potential challenges associated with investor purchases of single-family units, such as reduced minority homeownership rates and the destabilizing impact of student turnover. Nonetheless, the researchers contend that the benefits of expanding access to high-performing public schools for renters’ children outweigh these concerns.

Vosters highlighted that while homes for rent in top-quality school zones may remain unaffordable for the lowest-income families, the research represents a significant step towards equalizing opportunities across socioeconomic status. “This doesn’t solve all of the problems,” she cautioned, “but anything that can break down the link between income and access to opportunities is an advancement.”

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