What Comes First - School Reform or Housing Development?

Award-winning study by Robert Mark Silverman revisits 'chicken-and-egg dilemma' for neighborhood revitalization strategies

By Rachel Teaman

Published November 18, 2014

A recent study by Robert Mark Silverman that revisits the "chicken-and-egg" dilemma around neighborhood revitalization and educational reform has earned the 2014 Best Article Award from Leadership and Policy in Schools, the journal in which it was published.

The article, "Urban, Suburban and Rural Contexts of School Districts and Neighborhood Revitalization Strategies: Rediscovering Equity in Education Policy and Urban Planning," addresses continuing disagreement between educational reformers and urban planners on what should take precedence in community development processes - providing quality schools and supportive services, or developing housing. Silverman, professor of urban and regional planning, argues that the answer depends upon the school district's local context (view article).

Professor Robert Mark Silverman

Based on a study of school districts and communities across New York State, Silverman finds that the relationship between housing prices - an indicator of a community's socioeconomic health - and schools varies across urban, suburban and rural districts. Consequently, reform and revitalization strategies must be tailored at the local level. For instance, strategies that aim to attract middle-class homeowners are insufficient for older, core cities, where direct educational reform and supportive services for low-income families are needed. Alternatively, uniform revitalization strategies for distressed communities would be more appropriate for traditional middle-class suburbs.

Silverman states that convincing urban planners to place a greater emphasis on school reform will require a concerted effort. He references a landmark study (Varady and Raffel, 1995) that argued for the use of housing policies to attract middle-class homeowners to older, core cities. He also cites an enduring assumption held by Realtors and urban planners that school quality has a strong influence on where people decide to purchase homes. 

Silverman recommends that educational reformers and urban planners advocate for states and the federal government to assume a more central role in the promotion of educational equity and the subsequent stabilization of neighborhoods in older core cities.