National Academy of Sciences

Classrooms and Neighborhoods: Social Science Explores Factors of Children’s Future Success

A landmark 1985 study sparked modern interest in these matters by posing a simple question: Does class size matter when it comes to student performance? The results reshaped public education.

In recent decades, social scientists have been amassing a body of scholarship about the determinants of success—in school and in life. They have produced compelling insights about how to overcome underlying social currents that often seem at odds with the American Dream.

The tools of social science enable researchers to address questions that once seemed unknowable—or at least unapproachable: Do the benefits of small classes for kids in grades K-3 extend to adulthood? Can good schools alone close the achievement gap? Do families living in poverty fare better when they’ve relocated to more affluent neighborhoods? Just how big are the gaps between rich and poor, black and white?

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