Despite the multiple and diverse types of school reform to influence instruction, curriculum and fiscal policies, many urban students have low educational success and attainment. A fundamental problem of school reform is that it fails to address the economic, social, physical and cultural challenges that plague urban communities, families and children. Many urban neighborhoods are plagued by violence, crime, homelessness, property damage, poverty and other ruinous and dire circumstances. The empirical literature on neighborhood effects has described a positive relationship between neighborhood conditions and youth developmental and behavioral outcomes. However, the results vary, and there is little consensus on which neighborhood characteristics is most important.
The present study examines this issue by identifying several neighborhood characteristics that influence students' college-going behaviors and beliefs, specifically their college preparation, aspirations and enrollment. This study is difference from previous research in that it incorporates ideas from place-identity theory to conceptualize the individual experiences students face in have in their neighborhoods. To conceptualize or measure concepts related to place-identity theory, I use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to create student-level measures of neighborhood characteristics.
The main data source for this study is the Philadelphia Educational Longitudinal Study (PELS), a seven-wave, longitudinal investigation of high school students and their parents. For this study, PELS is utilized to describe students' background characteristics, educational aspirations, and academic engagement and to link students to school data. In addition, census and geographic data are used to measure neighborhood disadvantage and students' spatial relationship to neighborhood liquor and beer stores and drug crimes.
Consistent with findings from other neighborhood effects studies, the results from this study are mixed. Specifically, the findings reveal that the presence of some types of liquor stores and indicators of neighborhood disadvantage predict students' college-related indicators. The finding also indicate the individual-level neighborhood characteristics, that is the neighborhood features encountered the events experienced and those things seen by students, are important.
Overall, I conclude from this study that student' experiences outside of school matter. Furthermore, this research suggests that future neighborhood research should utilize theories that directly hone in on individual perspectives and development, rather than focus on macro theories that solely focus on neighborhood processes, relationship and aggregate characteristics. Furthermore, future studies should incorporate GIS technologies and spatial analyses. Finally, I recommend that school reform measures to alleviate educational gaps and shortfalls should not only focus on the schooling environment, but also should incorporate broader policies to directly confront urban neighborhood disadvantage and family challenges.