Neighborhoods, Schools, and Academic Achievement: A Formal Mediation Analysis of Contextual Effects on Reading and Mathematics
Although evidence indicates that neighborhoods affect educational outcomes, there is relatively little research on the mechanisms thought to mediate these effects. This study investigates whether school poverty mediates the effect of neighborhood context on academic achievement during adolescence. Specifically, it uses longitudinal data from the PSID together with counterfactual methods to estimate the total, natural direct, and natural indirect effects of adolescent exposure to advantaged rather than disadvantaged neighborhoods on reading and mathematics abilities. Total effects estimated from regression models that control for childhood measures of achievement, neighborhood context, and school poverty indicate that exposure to an advantaged rather than disadvantaged neighborhood during adolescence substantially reduces subsequent exposure to school poverty and improves academic achievement. Estimates of natural direct and indirect effects, however, indicate that the total effect of adolescent neighborhood context is not significantly mediated by school poverty because the differences in school composition induced by moving to an advantaged rather than disadvantaged neighborhood have only a small impact on achievement. These findings are highly robust to hypothetical patterns of unobserved confounding and to alternative measures of school context, which suggests that neighborhood effects, at least during adolescence, are largely due to mediating factors unrelated to school poverty.