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How school quality affects the success of a conditional cash transfer program

The achievement gap between children of families in the highest and lowest income groups in the United States has been widening steadily in recent years. There are two primary theories explaining the link between socioeconomic status and children’s achievement. One theory suggests that economic hardship leads to parental stress, which in turn affects parental mental health, family interactions, and ultimately children’s achievement. An alternate model suggests that limited economic resources restrict parents’ ability to invest in children, and thus hinders children’s educational attainment. Recent studies suggest that in addition to families, school settings play a key role in the widening achievement gap as children progress through school. Conditional cash transfer programs offer cash assistance to low-income families to reduce immediate hardship, but condition this assistance on actions such as investing in children’s educational achievement and family preventive health care, in the hope of improving children’s longer-term success. Inspired by Mexico’s Oportunidades program, conditional cash transfer programs have become a very popular antipoverty initiative in lower- and middle-income countries over the past decade. Evaluations of these programs have found some important successes in reducing poverty and increasing investments in children. Opportunity NYC – Family Rewards is the first comprehensive conditional cash transfer program to be implemented and evaluated in a higher-income country.6 This article summarizes a study that looked at whether and how school quality affected Family Rewards program effects on high school students’ educational processes and achievement. This is the first study to consider the role of school context in examining the results of a conditional cash transfer program on educational outcomes, and uses an expanded set of outcomes that include children’s approaches to schooling, parental investment in their children, and academic achievement.


Economic Support, Economic Support General, Education & Training, Family & Partnering, Health, Health Care, K-12 Education, Parenting, Place, Place General