A new study by New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and the Institute for Education and Social Policy shows that New York City children who live in public housing perform worse in school than children who live in other types of housing. The study demonstrates that students living in public housing are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate in four years than those who do not live in public housing. Even controlling for differences in race, gender, nativity status, and school characteristics, the study finds that fifth grade students living in public housing perform worse on standardized tests than those living elsewhere.

The report is the first large-scale study of the academic performance of children growing up in the city's 343 public housing complexes. It is based on public school data from 2002-03 academic year, including student demographics and test scores and teacher and school characteristics.

The study does not provide a definitive reason why the two types of students perform differently, but it offers several possible explanations. The researchers suggest that public housing's culture of poverty offers few role models to stress the importance of education, limits their resources, and exposes them to crime or peer pressure from those not doing well in school. Families who live in public housing may also differ from other poor families in ways that are difficult to measure.

"'We don't know' is the short answer," said Vicki Been, Elihu Root Professor of Law and Professor of Public Policy and director of the Furman Center. "We don't have the data that would enable us to pin that down."