Students’ home environments hurting education opportunities in Harris County, Baker Institute study finds


Jeff Falk

Avery Ruxer Franklin

Students’ home environments hurting education opportunities in Harris County, Baker Institute study finds

HOUSTON – (Sept. 21, 2020) – A new report from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy shows that students in Harris County face major challenges to their overall well-being and academic success.

Why Are Children Underperforming in School?” published by a team from the institute’s Center for Health and Biosciences (CHB) shows how Harris County children are affected by their environments — and how federal and state evaluations of schools’ academic performance do not take these factors into account.

“Many children in Harris County and throughout the nation face a variety of barriers that impede their ability to learn. Yet school evaluations are only based on the students’ academic performance,” wrote authors Quianta Moore, the fellow in child health policy at the Baker Institute; Christopher Kulesza, research analyst at the CHB’s Child Health Policy Program (CHPP); and Hannah Bablak and Selena Guo, interns at the CHPP.

Using data from student and parent surveys administered during the 2018-19 academic year in 78 Harris County schools, the researchers found a significant number of students experienced food insecurity, bullying, school mobility (switching schools), neighborhood violence and depression. The brain functions that affect learning and behavior are negatively impacted by such experiences as well as such challenges as parental divorce or violence in the home, according to the research.

“All of these factors correlate with poor academic outcomes,” they posit.

Concentrations of students who have had such adverse experiences is not a factor in the Texas Education Agency’s evaluation of school performance. The authors intend for their report to “open lines of discussion on the disparities among schools” in Harris County to better understand the challenges students face and increase “opportunities to develop and implement targeted interventions within schools and establish policies that result in more equitable outcomes for students,” they wrote.


To schedule an interview with Moore or Kulesza or for more information, contact Avery Franklin, media relations specialist at Rice, at or 713-348-6327.

Related materials:


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Kulesza bio:

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Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks as the No. 2 university-affiliated think tank in the world and the No. 1 energy think tank in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About Avery Ruxer Franklin

Avery is a media relations specialist in the Office of Public Affairs.