- New national maps released last week explore the fates of roughly 20.5 million children born between 1978 and 1983, and using certain factors — such as present income, test scores, when they became parents and whether they ended up in prison — combined with examining their past environments, researchers try to determine the effect that specific neighborhoods have on children's futures, the New York Times reports..
The findings, published by researchers at Harvard and Brown universities, show wide variations in the economic futures of children in different neighborhoods, and it indicates that some past voucher programs clustered students in areas with the worst upward mobility. Though researchers note that certain characteristics, such as increased employment and two-parent families, are more common in neighborhoods with better upward mobility, they can’t fully explain why some communities are more nurturing to children than others.
Researchers hope the new data will lead to solutions that offer more advantages to families and help identify sites for Head Start programs and new “Opportunity Zones” created by the 2017 tax law.
Big data projects like this one allow researchers to explore the impacts of environment on children in ways that were not possible a few years ago. However, it seems like it will take some time to process exactly what the data means. Some answers reinforce what most educators and social scientists have long known to be true: Children who have a two-parent home where at least one parent is employed have better chances at success.
Most educators are also keenly aware that the neighborhood a child comes from makes a difference as well. Access to resources are not the whole story — in some neighborhoods, for instance, children are more likely to be exposed to violence and substance abuse, both of which are factors that affect the amount of trauma they endure before coming to school. These factors often have long-term effects, including hurting students' school performance.
Research like this could affect how educational resources allocated by certain programs, such as Head Start, are distributed. Past studies have also shown the impact of housing policies on educational outcomes. It is important for superintendents to keep abreast of research that shows how poverty and other social factors affect children they serve, and by doing so, they can better understand the issues that affect these young learners' lives and determine how to best support them.