Children, Families, and Schools Project
Unequal development among children from different racial and ethnic groups is a pervasive feature of U.S. society. Differences in social and cognitive characteristics are evident among children before they enter formal schooling and these increase over the years. Material sources of disadvantage are widely recognized, but economic aspects of family background tell only part of the story.
Social scientists have increasingly noted that the ecological aspects of development also contribute to inequalities among children from different racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. By ecological we mean the variety of institutions that impinge on children’s lives, and the relations among these institutions.
This project measures the effects of social capital on the cognitive and social development of children in the early elementary years. We focus on children from low-income Latino families. That’s because of the serious economic, social, and educational disadvantages often experienced by members of this group and because of the particular features of Latino families that make them a uniquely compelling target population for a study of social capital.
By social capital we mean relations of trust and shared expectations among members of a social network.
We will implement and assess a randomized trial of an intervention program known as Families and Schools Together (FAST). FAST is designed to enhance social capital among parents, teachers, and children through an intensive after-school program and long-term follow-up. FAST has been identified as an exemplary evidence-based model and has been implemented in over 800 schools across the country. It has been tested in four previous randomized trials, but only at the level of individual impact, not at the ecological level or through multilevel interactions.
The present study involves random assignment of schools (rather than individuals) to intervention and control groups and the engagement of all first graders and their families in a school into multi-family groups. This arrangement will allow us to capture the ecological conditions in which family-school relations are embedded, and to assess effects that cross the multilevel boundaries of families and schools. School districts in Phoenix and San Antonio have agreed to participate.
We hypothesize that children in the experimental group will display stronger social skills and school performance and fewer problem behaviors—because of experimentally induced changes in family-school social capital—than children in the control group. We also hypothesize that increases in family- school social capital among disadvantaged families will reduce inequalities in child development, particularly for low-income Latino children.