“Science often involves the construction and use of a wide variety of models and simulations to help develop explanations about natural phenomena. Models make it possible to go beyond observables and imagine a world not yet seen.”
Although the achievement gaps between ethnic groups have been reduced over the past half-century, those that are tied to family income have actually widened. Children whose family income is less that 200% of the federal poverty rate are more likely to have lower school achievement as measured by test scores, are less likely to enroll in post secondary programs, and are less likely to form stable families as adults. Note that the problems faced by children are still there, although in different form, when those children grow up.
This posting provides an example of how the construction of a model based on real world data can be used to help understand the both nature of a problem as well as help identify potential ways to address and solve the problem.
The Brooking Institute’s Center on Children and Families developed The Social Genome Model (SGM). The SGM is the beginning stages of its implementation and its creators have begun to use it to ask what the world might look like if we could successfully eliminate the income-based gap in early childhood. In this “what-if” experiment, we simulate what would happen if we improved the average chances of school readiness at age five for low-income children so they matched the levels of higher-income children. (http://www.brookings.edu/about/centers/ccf/social-genome-project)
What are the factors in life that make it more likely that the future of a child will be one in which the child will in fact have the opportunity to improve his or her life prospects?
The Social Genomic Model identifies a series of “life stages” in a child’s life along with the criteria that appear to be necessary to be successful at that milestone.
The good news for children who have pre-reading and math skills (print sense, phonemic awareness, number sense, for example) as well as the social behavior that allows them to work and play well with other children have an easier time being successful in school. More good news: those children are likely to continue to meet the challenges of the next stages more effectively.
The bad news: if a child is missing one or more of the traits, he or she will have a harder time being successful at the initial life milestone. More bad news: each subsequent life milestone will become more challenging.
The SGM is an “if-then?” engine that can generate different scenarios by changing the equations. What if, the equation is changed to include parent training and pre-school?
Low-income Hispanic mothers who were taught Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) were found to increase the emotional support for their pre-school children. The potential of pre-school for four year olds is well-documented.
Teaching parents the PALS and adding it to a pre-school program changes the equation so that children from economically poor families increase the likelihood by 20 percentage points, bringing them almost to the success level of children from the more affluent families.
More good news: according to the SGM data, changing the equation for children through a few interventions have the potential to bring about tangible improvement to those children when they are adults.
Add to the PALS and pre-school, Success for All and Social and Emotional Learning for Middle Childhood and Small High Schools of Choice for Adolescents at a cost per child of $24,900 results in an income change for the children as adults of $132,000. A nice return on the investment!