Home > Uncategorized > Christiansen Institute Examines Student Social Networks and Finds Yet Another Gap for the Disadvantaged

Christiansen Institute Examines Student Social Networks and Finds Yet Another Gap for the Disadvantaged

December 22, 2018

As the year comes to an end, the Christensen Institute blog offered one of those end-of-the-year-ten-best-lists that identified their ten best blog posts. In looking them over quickly, one caught my eye: Julia Freedland Fisher’s post titled The other gap that schools aren’t talking about. The post, which originally appeared in The 74Million, a blog that features articles that rationalize “choice” and vouchers as the solution to the inequality that plagues public education, posits the theory that researchers have overlooked a “new” gap that is more insidious than parent’s income and education, one Ms. Fisher calls the “social” gap:

A well-resourced childhood introduces a whole new set of inequities between rich and poor students, and those whose parents have or have not earned college degrees: social gaps.

Gaps in students’ networks matter immensely in both immediate and longer-term measures. Research groups like the Search Institute have shown that developmental relationships drive everything from higher grades to persistence in school. Down the line, an estimated 50 percent of jobs come through personal relationships.

In elaborating on this new gap, Ms. Fisher cites “Slim but troubling data collected by a host of scholars (that) illuminate the uneven terrain shaping young people’s social assets.” 

First, over the past three decades, the amount of time that college-educated parents spend with their children has dramatically increased, relative to that of their less educated peers.Second, these more educated parents offer their children an additional social asset besides time: a disproportionately professionalized social network of their own. More educated parents know more people working in the knowledge economy; in fact, according to Robert Putnam’s analysis in his book Our Kids, college-educated parents on average have social networks that include at least twice as many politicians, CEOs, and professors than those who received only a high school education or less.

Third, as income inequality has grown, children from wealthy families are enjoying a boon in enrichment spending relative to their low-income peers.This investment gap helps explain startling disparities in access to informal mentors (a fancy term for adults like coaches, teachers, and parents’ friends gained through a student’s everyday life). Low-income young people report significantly fewer informal mentors — particularly beyond their family and neighborhood — than their wealthier peers. Putnam found that young people from the top socioeconomic quartile report nearly double the rate of adults from outside their family in their lives.

This “slim but troubling data” is hardly news. Rather it is a manifestation of the underlying cause that no one in the reform community wants to address: income inequality brought about by the inherent flaws in the deregulated capitalist economy that results in the “troubling” findings.

What does Ms. Fisher offer the readers of The 74Million as a means of solving this problem? As a devotee of technology, Ms. Fisher’s “solution” is no surprise!

One small but mighty group of innovators is setting out to shore up students’ networks along a variety of dimensions. Some are increasing students’ access to caring relationships by triangulating services among families, schools, and community-based agencies. Others are diversifying students’ weaker-tie connections — acquaintances beyond close relatives and friends who could offer new channels to the knowledge economy — by leveraging communications technologies that bring more relationships within reach. Although online connections may sound woefully shallow, they have a competitive advantage in overcoming geographic isolation or cost constraints that can limit students’ access to networks.

I believe what this means is that while children of well educated and affluent parents get to meet “politicians, CEOs, and professors ” in their living rooms, over dinner tables, or at poolside gatherings at their local country club, the less advantaged children will get to interact with them on-line… and these “on-line connections” will mitigate the absence of their parents who are working two jobs, the scruffy playgrounds available to them, and the too often detrimental “social networks” that exist in poor neighborhoods.

What this clearly DOESN’T mean is that the parents of poor children need higher wages and more full time jobs are needed so they can have the same amount of time to interact with their children. And it DOESN’T mean that more money is needed to facilitate the kind of coordination among services the Ms. Fisher advocates. And it DOESN’T mean that taxes will need to be increased on the parents of the affluent in any way shape or form. Indeed, those in the upper income tiers will not have to interact with classrooms of students face-to-face: they can do so by FaceTime from their offices.


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