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
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
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.