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Report
Do Family Engagement Programs Reproduce
Social Capital Inequality in Low Income,
Hispanic Elementary Schools?
Alyn Turner McCarty
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Overview
• Examine how schools invest in parent social
capital
– Test effects of a randomized field experiment of an after-school
program called Families and Schools Together
– Observational versus experimental design
• Focus on early social environments of children in
high poverty, predominantly Hispanic
communities
Overview
• Test for heterogeneity of program effects by prior
social capital measured at two levels: family and
school
• Consider three possible impacts of the program
on social capital inequality
– Compensatory hypothesis
– Cumulative advantage hypothesis
– Maintained inequality hypothesis
Overview
• Preview of findings:
– Results of experiment have contradictory implications
for patterns of inequality
• Intervention builds social capital more for families who are initially
more socially isolated than for families who are initially more socially
connected
• Intervention effect on social capital is more pronounced in schools in
which parent networks are initially stronger than in schools where
parent networks are initially weaker
Social Capital
• Broadly defined, social capital refers to
obligations and expectations, information, and
norms, that inhere in social relations (Coleman,
1988).
• Conceptualized as a property of social networks,
which individuals can access by virtue of network
membership
Social Capital
• Family-level social capital – Access to a network of other
parents
– Reflects the social connectivity and social resources in a child’s
home environment
– Parents can “invest” to promote their child’s development
• School-level social capital – Property of parent networks
– Represents the collective resources and normative environment of
the school
– Schools can “invest” to boost academic and behavioral outcomes
of their student populations
Social Capital
• Potential benefits of social capital
– Information flow, social control (Carbonaro 1999;
Coleman 1990)
– Collective efficacy (Cucchiara and Horvat 2009;
Sampson et al 1997)
– Social/emotional support and advice (Thoits 2011;
Cohen 2004)
• Psychological well-being
Social Capital Inequality
• Considerable amount of work has posited that
social capital may be a key mechanism of the
reproduction of inequality along familiar
dimensions of stratification (Lin 2000)
– By race/ethnicity (Stanton-Salazar 2001; Zhou and Bankston 1994)
– By social class (Horvat, Weininger, and Lareau 2003; Lareau 1987)
– And, more recently, by gender (McCarty and Shoji, in progress)
Family Engagement Programs
• Family engagement programs may be an
important policy lever through which schools can
promote strong parent networks
• While family engagement programs are
associated with positive outcomes on average,
few studies have examined:
– Effect of programs on social capital
– Variation in the influence of programs
Research Questions
• Do family engagement programs promote social
capital?
• Does the effect vary in ways that may increase or
decrease existing social capital inequality?
Research Questions
• H1: Family engagement programs reduce social capital
inequality
– “Compensatory hypothesis”
• H2: Family engagement programs exacerbate social
capital inequality
– “Cumulative advantage hypothesis”
• H3: Family engagement programs maintain social capital
inequality
– “Maintained inequality hypothesis”
Intervention Approach
• Explore variation in the effects of a popular family
engagement program called Families and Schools
Together
• Treatment administered at the school-level,
appropriate for research question about social
capital within school communities
• Random assignment of 26 schools to “treatment”
and 26 schools to “control”
Data Source
• Children, Families, and Schools (CFS) Study
– 52 low-income elementary schools
– Phoenix, AZ and San Antonio, TX
– 3,084 first graders and their families
• Predominantly low-income, Hispanic population*
FAST
• Families and Schools Together (FAST)
– Research-based after-school program
• universally recruited 1st grade families
• 8 weeks of weekly meetings at schools
• 2 years of monthly meetings
– Designed to strengthen bonds
• parents and school staff
• parents and other parents
• parents and children
Measures
• Parent pre-FAST and post-FAST surveys
– Parent responses to questions about the structure and
quality of their social connections with other parents
• How many parents of your child’s friends do you know?
• To what extent do other parents share your expectations for
your child?
• Extent to which you and other parents reciprocate favors and
social support?
Measures
• Family-level social capital
– “Access to social capital” or “Social connectedness”
– Composite of three dimensions, alpha = 0.72
– Standardized (mean = 0, std = 1)
• School-level social capital
– “School social capital”
– Aggregated school-level measure
– Standardized (mean = 0, std = 1)
Research Question #1
Do family engagement programs
promote social capital?
FAST Effect on Social Capital
FAST (γ01)
Coefficient
SE
t-statistic
0.206
0.039
6.27
Note: Models control for study design effects and pre-treatment differences in
social capital at family and school-levels.
Research Question #2
Do effects vary in ways that may
increase or decrease existing social
capital inequality?
Inequality in FAST Participation
Coefficient
SE
t-statistic
FAST
0.204
0.037
6.41
Pre-FAST SC
Access
0.700
0.024
29.12
Interaction
-0.069
0.032
-2.15
Pre-FAST SC
Aggregate
-0.018
0.022
0.368
Interaction
0.124
0.029
3.17
Predicted Access to Social Capital
Predicted Access to Social Capital
FAST Effect in SD Units
0.40
0.35
0.30
0.25
0.20
0.15
0.10
0.05
0.00
School: Low
School: Medium
School: High
Family: Low
0.13
0.24
0.36
Family: Medium
0.06
0.18
0.30
Family: High
0.00
0.12
0.23
Proportion Graduated from FAST
0.40
0.35
0.31
0.30
0.25
0.20
0.19
0.2
Q1
Q2
0.26
0.26
Q3
Q4
0.15
0.10
0.05
0.00
Quintiles of Access to Social Capital
Q5
Proportion Graduated from FAST
0.37
0.40
0.35
0.30
0.25
0.27
0.29
0.29
Q3
Q4
0.23
0.20
0.15
0.10
0.05
0.00
Q1
Q2
Quintiles of Access to Social Capital
Q5
Summary of Findings
• FAST increases social capital by strengthening
parent-based social networks
• While the effect is more pronounced for families
who are initially less connected,
• The effect is largest in schools with strong parent
networks.
Summary of Findings
• Families are most likely to participate if they
already have strong connections to other parents
at the school
• But, pre-existing connections only moderately
predictive of participation.
Discussion
• Prior work emphasizes that disadvantaged
communities lack social capital that can be used
as a resource for parents and children.
• But, what happens when schools provide
opportunities to build social capital within these
communities?
Discussion
• Programs that address the structural and cultural reasons
why families do not usually participate in school-based
activities have the potential to facilitate resourceful social
ties with other parents with children at the school.
Discussion
• Although parents who are more socially connected are
more likely to participate, families who are less socially
connected benefit more from participation.
• The better programs are at engaging families who would
otherwise lack access to school-based parent network
social capital, the more they can promote inclusion and
equality in the distribution of community-based social
resources.
Discussion
• Schools with pre-existing social capital may be best able
to implement FAST because they are able to draw on the
resources that are embedded in parent networks.
• I show that building social capital equitably requires
taking stock of existing resources, both among individuals
and at the group level by examining the effects of a
program by pre-existing levels of social capital among
families and across schools.
Thank you!
This work is supported by dissertation grants from:
•
•
•
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
American Education Research Association
UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty
Acknowledge additional support from:
•
•
Institute of Education Sciences (Grant No. R305C05005)
NIH training grants:
–
–
–
UW-Madison Center for Demography and Ecology (Grant No. R24HD047873)
Center for Demography of Health and Aging (Grant No. P30AG17266)
Center for Women’s Health and Health Disparities Research (5T32HD049302-08)
This research uses restricted use data from the Children, Families, and Schools study, a
project designed by Adam Gamoran, Lynn McDonald Ruth Lopez Turley, and Carmen
Valdez and funded the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development
(Grant No. 1R01HD051762-01A2).

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