Monday, January 21, 2008

Social Capital and Student Success

The Los Angeles Times article on January 18th about The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Academy of Opportunity in South Los Angeles is an example of the importance of social capital within families in order to help children succeed in school. The Academy of Opportunity is a charter school, funded by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, which features a rigorous curriculum. Elementary school and junior high students have ten-hour school days, heavy workloads, wear uniforms, and go to class during the summer and on weekends.

Academy of Opportunity students’ test scores have risen dramatically, and many see this as evidence that this type of school is a proven formula that can be applied to all inner-city schools. Critics, however, say the test scores are not surprising given the high levels of parental involvement. For instance, parents are required to sign a form promising to take their children to school, check their homework, and confer with teachers.

According to one critic, “It’s not a model for urban schools; it’s a model for families in urban areas with parents who are supportive and want more for their children.” I agree that this type of school could be effective for students coming from a family characterized by Coleman as having low human capital (poor and uneducated) and high social capital (strong relations between children and parents). It does not seem like a formula that can be applied across the board to all urban schools, as it would not meet the needs of, what Coleman calls, “deficient families.” Students with an absence of social capital within their family would not have the crucial parental support needed in order to stick with and excel in such a demanding educational environment.



Janice Hansen said...

Great assessment! Do you think that this type of school would be able to raise the students' cultural capital enough that they would be able to make the transition from this type of school to the less rigid world of college? Will the students have somehow acquired that "know how" that helps them get ahead once their test scores get them in?

Laurie Hansen said...

Very interesting piece. I agree with Rachel that this model may work best with families who have high social capital. The question remains of how to help those families who are short on human, cultural, and social capital.

On another note, I am not in favor of a 10-hour school day. I think children should have the opportunity to participate in afterschool activities, such as sports and music. However, it may be that inner-city kids don't have access to those extracurricular activities, anyway. It would be interesting to see what a 10-hour school day would look like, i.e., how it is divided up among subjects and how teachers maintain student engagement for that length of time. If the time is all spent on "basics", then I think it's a terrible idea.

Femi said...

For KIPP to pass on the cultural capital that students need to get into college they are going to have to focus more than just on test scores. As we are starting to see test scores aren't enough to gain admission to higher education. A young person also needs to be well rounded, aware of financial aid opportunities, exhibit leaderships etc, etc. This does make me wonder what aspects of the KIPP model are aimed at teaching urban youth the cultural capital that is vauled by colleges and universities.