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UMD Researchers Receive $1M Spencer Award to Investigate Disparities in Resources for Children and Long-term Achievement Gaps

December 5, 2019
Contacts: 

Audrey Hill audreyh@umd.edu 301-405-3468

University of Maryland researchers, supported by a $1M award from the Spencer Foundation, will investigate inequality in investments in children from different backgrounds, and develop recommendations for interventions that best improve life outcomes for underserved youth.
 
Led by University of Maryland College of Education Assistant Professor David Blazar, who also directs the Maryland Equity Project, the research will help policymakers determine the most “bang for the buck” when making decisions about investing resources in children’s lives. The study will examine resources invested in children not only in education, but also in other sectors including health.
 
“There are longstanding lines of research that demonstrate inequality in educational outcomes between rich and poor kids and between students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also unequal access to resources like high-quality teachers and health care,” said Dr. Blazar. However, he says that much less is known about how differential access to resources compounds across sectors. 
 
“As education researchers, we know that we spend more on White kids versus Black kids, in part because White students attend better-resourced schools with more experienced teachers, access to after-school programs, and other resources. However, educational activities also occur outside of the home, in families and communities, where it is more difficult to quantify differences in access to resources. Education researchers infrequently look outside of these settings to also consider how underserved students may also be underserved in access to health care. We want to monetize these differences – to identify the dollar amount – in order to shed led on the extent of these disparities and make them understandable for policy audiences.”

The project also will synthesize information from the existing evidence base on which resources are most likely to mitigate the disparities identified.
 
The research team – which also includes Associate Professor Claudia Galindo, Professor Steven Klees, Dean and Professor Jennifer King Rice, and Associate Professor Marvin Titus from the College of Education, as well as Assistant Professor Michel Boudreaux from the School of Public Health – will first use national survey data to identify in which sectors (i.e. education, health, family, community) and time periods (i.e. early childhood, K-12, postsecondary) disparities in investments in children from different backgrounds are largest. 

The purpose of this part of the project is to bridge connections between research sectors (e.g., education, health) that traditionally have worked in silos. 

“While disparities in access to resources and high-leverage points for interventions have been identified previously, this research has tended to happen in disciplinary silos,” said Dr. Blazar. “By separating unequal investments in education and health, we are likely to underestimate disparities. Kids that have less access to education, often have less access to health care, which makes gathering information across sectors critical to understanding and addressing inequalities for youth.”

“Researchers have been talking about inequitable educational outcomes and resources in units that make a lot of sense to academics but not necessarily to others. By putting those disparities in a dollar scale, they may by more understandable to a public audience and can bring attention to the degree of disparities between groups of children,” Dr. Blazar added.

To do so, the research team will use tools to estimate the dollar amount that goes into each investment area (e.g., number of hours students spend in school, access to high-quality teachers and after-school activities, access to health care) captured by the national surveys.

Next, the team will conduct meta-analyses of causal studies to determine the effect of human capital interventions on outcomes for children. The team will combine these findings on impacts on investment disparities in order to develop a guide for policymakers on the most effective and efficient use of additional resources to address inequalities. 
 
The cross-sector research on inequality is designed to provide practical information to policymakers so that they can identify the most effective and efficient areas for investment, whether that is addressing disparities in early childhood education or K-12 settings or through community health outreach. 

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