from The Chicago Tribune
By Stephanie Banchero
The isolation and limitations imposed by a poor neighborhood do more damage to a child's verbal and cognitive skills than does a family's low income, according to a new study.
Researchers found that children in Chicago who spent most of their lives in segregated, low-income communities posted lower verbal scores than did children who lived in better communities. This was true whether the children's families were low- or middle-income.
And youngsters who moved into these segregated, troubled communities saw their progress slip, suggesting that the neighborhood social problems -- violence, segregation and lack of good schools -- are the roots of the problem.
The study revealed that living in a disadvantaged community for at least two years lowered verbal test scores by about four IQ points, roughly the equivalent of one year of school.
"If family poverty has a negative effect, moving to a high-risk community makes it worse," said Stephen Raudenbush, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago and an author of the study. "Since language skills are a proven indicator of success in later life, children who stay in these communities are at a distinct disadvantage the rest of their lives."
The six-year study looked at 2,000 lower- and middle-income children ages 6 to 12. Researchers followed the children as they moved in and out of troubled Chicago communities and tested their verbal and reading abilities three times.
The study, which involved researchers from three universities, appeared this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The educational landscape is filled with research that shows low-income students perform poorly on academic measures.
The new research is one of the first to tie the performance not to poverty, but to the corrosive nature of at-risk communities.
"A lot of folks out there have been saying this for decades," said James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University who founded a popular school program that uses community involvement to boost academic achievement. "These children live in communities with social networks that do not prepare them for school.
"Income is not the most critical thing -- it's the quality of the relationships these children can develop with adults who can give them a capacity to grow."
Researchers found that youngsters who live in depressed, segregated communities for long periods of time have more exposure to neighborhood violence and less access to good schools and safe places to play.
As a result, they found, families in these communities "hunker down" in their homes, providing children less exposure to formal English.
"The stress of violence in the community leads parents to isolate themselves out of fear, and that severely restricted the verbal encounters and social exchanges their children were exposed to," Raudenbush said.
Raudenbush said the problems can reverse themselves if the child moves into a better community. But the reversal takes time.
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