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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Low-Income Children’s Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Scientific Inquiry for Social Change

From the NIH - National Institutes of Health
U.S. National Library of Medicine

By C. Cybele Raver
May 5, 2014

NOTE: This is an important paper very well worth reading.


Over 21% of children in the United States today are poor, and the income gap between our nation’s richest and poorest children has widened dramatically over time. This article considers children’s self-regulation as a key mediating mechanism through which poverty has deleterious consequences for their later life outcomes.

Evidence from field experiments suggests that low-income children’s self-regulation is modifiable by early educational intervention, offering a powerful policy option for reducing poverty’s negative impact. The author discusses ways that scientific models of self-regulation can be expanded to include multiple developmental periods and real-world classroom contexts.

Recommendations for advances in research design, measurement, and analysis are discussed, as are implications for policy formation and evaluation.

Keywords: poverty, self-regulation, prevention, emotion, executive function

Arguably one of the greatest social problems we now face in the United States is that of the widening income gap and educational inequality between affluent children and poor children. As recently as 2010, over 21% of children in the United States are poor: More startling, perhaps, is the reality that the income gap between our nation’s richest and poorest children has widened by 40% to 50% over the last 25 years (Reardon, 2011).

In addition, the consequences of this gap in income for students’ opportunities for learning are very large:

To put it in perspective, the gap in academic achievement between our nation’s richest and poorest kindergarteners is now two to three times larger than the achievement gap between Black and White children (Reardon, 2011).

The income gap has increased the likelihood of poor children’s exposure to worsened school conditions, lower neighborhood safety, and lower family resources (Murnane & Duncan, 2011). In short, the evidence from the last 20 years suggests that poverty has grave consequences for the formation of human capital in the next generation, increasing the risk of children’s lower academic achievement and heightening their risk of serious behavioral difficulty.

Recent reviews by a range of scholars across social science disciplines have underscored our confidence that poverty causes these negative outcomes (Yoshikawa, Aber, & Beardslee, 2012). The next pressing scientific question is not whether poverty is bad for children, but how poverty exerts such deleterious effects and what we can do to mitigate those effects.

When applied to this pressing social problem, developmental science has identified a wide range of likely mechanisms by which poverty takes such a negative toll. Multiple pathways of poverty’s influence can be conceptualized primarily at three levels: at the individual level, at the level of corroding interpersonal relationships, and at the institutional level, where educational, health, and child care services for poor families may be of lower quality (see Gershoff, Aber, & Raver, 2003, and Yoshikawa et al., 2012, for more extensive discussion).

In the following review, I focus on a key individual process—namely, child self-regulation—as one powerful potential mechanism by which poverty-related stressors shape low-income children’s chances for positive educational outcomes.

I then focus on ways that we as prevention scientists may leverage the other two types of pathways—namely, interpersonal relationships between teachers and children and the quality of preschools that young children attend—as policy solutions to the costs that poverty exerts on children’s self-regulatory development.

I next discuss new theoretical and methodological directions for the fields of developmental science, prevention science, and policy analysis in order for us to better understand the ways that we might structure educational opportunities for children facing economic disadvantage.

I argue that social scientists can serve as powerful social actors in political economies, where educational policies for children can yield dramatic shifts in children’s life course trajectories (though most of the changes in those policies are frustratingly accretive and glacially slow).

But first, it is to a brief review of the empirical “lens” of self-regulation in classroom contexts that I now turn.

Read the entire paper HERE.

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