IU researchers discuss education, civic involvement, crime and more at national ASA meeting
Dozens of researchers from Indiana University have participated in the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Aug. 17 to 20 in Denver. Below are summaries of some of the studies discussed.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 20, 2012
No link between foreclosure crisis and metropolitan crime rates
Middle-class children: Squeaky wheels in training
What makes a good citizen?
National education policy reverses role of parents, schools
The housing foreclosure crisis has been blamed for widespread economic and social problems in the United States, including reduced property values, depressed consumer spending and a decline in government services. Some observers speculate that it has also led to more crime in hard-hit cities.
Not so, according to research by doctoral student Roderick Jones and professor William Alex Pridemore of the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University Bloomington. In an examination of 142 U.S. metropolitan areas, they found no association between housing-mortgage stress and crime rates.
The study compares data from the Housing-Mortgage Stress Index, an indicator of financial stress in the housing market, with rates for six serious crimes: homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
"Despite anecdotal evidence of and growing fear that the foreclosure crisis was accompanied by increasing crime rates in cities hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, we found no evidence that metropolitan areas with higher levels of housing-mortgage stress had higher rates of violent or property crime," Jones and Pridemore write.
Jones and Pridemore presented the findings Aug. 17 at the American Sociological Association annual meeting. The paper also was published this month in a special issue of the journal Social Science Quarterly dealing with foreclosure and crime.
While some studies have found an association between foreclosure and crime at the neighborhood level -- and others have not -- the paper by Jones and Pridemore is one of few to take a macro-level approach, focusing on the housing crisis and its relationship to crime rates at the metropolitan level.
They write that the Housing-Mortgage Stress Index, consisting of measures of negative equity, loan-to-value ratio and monthly mortgage cost-to-income ratio, is a better indicator of housing stress than foreclosure rates. Laws and procedures governing foreclosures vary by state, they note, and in some jurisdictions, foreclosures lag far behind the financial stresses that cause them.
Controlling for other city-level characteristics often found to be associated with crime, such as poverty and the proportion of female-headed households, the researchers tested for an association between housing-mortgage stress and crime. The results, they write, "indicated that the housing crisis is not associated with metropolitan rates of serious violent and property crime. This is true despite the widespread anecdotal understanding that increasing numbers of foreclosures are posing significant threats to cities, including higher crime rates."
They add that more research will be needed to determine whether housing stress influences crime rates under certain conditions, such as high unemployment and high rates of vacant houses.
The research was presented in a session on the panel Social Responses to the Great Recession.
A study by Indiana University sociologist Jessica McCrory Calarco found that working-class and middle-class parents often take very deliberate -- but different -- approaches to helping their children with their school experiences.
Working-class parents, she found, coached their children on how to avoid problems, often through finding a solution on their own and by being polite and deferential to authority figures. Middle-class parents, on the other hand, were more likely to encourage their kids to ask questions or ask for help.
These self-advocacy skills taught by middle-class parents not only can help the children in school -- because these parents know that in educational settings teachers often expect and reward such behavior -- but they could help later in life in other institutional settings.
"Youth who do not learn to advocate for themselves might have more difficulty interacting with social service providers, financial service providers, legal authorities and other bureaucratic institutions," said Calarco, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in IU's College of Arts and Sciences.
Her study focuses on the interaction between parents, children and teachers during the students' fourth- and fifth-grade years at a public elementary school. Her school observations took place at least twice a week, and then she interviewed the students and parents the summer following their fifth-grade year.
Conducted while Calarco was a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, the study is among the first to provide evidence that parents from different social classes teach their children different lessons about interacting with institutions. It also shows that parents help to perpetuate inequalities not only through what they do for their children, such as equipping them with different resources or opportunities, but also through what they teach children to do for themselves.
Calarco characterized both working-class and middle-class parents as "relentless" when it came to teaching their children important lessons. This sometimes even involved role-playing, when the middle-class parents wanted their children to solve their problem on their own -- but couldn't quite leave it to chance. She also found the students very receptive.
"Even very shy middle-class children learned to feel comfortable approaching teachers with questions, and recognized the benefits of doing so," she said. "Working-class children instead worried about making teachers mad or angry if they asked for help at the wrong time or in the wrong way, and also felt that others would judge them as incompetent or not smart if they asked for help. These differences, in turn, seem to stem not from differences in how teachers responded to students -- when working-class students did ask questions, teachers welcomed and readily addressed these requests -- but from differences in the skills, strategies and orientations that children learn from their parents at home."
Calarco discussed her paper, "Training Squeaky Wheels: Social Class and Parents' Development of Children's Self-Advocacy Skills," Aug. 19 during the Culture and Inequality section. The study was funded in part by the University of Pennsylvania, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the Otto and Gertrude K Pollack Foundation.
A new paper by a sociologist at Indiana University argues there's no need to pick sides in an old argument about how to build better citizens. Both sides are right, says Matthew Baggetta of IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Baggetta studies civil society, voluntary associations, civic engagement and social capital at SPEA. He says scholars have long considered voluntary associations "schools of democracy" whether they're the Boy Scouts, a bowling league or a political party. Join a group, the theory goes, and you're more likely to join another and another and, in the process, contribute to the betterment of your community. The good citizen that results was created by the "causal effects" of civic participation, that "participation in associations actually changes people."
A counter theory argues that good citizens are attracted to voluntary associations, so "self-selection" and not causality should get the credit. Baggetta contends both theories are correct in a paper he will present to the 2012 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Denver that he says tackles a more pressing question: "In a context where self-selection is known to occur, can associations have causal impacts on members? If so, how?"
Baggetta imagines a college student who joins a mountaineering club because she likes to hike. But the club also engages in political activism to protect mountain environments. She finds herself swept up in the political wing of the organization although she only intended to go for a hike.
"If, over the course of the membership, the recreational joiner was recruited into the political domain, the organization would have had a causal impact on the student's civic trajectory," Baggetta says.
People select civic groups based on what they say they do and the way they're organized. The forces that deepen, extend or even alter their civic involvement are less obvious or "latent." For example, Baggetta says the student looking for a mountaineering club may end up with a random roommate who is involved in the student newspaper. The hiker goes to a meeting at the newspaper, likes it, and suddenly she's moving in a very different civic direction.
Baggetta concedes the scholarly "hike" through this subject is just starting. While the subject is theoretical, he says more research will yield a better understanding of why people join groups and the forces that build better citizens.
Baggetta will discuss his paper at 10:30 a.m. EDT today, Aug. 20, at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
The way legislators, experts and other opinion leaders discuss the role of parents and schools in reducing educational inequalities has changed dramatically since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act first passed in 1965. Put simply, parents were viewed as part of the problem then, with schools seen as the solution. In recent years, with No Child Left Behind and more school choice options, these roles have flipped.
"There has been a continued focus on reducing educational inequalities; however, there are stark contrasts in the way policymakers and experts talked about what they saw as the root problems and how to solve them from 1965 to 2001 -- especially the roles of parents and schools," said Emily Meanwell, sociology doctoral student in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington.
The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act was the federal government's first major education policy and is described by Meanwell as "one of the most important education policies in American history. Created to reduce educational inequalities found across the country, its goal was to increase opportunities for poor and disadvantaged children as part of the War on Poverty."
It's notable, Meanwell says, that the act did not focus on content or curriculum, explicitly forbidding a national curriculum. Nor did it explicitly address race. Meanwell wrote that race and desegregation already were addressed in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
"No Child Left Behind explicitly addresses achievement gaps between racial groups," Meanwell said. "The original law was technically race-neutral."
The federal education law has been reauthorized eight times, most recently in 2002 with the reauthorization of NCLB. Meanwell analyzed testimony given by a range of experts during congressional hearings in 1965 and 2001. In the early years, testimony portrayed parents as part of the problem when students' home lives and experiences left them ill-prepared for school. Schools, then, with the help of extra funding, were expected to bring these students up to speed. Instead of focusing on "inputs," as in children's school readiness or school funding, No Child Left Behind focuses more attention outputs, largely in the form of standardized test scores. This casts schools more as the problem, particularly when they report poor test scores. Parents now are seen as part of the solution, with access to accountability data in the form of test scores and more school choice options.
"Poor students were framed as trapped in failing schools, and needing parents to rescue them, in 2001. This is a reverse of the framing in 1965, when they were portrayed as trapped in culturally impoverished families and needing schools to rescue them," Meanwell said.
Meanwell discussed her paper, "Federal Education Policy and Inequality: Cultural Logics and Discursive Framing in Congressional Hearings, 1965-2001," Aug. 18 during the Accountability Policies and Student Achievement session. The research is partially funded by a National Academy of Education Spencer Fellowship.
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