Posts tagged ‘Research’

July 31, 2010

Cradle and all: Comprehensive supports for lone parent families and other poor people

Investing in Families seems like basic common sense, but it took academics like Gina Browne and her colleagues at McMaster University to build a solid case for supporting lone parents on social assistance.

When The Bough Breaks, their longitudinal 2001 study of single parents, showed that families move off social assistance more quickly when they are guided through the service maze than if they are left on their own.

Seven hundred and sixty-five families in the Hamilton and Halton region were randomly assigned to a different levels of support services:

  1. Home visits with a public health nurse to do health promotion,
  2. Employment (re-)training,
  3. Recreational & skills development programs for children, with parental involvement, or child care as appropriate
  4. Comprehensive services (all the above three), or
  5. No additional supports.

Families who had never accessed these services were now connected.

The families which did the best were the ones who received the whole suite of services (#4). The families who did the next best were the ones where the children had received the additional supports and programs (#3).

The ones who did the worse, the control group which mimics the current social assistance system, were the ones who were left on their own to negotiate their own move to independence (#5). It’s a learning which underscores recommendation is the current call for a review of social assistance in the province.

Ontario Works should be turned upside down. Today it is a program that provides financial assistance with some employment supports. The new program should be primarily focused on human capacity development, with financial assistance as just one of the tools available to assist low income Ontarians. – The Social Assistance Review Advisory Council (SARAC)

The City of Toronto took notice of these learnings, too. Its program, Investing in Families, was piloted in 2007 in the Jane Finch area has now been expanded to each of the city’s remaining Priority Neighbourhood Areas. Led by Toronto Employment and Social Services, the program brings together the services and resources from three other City divisions; Public Health, Children’s Services and Parks, Forestry and Recreation have each made commitments.

While burdensome for service-providers, working across silos, the model works for at least two good reasons.

First off, Browne noticed that their children were receiving direct program supports, parents were less likely to drop out of the study and more likely, in the end, to do better. Simply, parents with were motivated by active support for their children’s well-being.

Second is a lesson about the weight of poverty. In his book, The Persistence of Poverty, author Charles Karelis describes the “rational” reaction of a person stung by a bee. Salve would be found and applied. The metaphor describes how the middle class work to solve a problem when they meet one.

However, Karelis explained, poverty is more like being stung by a swarm of bees. Coming at you from all sides, this same “rational” person, with the same salve, would not even bother to make the attempt. Faced with more hurt than salve, the reasonable choice is to choose not to act. Why spend the energy on something that won’t stop the hurt? (Cf. The buzz about bee stings and the poor – thestar.com). The only solution is to ensure that all the bee stings are medicated.

So the anti-poverty programs that have been the most effective are the ones that wrap-around a vulnerable person, that give them a chance to catch their breath, and to take steps out of poverty.

And, win-win, Browne et. al. showed this saves the system money, too.

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May 30, 2010

An agreed-upon description of poverty

When older women on the Isle of Mann were polled as to whether dressing gowns are a basic life necessity, their agreement was nearly unanimous. If someone who couldn’t afford a housecoat, they were poor. However when young men were asked the same question, their response unsurprisingly was almost the mirror opposite. À chaque son goût?

Defining poverty is a difficult task for government statisticians and policy wonks, never mind the rest of us.

Two of the best thinkers on the topic, Richard Shillington and John Stapleton, recently published a Metcalf Foundation-funded paper, Cutting through the Fog: Why is it so hard to make sense of poverty measures? In clear language, they explain how some basic assumptions shape how poverty is defined in Canada. Therefore, because each definition of poverty leads to different policy resolutions, the authors conclude that, without an agreed upon definition of poverty line, Canadians will continue to be stymied in our actions to solve poverty.

Over the course of the past two years, taking a leaf from the British and European work on social exclusion, Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank took a stab at improving our income-based definitions of poverty. Together with Caledon Institute for Social Policy, they built an Ontario Deprivation Index, and then, piloted it with Statistics Canada through the Labour Force Survey.

The new index developed a common list of ten items which are most likely to distinguish the poor from the non-poor. The work now stands as a key part of the Ontario government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. The first provincial report was released last December and found that one in eight children live in a deprived situation. By its own reports, the government is committed to lowering this number.

The Ontario Deprivation Index will let us know if we have made a difference.

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April 11, 2010

Community Partnership Strategy: Neighbourhood Well-being Index

(Updates – July 1, 2011: The NWI is has been re-branded and launched as Wellbeing Toronto. July 29, 2010: This should now be referred to as the Neighbourhood Well-being Indices. Revised by the City researchers.)

Statistics and geography is about to get a whole lot more fun in the City of Toronto. City staff are working to create interactive, flash maps which allow users to explore neighbourhood-level indicators.

This fresh concept of a way to measure the vitality of a neighbourhood has now evolved into a first draft of the Neighbourhood Well-being Index (NWI). The NWI will collect neighbourhood-level information from a broad range of sources, including Statistics Canada demographic data and the City’s own administrative databases.

The NWI  is a new and separate initiative from City of Toronto staff, but it dovetails neatly with Council’s newly adopted Community Partnership Strategy, providing the broad evidence base for the strategy. The NWI also complements the move towards open data initiative, OpenTO, acting as an open data warehouse.

Some of the data to be mapped data is already available, in less friendly formats, through the City’s neighbourhood profiles, the Community Social Data Strategy and TO iMapit. The NWI will enable users to identify key populations groups or services of interest and then produce a user-friendly map of the data.

Several good examples from the U.S.A. give a preview of what the NWI might look like:

  • The New York City website Envisioning Development Toolkit is a friendly tool which compares neighbourhood rent and incomes.
  • California’s Healthy City is a more data-rich site which allows users to map local services and demographics.
  • The Reinvestment Fund’s Policy Map compares a range of data across numerous American cities.

In a sophisticated web-based interface, Toronto residents will be able to select the indicators and identify their own “priority neighbourhoods,” a shift from the current Priority Neighbourhood Areas that were selected using more universal indicators which don’t always match specific local priorities. Service-providers for youth or newcomers or seniors will able to identify the highest need neighbourhoods for each of their own populations.

Two overarching data clusters will be used as measures of a neighbourhood’s wellbeing, allowing a more granular examination of Toronto neighbourhoods. These are

  • Population Characteristics, such as Age, Gender, Language, Ethnicity, Family structure, Income.
  • Human Service Infrastructures, from and about Community Centres, Libraries, Parks, Police Stations, Schools, etc.

The NWI’s ten domains and particular indicators will likely expand as additional neighbourhood-level data becomes available. The first draft is exploring the following areas:

  • Arts, Culture and Heritage: Agency Funding & Grants; Community programs; Neighbourhood-permitted events
  • Civic Engagement and Social Inclusion: Agency Funding & Grants; City Beautification Initiatives; Community Meeting Spaces; Donations; Volunteerism; Voter Participation
  • Economic Security: 211 Calls for Service; Child Care; Community-based Services; Debt Load (excluding mortgages); Local Neighbourhood Employment; Long-term Employment; Social Assistance; Unemployment; Variety of Local Businesses; Wages & Benefits.
  • Education: Community-based Services; Early Development Instrument (EDI); High School Students applications to college/university; High School Drop-out Rates; High School Students passing Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT); Library Circulations
  • Environment: Open Space; Pollution/Toxic sites; Soil conditions
  • Housing: social housing waiting lists; property taxes; affordability (sales); adequacy (standards); rooming houses; Streets-to-Homes placements; Long-term Home Care Services survey; Toronto Community Housing tenant profiles; Homelessness & Hidden Homeless; 211 calls for information; and community based services.
  • Recreation and Leisure: Participants and drop-ins users of parks and recreation programs; waiting lists; facilities capacities
  • Safety: By-law inspections/Standards complaints [although these tend to rise with the income of a neighbourhood]; Calls for EMS; Community-based Services; Crime by major categories; Domestic Violence; Fire Code inspections; Firearms shootings and victims; Fires & Arsons; Grow Ops; Pedestrian & Cyclist Collisions & Injuries; Toronto Community Housing Safety and Incidents;
  • Transportation: Commuting; Public Transit Access; Wheel Trans Use; Traffic volumes. [One potential but unnoted measures is walkability]
  • Personal and Community Health: Birth Outcomes; Communicable Diseases; Community-based Services; Vulnerable Children (with data from Children’s Aids Societies)

Reviewers, both academic and from the community sector, are being asked to review the indicators, help identify priorities for the roll-out, and advise in the creation of an index for each domain.

The hope is that the NWI will be ready to launch in the next 16 – 18 months.

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February 9, 2010

Toronto Community Partnership Stategy: Councillors get it

An update on a posting in January on the Toronto Community Partnership: Priority Neighbourhood Areas Revised:

On February 22, Toronto City Council will consider a recommendation to adopt a new Toronto Community Partnership Stategy (CSP). The Strategy was approved at the City Committee on Social Development and Recreation at its February 3 meeting. Councillors in attendance were supportive – although perhaps the 100 deputants waiting to speak on the issue of rink time were distracting them.

It’s a system which builds on the work the City has already done in the childcare, homeless, and arts sectors. Acting as a set of indices, the CSP’s goal is to develop “a broadly available, fact-based system for community and political discussions,” according to City staff.

Neighbourhoods which will be prioritized, in planning and resources, are those with low levels of economic security, education⁄ literacy levels and social inclusion. If the CSP’s adopted, the strategy will be piloted in 2011, focusing initially on issues of access and accessibility.

A parallel tool which will facilitate these discussions in the development of an evidence- based, publicly-available, on-line Neighbourhood Wellbeing Index (NWI). The NWI will map out the demographics, local services and “operational metrics” across Toronto neighbourhoods. City staff are pulling together a panel of expert researchers through the summer to determine a structure for the NWI. If all goes well, the NWI may be ready in the fall.

February 9, 2010

Hard journalism

One of the major reasons I keep my subscription to the Toronto Star are its commitment to local reporting, hard investigative journalism, and its mapping/GIS team. It’s the sort of work that print journalism has to do if it’s to survive. According to the Tyee, journalism professor Stephen Ward explains “The future of journalism is investigative, interpretive journalism.”

The Star’s latest work, Race Matters has buttressed my loyalty. It’s a hard-hitting, multi-pronged, multimedia examination of racial profiling in policing.

The series builds earlier work, when the Star’s Jim Rankin won an appeal against the Toronto Police Services to release crime data. The court ordered the TPS to hand it over, and they did, almost twelve months later, in December 2009.

The world of newspaper journalism works on shorter timelines, so, here on this first week-end in February, the new data has formed the foundation of this look at how law enforcement occurs in our neighbourhoods.

The Star’s investigative and mapping teams’ work on issues of social justice has been prodigious. Repeatedly, they prove the adage that the role of the press is to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

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January 20, 2010

Community vitality in Transitions

Community vitality is in focus again, in the current edition of the Vanier Institute for the Family‘s Transition.

Writing the lead article in VIF’s quarterly publication, Katherine Scott provides an overview of the concept of community vitality, describing the evolution of the idea, growing from ‘competent communities’ in the 1960s, through 1990s ‘social capital,’ to present-day’s emphasis on ‘social networks.’

In other pieces in the issue:

Barry Wellman et. al. writes a great piece on internet and communication technologies, arguing that rather than isolating individuals, these technologies are more likely to enhance social relations. Using the example of parents and their children, the authors the tension between connectivity and surveillance which this new technology enables.

Monica Patton, president and CEO of the Community Foundations of Canada, also writes a piece in the issue, selling the strengths of the Community Foundation brand.

The very excellent Katherine Scott, of the venerable (and now seemingly vulnerable) Canadian Council of Social Development (CCSD), has recently moved into her new role at the VIF. [Conflict of interest declaration: decades ago, my uncle headed VIF, an organization which brings a very non-American connotation to the word family].

These national research, policy, and advocacy organizations, such as VIF, CCSD, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and Kairos among others, are all an important part of our civic dialogue and worth supporting.

Buy a membership today. Keep this work rolling.

December 29, 2009

Neighbourhood vitality in Toronto's towers

Toronto’s residential towers are flung far across the city’s inner suburbs, tossed over subway lines or sprinkled along ravines and major roadways, further from transit. E R A Architects made the strong case for the renewal of these urban structures, and the City’s (now being re-branded) “Mayor’s Tower Renewal Project” has focused resources on these vertical neighbourhoods.

Wading into the issue soon will be a new United Way Toronto report on housing and neighbourhood vitality, tentatively titled (until the marketers get a hold of it),The Role of Housing in Neighbourhood Vitality: An investigation into the impact of high-rise living on personal well-being and neighbourhood vitality. It will examine the quality of housing in these mainly private marker towers located within the poor neighbourhoods in Toronto’s inner suburbs; it will also measure residents’ satisfaction levels, the impact on health and well-being for themselves and their families, their attachment to the neighbourhood and the experience of various populations groups within this housing stock.

United Way laid the groundwork for this study as part of its Building Strong Neighbourhoods focus. Part of this earlier work was laid out in an exploration of the elements of neighbourhood vitality. That report went so far as to recommend useful data variables which could be drawn from primary and secondary sources.

Scheduled for release sometime in the first half of 2010, the donor-funded report is a rigourous and sweeping undertaking with a total survey interview sample of 2800 tenants and additional focus groups. York University researchers (led by Robert Murdie) are already undertaking to replicate the survey in the Parkdale neighbourhood.

The data collection was completed through the fall with a team of interviewers and 3 field coordinators. Data cleaning and analysis are now underway.

The research is being done in partnership with the

  • Social Housing Services Corporation, looking at the potential of a provincial roll-out
  • Toronto Community Housing, to compare social housing tenants and private market renters
  • Toronto Public Health, to understand the impact of housing on health
  • Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, to inform the new provincial housing strategy
  • City of Toronto, to create a a baseline of knowledge and also test the limitations of the complaints process, and
  • Apartment Association of Greater Toronto, who has provided access to private market rental stock.
October 23, 2009

"Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver"

Gentrification is fifty years old this year, UBC professor and Canada Research Chair in Geography David Ley explained to a University of Toronto audience earlier this week. Or at least the word “gentrification” is.

Although attributed to sociologist Ruth Glass first in 1964, the term can be found in an unpublished paper of hers five years earlier. Glass’ definition still holds up well, Ley explained. Gentrification is the movement of middle income households into lower income or working-class neighbourhoods.

Ley was speaking a Cities Centre hosted lecture entitled “Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver.” Reflecting back on the decades of work he has done on Vancouver neighbourhoods, Ley made the following points, some new, some old.

Shifts in the housing and labour markets are linked

While the labour marker and the housing market have been “commonly partitioned in academia,” they are coupled.

Citing the historical shifts in Cabbagetown, Ley read off a list of occupations from the 1960s and then a few decades afterwards. Physicians replaced Punch Press Operators. Teachers replaced transit workers. Higher income occupations replaced working class occupations. (It’s similar to the process I have described in my own neighbourhood in an earlier post.)

“Clearly a social change was going on,” said Ley.

The growth in the managerial and professional class occurred at the same time as the closure of factories were disappearing from Canada’s 5 largest metropolitan areas.  Almost as an aside, Ley pointed out the unrecognized role good quality public sector jobs has played in generating this shift. [One can’t help thinking how this links to Richard Florida’s idea of the creative classes.)

So, as the labour market shifted, the housing markets were likely to follow.

Industrial transition is the meta-narrative in the story of gentrification.

Gentrification plays out differently in different places because of the varied conditions. Urban areas with a stronger industrial base, such as Winnipeg and Windsor, will be less likely to face gentrification than post-industrial cities, such as Toronto. During the 1970s and 80s, for example, Toronto gained 60,000 of these higher status jobs while 75,000 jobs were lost in other parts of the economy.

The movement of artists predicts gentrification

The presence of artists other “pre-professionals” (with a lot of cultural capital, but little economic capital) signals a neighbourhoods in transition.

Ley described artists as modern magicians, transforming the material world of disinvested neighbourhoods, creating cachet.  Young professionals, eager to pick up such cultural capital, soon follow, driving prices up. So artists are continually shunted along out of the secure neighbourhoods into other working class, and often non-English -speaking, ones.

“So where they were in 1971, they are gone. And where they weren’t, they are in 1991,” Ley said. “Their concentration leads to their own elimination.”

The middle class then begins to move in, once terra incognito is proven. In Toronto, we saw movement along Bloor Street as this occurred. In Vancouver, the growth was along Main Street.

So what kinds of neighbourhoods has gentrification favoured?

Ley’s study of Vancouver neighbourhoods since the 1970s found these patterns:

  1. Gentrification typically occurs in areas adjacent to other high status areas.
  2. It also typically occurs close to environmental amenities, such as waterfronts and parks, where Ley remarked wryly, physiques can be admired.
  3. Gentrification occurs overwhelmingly in areas which are Anglo-Canadian (British stock).
  4. Gentrification occurs in areas where rents are above average.

This is the founding pattern. Ley said wryly that he missed the opportunity in the 970s to become a millionaire when he had the predictive model to see where gentrification would spread. Instead, Ley said, he had only the deep moral satisfaction that he had had the insight, if not the wit, to invest.

“However, once the market is ‘proven,’ a much more eclectic, experimental phase follows,” Ley explained, “and areas likely to gentrify become much harder to predict.”

Some neighbourhoods resist gentrification

People have been talking about the imminent gentrification of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Grandview Woodland for 35 years, Ley explained. It has many heritage buildings, walkable, close to water and some tree-lined streets, all indicators in the earlier model of a place ripe for gentrification. And yet, they remain, some of the poorest census tracts in Canada.

Attempts at gentrification are regularly made by hopeful arrivals. Condo marketers have played off this grittiness, advertising, “Be bold or move to the suburbs.” But, as one local business owner said to Ley, “these people just wash through.”

So how have these neighbourhoods resisted persistent attempts to move them upscale?

Ley’s short answer: A complex local sense of place which is unfriendly to gentrification

Ley’s longer answer:

  • Proximate to an industrial waterfront, where one nearby resident said the rendering plant had made him a vegetarian.
  • A challenging street scene that creates unpredictable encounters in public space.
  • Local politics are highly tolerant of existing diversity and hostile to capitalism in general. For instance, when Starbucks opened on Commercial Drive, their windows were smashed repeatedly.

Neighbourhoods “in decline” are where poor people are housed, yet, Ley cautioned later, governments need to be cautious about intervening there, as improvements may lead to displacements.

Gentrifiers can triumph through persistent incrementalism

“There is clear evidence gentrifiers are trying to change their externalities,” Ley said as he flipped a transparency onto the overhead.

The graph showed the number of complaints about the smell emanating from the local rendering plant. A wave of complaints in the 1990s lead to  changes. Then, in 2005, the complaints sky-rocketed, doubling, even when additional changes were made.

Ley flipped another transparency onto the overhead: An excerpt from the Globe & Mail’s real estate section, Done Deal. A five bedroom house with a two bedroom rental unit in Grandview Woodland.

  • 1996 – Selling price, $277,000
  • 2001 – Selling price, $428,000
  • 2006 – Selling price $920,000
  • 2009 – Asked $899,000; Selling price – $1,015,000

It is one of the dichotomies of the private market, Ley explained, later in answer to a question from the audience. “The bottom line is if we have a free-market in land, than those with the most money will outbid others and hold the land.”

Recognizing the right to the city for poor people

The Downtown Eastside has held gentrification at bay, mainly, Ley says because 40% of housing in the neighbourhoods is non-market. The City has sustained affordable housing units, and neighbourhood residents and organizations have a “poor people’s turf” legitimate.

The local ethos is preservation, public investment and revitalization without displacement. It is a grudging recognition of a right to the city for poor people.

Government regulation and policy is central

In the past century, Ley explains, neo-liberal policies have encouraged the spread of gentrification and the displacement of poor people because of the lack of investments it has made in affordable housing. Escalating levels of public debt will work against the revival of a welfare state that will create new housing.

The current push for sustainable housing and improved “eco-densities” will further aggravate the problem of affordable housing and further prime the inequality that is running the poor out of Canadian cities, Ley explained.

Although newer developments purport to improve densities, building taller buildings, the units are large and use more expensive materials, leaving those with low incomes displaced form the areas being “renewed.” Indeed these taller buildings often have fewer people in them then low-rises they replaced.

Gentrification cannot be benign

Strictly speaking, if higher-end housing units are built as infill or on brownfield, displacement of the poor is not an issue.

However, Ley explained in response to an audience question, the argument shifts then to the effects beyond the building unit itself, such as whether other middle income households are then drawn to the area. Housing co-ops, for instance, have been argued to prime neighbourhoods for gentrification. One social housing service provider explained to Ley that they want their housing to be “gritty” so that it doesn’t generate these external effects.

Finally, approached afterwards on the topic of mixed neighbourhoods, Ley explained that social mixing is usually just a transitional stage, on the way to complete gentrification.

The audience would have stayed longer to flesh out the lecture further, but another class arrived, this time to face an exam.

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September 12, 2009

Defining race (and racism) in the TDSB Learning Opportunity Index

The Learning Opportunities Index (LOI) is one of the Toronto District School Board’s key tools for directing resources to the neediest students in the system. Therefore, it’s vital that the index measure deprivation accurately and reliably.

The newly modified LOI dropped less predictive measures of student performance, such as average income, housing type, and immigration status and now includes variables which are better able to measure poverty. Of the new variables, the most powerful are “families on social assistance” and families in the bottom income quartile (as measured by the LIM).

Trustees bite the bullet

So, even though some schools shifted down the ranking and would now potentially lose resources, Trustees (or most of them) bit the bullet and voted to adopt the new instrument.

Still there were some misgivings.

For instance, in terms of external challenges, critical race scholars in the U.S.A. have shown race and poverty have separate effects on student achievement. That, even when income and other demographic characteristics are controlled for, students of different racial identities perform differently within the American school system. This finding has been used, reasonably, as the basis for the creation of Africentric and other race-based schools.

When the new LOI removed the variable of immigration status — often conflated with race in the Canadian context —, the TDSB faced the problem that race, in any form, had been excised. The LOI faced the critique it had been homogenized, to the detriment of its mission of accurately measuring external challenges, and to the detriment, especially, of black students.

So the Board asked the LOI review committee (of which I am a member) to also examine how and whether race should be included in the LOI.

A question for policy wonks or for research geeks

Given the range of views on the question, perhaps the task is really better suited for politicians and policy wonks than for statisticians and research geeks.

However, the review committee has begun its review. We will look at the broader literature, and we will test the utility and strength of any new race-based variable within the Toronto context.

A problem of definition

The first problem has been trying to figure out how to approach the problem.

For instance, producing an accurate description of the term”race” is tricky because race is a social, rather than a biological construction. Its definition and boundaries are blurry and ever–changing. Statistics Canada doesn’t even use the term, but instead says “visible minority” — a bare truth in Toronto — for anyone who has a heritage other than white.

Yet, within the Toronto context, when we compare the performance of “visible minority” students against that of their white peers, there are only subtle differences, sometimes in favour of students of colour. “Visible minority” status alone is not correlated to students’ academic performance. And, that’s a relief. In fact, it’s as it should be.

However, others remind us, we know there are differences between some racial groups.

So we have to explore the term further. Some advocates have been quite clear, we need to stop skirting the issue and name the problem of academic underachievement as one of Black and Aboriginal students, and a few other historically–disadvantaged groups. If we are prepared to do that, academic interventions can be better targetted.

Reliable school–level data

So, if this is the next step, to look at particular racial groups, can we get reliable school-level data? (School–level data is needed to calculate the LOI so that each school can be accurately assessed and ranked in comparison to the others.)

The school board census is the obvious answer. Among its many questions, the TDSB’s student/parent census asked respondents to identify their racial background. However, this won’t work for the LOI.

While useful at a system– or even ward–level, the census data won’t allow reliable comparisons at the school level. For example, some schools had a high non-response rate (students wrote in “Martian” as their answer to the question of their racial background, and various classes never even did the census). The census also happened long enough ago that it no longer supplies a current picture of the Board’s students.

Ranking and weighting races

Ethnic origin might be another usable category from Statistics Canada data, and one which may give more subtlety to the analysis.

Board research has shown that groups of students born in various parts of the world perform differently. Should we parse, weight and rank the value of my children’s English⁄Celtic heritage against their Chinese heritage? (As the discussion unfolds, one can’t help but feel like the evolutionary psychologist University of Western Ontario professor, Philippe Rushton wading into the world of measuring head size to explain intelligence.)

What are we trying to measure? And where does ethnicity blend into culture or language?

And, in the end, does the Board have the stomach to rank one ethnic group against another in the allocation of scarce resources?

Fixed identities

This exercise is different from research which shows different outcomes for students who have already gone through the education system. In this exercise, we are saying that because a student comes from a specific racial background, a priori,  we will award additional resources. We are pre-judging their performance.

The awkwardness of this is that a student’s racial background is different from all the other measures currently used within the LOI because race is fixed. All the other measures, such as parental marital status, education level, and income, can be changed, even re-mediated through social policy and individual effort.

Measuring racism rather than race

Perhaps then, more accurately, this quest to measure the impact of race should be more fittingly seen as a quest to measure racism. We should be measuring the disadvantage which led to the poor environment which created the external challenge some students face. Those who argue for reparations would argue for such.

So, then, the questions becomes, how to measure this.

Use a geographic lens

There is no general “measure of racism” which we can easily access to measure how Toronto students are doing in school. So this is where geography can help. We may well be looking for a measure of concentrated disadvantage or a measure of a neighbourhood peer effect.

Racism creates the inequitable conditions whereby students of colour are more likely live in poor neighbourhoods with low levels of education, fractured families, and little access to good jobs — all variables now included in the LOI and which make it a strong measure of external challenge.

Neighbourhoods may well be the key driver in a student’s performance. And it’s a premise which has some credence.

In 2005, Robert Sampson at Harvard (one of my favourite researchers), investigated the connection between race and violence; he found that the main differences between different racial groups’ levels of violence were explained by demographics and neighbourhood conditions. He recommended that interventions which “improved neighbourhood conditions and support families” would be the most effective way to reduce violence.

Sampson also found that neighbourhood distress was inversely related to the number of workers in professional occupations and the proportion of married parents. Higher levels of recent immigrants also had a dampening effect on violence. Tom Carter, at the University of Winnipeg, has cited research supporting similar conclusions in his studies on the inner city.

In effect, what looked like racial differences were actually problems rooted in poverty and deprivation.

Furthermore, an American study found that while racial segregation has been declining, educational segregation has increased. So neighbourhoods are more divided along, arguably, class lines than racial ones. (I don’t know of a similar study in a Canadian urban centre.)

More to thresh out

In the end, what seemed like an easy question may have a complex answer.

read more »

July 18, 2009

Mapping jail and university admissions

The results are in from the stellar Toronto Star team again. This week-end, they released two sets of maps, in many ways the obverse of each other:

The latter map is the result of a court order, as described in a previous post and a strong contribution to  the argument for place-based interventions. Our thanks to them.

The maps looking at university admissions also support the work being done by the Toronto District School Board’s researchers who have mapped university applications and other academic indicators by neighbourhood.

These unsettling maps lay how applicants to one of the most prestigious universities in Canada live in different worlds than the the places where people are being jailed. Opportunities are literally mapped out.

The co-incidental (?) and simultaneous release of maps is evocative of the statistic that, in many American inner cities, there are more young men in jail than in college or university.

I’ll look at more of the details in these maps in another post.

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