The school year is underway for children across the US, and concerns around equity and opportunity dominate the headlines. With many schools having pivoted to either hybrid models or fully remote instruction due to health concerns amid the pandemic, educators, parents, and children themselves are evaluating the challenges of online learning. Concerns abound that remote learning puts children, particularly underserved and special needs children, at a disadvantage due to the digital divide, among other factors. It’s helpful, therefore, for education researchers, practitioners and policymakers to be able to measure children’s opportunity prior to the transition to remote learning to gauge resilience to pandemic-related shifts.
The Child Opportunity Index, created by Diversity Data Kids, can provide such a baseline to identify neighborhood-level strengths and weaknesses affecting children’s outcomes, and it is now available on PolicyMap. The neighborhood-level Index ranks the conditions and availability of resources, by neighborhood, that are crucial to children’s healthy development. Categories ranging from “Very Low Opportunity” to “Very High Opportunity” provide users with an instant understanding of how well their neighborhood fares in comparison to others across the US, relative to the state, and relative to the metro area in which they reside. The Child Opportunity Index also provides breakdowns for more granular analyses of (1) educational opportunity, (2) health and environment strengths and challenges, and (3) social and economic opportunity.
As school officials, administrators, and policymakers reckon with the impacts of distance learning, understanding the pre-pandemic climate of students’ neighborhood conditions can inform policies related to the current school year. For instance, using the Child Opportunity Index for St. Louis City Schools (relative to the metro area), we see that a number of neighborhoods in St. Louis City, primarily in the south and western areas of the city, score “Very High” for Child Opportunity. Notably, the Southhampton neighborhood in southwest St. Louis appears as an area of strength.
When we drill down to the Health and Environment measure, the Southhampton neighborhood is indicated as having High Opportunity specifically for access to green space, lower rates of vacant housing, lower pollutants, higher health insurance rates, among other factors.
And the Social and Economic domain shows “Very High” levels of opportunity in the Southhampton neighborhood, indicating accessible employment opportunities, as well as availability of local funds for amenities such as parks and after-school programs.
These high rankings can indicate potentially positive socioeconomic outcomes for children in the neighborhood (measured by the Health and Environment domain), and may indicate a positive influence on children’s future aspirations, decision-making, and employment opportunities (measured by the Social and Economic domain). However, when scrutinizing education specifically, those neighborhoods that score well in the main Opportunity Index, the Health and Environment measure, and the Social and Economic measure rank as “Moderate” in Educational Opportunity, indicating possible weaknesses in early childhood and traditional educational institutions:
Policymakers and school administrators can rely on the Child Opportunity Index to pinpoint opportunity challenges at the neighborhood level. In the example of Southhampton, the neighborhood clearly has high opportunity advantages due to health, the environment, social, and economic strengths but educational institutions ranging from early childhood educational facilities to high schools may need additional support for children to thrive, particularly in a time of pandemic-related challenges. As remote learning continues into the fall, a focus on targeted educational interventions such as individualized instruction, rather than a focus on extracurricular activities, for example, may be crucial to supporting resilience among students in this neighborhood. In neighborhoods across the U.S. assessments using the Child Opportunity Index will doubtlessly reveal divergent challenges, suggesting vastly different strategies. The Child Opportunity Index is instructive in identifying those interventions needed in neighborhoods across the U.S. that support resilience during this time of remote learning.