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New Childhood Development Study Follows 300 Minority Families In North Texas

Members of the Children and Families Lab at UT Dallas study a video as part of the Dallas Project on Education Pathways project.
UT Dallas
Members of the Children and Families Lab at UT Dallas study a video as part of the Dallas Project on Education Pathways project.

The Dallas Project on Education Pathways has been described as one of the most comprehensive studies into childhood development and school readiness in the nation. The multi-year project has been following the lives of hundreds of low income African-American and Hispanic children.

As part of the KERA Breakthroughs project, we talked with Margaret Tresch Owen. She's director of UT Dallas’ Center for Children and Families project, which she co-leads.

Interview Highlights

On the goal of the research:

We're following this particular sample of children in part because we have not looked at the development of low income children and how they develop self regulation abilities starting early in life. We haven't followed them longitudinally.

There have been studies of African-American children more than there have been of Latino children. Here in Dallas, the population of young Hispanic children is great, so we're studying both ethnicities.

On the data being examined:

The big question is, what are the trajectories of their self-regulation? So, think about impulse control. Think about working memory, being able to sit still and listen, follow directions, and how that relates to their school readiness, then subsequently to their school achievement every single year since they've been in kindergarten. 

On what inhibits kids from performing well in school:

There are many studies that show growing up with inadequate resources in terms of family income is one strong predictor, and you know the disparities in school achievement related to income is just so very persistent. What we're trying to do is dig a little deeper, and one aspect that we've really focused on is what we call quality of parenting.

So, we look at interactions between the children and their mothers, and also between fathers and the children, and we look at how responsive and engaged they are with their child, whether or not they are overly intrusive and demanding, how positive, how much warmth they they show, and how negative they are with their child.

On where the research is headed:

We will be following these kids into seventh grade because this is five years of funding. So we're going to be seeing them transition through the middle school years into secondary education . We'll be following and looking at their engagement in risky behavior and how self-regulation skills related to that.

We test every year. Now they can begin to self report problem behaviors, as well as us getting the parents' reports, and relate them to their trajectories in academic achievement.

We know these kids, by the demographics, are at higher risk of engaging in risky behavior in adolescence and at higher risk of dropping out of high school. They're more at risk for a number of things.

We'll have new stories to tell from the data that come from these longitudinal studies that wwe've made of their home environment and now their school environments as they go through middle school and become adolescents.

Margaret Tresch Owen is director of UT Dallas's Center for Children and Families. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.