DeMarcus Jenkins, assistant professor of education (educational leadership) in the Department of Education Policy Studies, is a recipient of a research grant awarded by the William T. Grant Foundation to study the impact of community re-development programs on Black families.
Jenkins is co-principal investigator (PI) on a team that was awarded a $ 512,000 grant for its research, “Choosing Opportunities: Reducing Racial Inequality with Choice Neighborhoods, Wrap-Around Services, and Case Management.” The project examines the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI), which was designed to transform racially segregated neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty through mixed-income housing re-development, community-based wrap-around services, and case management.
The researchers’ project will focus on CNI projects in Baltimore, St. Louis, and Memphis.
“One of our primary goals is to find out what degree does CNI reduce inequality in academic outcomes for Black youth?” said Jenkins. “We’re hoping to make an impact not only for an academic audience but also for policymakers and legislators.”
Jenkins’ collaborators on the project are PI Jason Jabbari, assistant research professor at the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Petersburg. Louis; Odis Johnson Jr., Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Social Policy and STEM Equity at Johns Hopkins University; Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Shanti K. Khinduka Distinguished Professor at the Brown School at Washington University; Yung Chun, senior analyst at SPI; Sophia Fox-Dichter, a mixed-methods data analyst at SPI; and Kourtney Gilbert, a project coordinator at SPI.
A primary motivation for undertaking the study, Jenkins said, was to examine how federal programs such as CNI are addressing the systemic inequities in urban, high-poverty, racially segregated neighborhoods. CNI was designed to re-develop systemically under-invested communities while re-locating families to higher-income neighborhoods in the process. Specifically, the CNI contains (a) policies that focus on mixed-income redevelopments and relocations, (b) programs that involve collaboration with community organizations offering comprehensive services for families (eg wrap-around services), and (c) practices that directly connect families to educational resources and supports through customized planning and assistance (ie case managers).
“We are looking at the pre-location, re-location and re-settlement stages to get a sense of the re-development efforts; how families make decisions around school choice; the wrap-around services that are related to or are part of the CNI network; and the customized services that families utilize through the re-development process, ”Jenkins said.
While CNI’s overarching goal is to re-develop high-poverty neighborhoods through mixed-income housing and new amenities for families, Jenkins said he and his colleagues are particularly interested in how the initiative might impact Black students’ academic achievement.
“We are really thinking about making a broader impact across disciplines around intersections of mixed-income housing and educational outcomes for Black youth,” he said.
The researchers are also trying to get a sense of the overall experience of moving, re-locating and re-settlement for Black families, Jenkins added.
“Moving and re-locating causes disruption that impacts the overall quality of life,” he said. “What are the experiences of Black families who are caught in that process?”
Through a research-practice partnership with Urban Strategies Inc. (USI) – the largest implementation partner and case management provider for the CNI – the researchers will employ a mixed-methods framework to explore if, how, why, and for whom CNI policies, programs, and practices reduce racial inequalities in academic outcomes. Specifically, they will create a comprehensive dataset that contains family, student, neighborhood, and school data for CNI students and their non-CNI classmates.
In addition, the researchers will use in-depth qualitative interviews with case managers and residents to understand (a) how residents navigate CNI’s policies, programs, and practices, (b) what barriers residents have faced in securing better opportunities and outcomes for their children and for themselves, and (c) what has helped residents overcome these barriers.