Understanding educational disparities is inherently challenging. While individual components can be studied and understood, understanding educational disparities as a whole has proven much more challenging. These disparities accumulate over time, involve many interactions including circular causality and feedback mechanisms, and extend from early childhood and elementary education to college completion. Often, the connections between causes and effects are obscured.
However, there is reason to be optimistic. Unlike most disparities involving complex systems (e.g., environment and climate change, health care) that have physical momentum, educational disparities are much more likely to be socially constructed through patterns of human behavior, political institutions, and conceptual definitions of what constitutes education and what defines merit. In short, it is possible to imagine radical changes in educational systems if the politics and people’s mental models can be overcome. Achieving this goal can be facilitated by tools that help people to visualize the elements and connections of this system and to identify the system’s major feedback loops and potential intervention points.
Although the work presented here is a causal map and not a formal simulation model, the diagram was developed with the principles of system dynamics in mind and the potential for translating the diagram into an actual simulation model in future work.
by Peter Hovmand