The Achievement Gap: Blame The Parents

When will we address the achievement gap as it relates to, well, reality? Here is a start:
Study Cites Impact of “Low Quality Parenting” on Achievement
by Robert Pondiscio on December 23, 2008

“Low-quality parenting” can determine the ‘school readiness’ of children from low-income backgrounds,” according to a new report from Columbia University professor Jane Waldfogel.

Waldfogel and Elizabeth Washbrook of the University of Bristol in the U.K. analyzed data on 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 and 10,000 children born in the United States in 2001. The children in both studies were followed from the age of nine months onwards, and completed tests in language, literacy and mathematics skills at ages three, four or five. The authors write:
During the crucial first few years of life, low-income children experience poorer environments in terms of factors that would promote their cognitive, social and health development.They are more likely to begin school with deficits in their learning ability and social behaviour – and, as a result, they progress more slowly than their more affluent peers and achieve fewer educational qualifications, even in circumstances in which schools serve all pupils equally.
The research also shows that “higher-income mothers interact more positively with their children” when they are as young as nine months old, show greater sensitivity to their needs, are less intrusive and provide more cognitive stimulation. These types of behaviors are then strongly related to children’s performance at the time of entry to school, and in particular to language development.
Our research identifies lower quality parenting behaviours as a key factor behind the deficits in school readiness of low-income children in the US. If that is indeed the case, the question naturally arises of what can be done to improve parenting skills in the poorest families.
A BBC report on the study carries the subhed, “Poor parenting is the key factor behind the significant gaps in readiness for school between children from low and middle income families.” It’s a testament to how deeply ingrained the idea that teachers and schools should be able to overcome all deficits that such a headline seems mildly shocking to American eyes.

The study appears in the University of Bristol’s Research in Public Policy; a podcast with Elizabeth Washbrook on the report is available here.

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