Saturday, January 8, 2011

The educational gap and parental responsibility

A study of New Jersey's public schools published this week shows that an achievement gap persists between white and Asian students, and black and Hispanic students.  As expected, the gap is reflected in socio-economic differences as well, with students in disadvantaged communities lagging significantly in every marker of academic achievement.  Public schools in New Jersey's toniest neighborhoods help put the state at or near the top of national rankings at almost every level and in almost every category; yet it is also home to some of the poorest performing schools in the country.  Nationally, in some reports, black students lag four grades behind their white counterparts.  While administrators, teachers, and holders of the money purses are being lambasted for failing our children, parents are being let off the hook too easily.  There is no denying that children in poor communities are often stuck with overworked teachers, school buildings in disrepair, underfunded budgets, and surroundings overwhelmed with various social ills.  There are, however, many factors well within parents' control.

There is a pervasive attitude of 'victim-hood' and expectancy among many poor black folks that prevents them from acting in their own best interest.  Yes, many schools are bad. Yes, many inner schools have less technological resources than schools in wealthier communities.  Yes, wealthier parents have more educational choices for their children.  But to accept these circumstances as insurmountable, is to accept that every poor child is doomed at birth.  To overlook parental responsibility in the equation is to miss opportunities to be advocates for our children's academic success.  More than anything, to relegate full responsibility for our children's achievement to teachers, administrators and politicians is  not parenting.

Study and after study show that many of the situational characteristics of high performing students have to do with the actions and attitudes of parents: parent involvement, reading at home, and homework assistance.

Parent involvement has been shown to be one of the most important factors in determining the academic achievement of students, sometimes even more than school performance or the socio-economic  state of the community.  With that kind of indicator classrooms in poor performing schools should be packed wall-to-wall with parents every day.  Instead school districts nationwide are having to bribe and cajole parents to take an active role in educating their children.  Lawmakers in Detroit are considering jail time for parents who don't make it to at least one parent-teacher conference in a school year.

There is a clear correlation between being able to read and being able to achieve academically.  Reading is at the base upon which academic learning is built, and the earlier children develop the ability and appreciation for reading, the better it bodes for their long term performance. As shown in a 20-year study conducted by the University of Nevada and published in 2010, merely having books in a child's home increases his chances for academic achievement in the same proportion as having university-educated parents. Researcher Mariah Evans found that children of lesser-educated parents benefited most from having books in their homes.

There is a lot of debate about how much homework children should get, and how involved parents should be with the getting it done; but homework reinforces subject matter and lets parents know what there children are doing in school.  Making sure homework gets done has always been part of Parenting 101. Now we know it can help improve a child's academic prospect.

For these small investments of time and resources, parents can make a significant investment in their child's education - no matter their school, or socioeconomic circumstances.  Politicians, school administrators, and teachers are failing children. Parents don't have to fail them too.