Closing achievement gaps requires more than education reform

FREDDIE ALLEN | 6/22/2015, 10:02 a.m.
Education reform alone isn’t enough to close achievement gaps between Blacks and Whites, according to a new report by the ...
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WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Education reform alone isn’t enough to close achievement gaps between Blacks and Whites, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The study by EPI, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on the needs of low- and middle-income families, analyzed how key social and class factors work to diminish student achievement. Those characteristics include parenting practices, single parenthood, irregular work schedules, lack of access to primary and preventive health care and lead exposure.

Leila Morsy, a lecturer from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, said that even though politicians understand that family and community characteristics affect student performance, they don’t understand how to address its impact.

“Though not all lower-social-class families have each of these characteristics, all have many of them,” Morsy said in a statement. “Pushing policies that address these social class characteristics might be a more powerful way to raise the achievement of disadvantaged children than school improvement strategies.”

Educators should still be encouraged to support strategies such as improving access to early childhood care and education, school-based health centers and after-school and summer opportunities, the report suggested, but those programs must be pursued in conjunction with “macroeconomic policies like full employment, higher wages, and stable work schedules,” that also help to nurture children.

Parental engagement and an educational home environment are critical to fostering student achievement.

According to the Education Department’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (Kindergarten Class of 2010–2011), Black parents reported an average of 44 books in the home, less than half the number given by White parents (112). Black parents also spend about 40 percent less time reading to their young children compared to Whites and Black mothers are “two-thirds as likely as White mothers to read to toddlers daily,” according to the EPI report.

Parental engagement and home environment can be life-changing in those preschool years and research shows that poor families, independent of race, can take steps to make sure that their children don’t lose ground to their financially-stable peers.

“Low-income parents of children in Head Start who spend more time reading to their children, visit the library more often, keep more children’s books in the home, and begin reading to their children at an earlier age have children with higher literacy skills,” the report said. “These children are more ready to read when they reach school age, have better vocabularies, are better able to identify words and letters, and know more story and print concepts – the title of a book, the author, reading from left to right, understanding characters’ feelings.”

More than half of Black children under the age of 18 live in homes with absent fathers, compared to just 18 percent of White children.

The report said that single parents are more stressed and that single mothers who suffer from depression at higher rates are “more likely to abuse children, causing worse outcomes for children themselves.”

That stress is compounded when parents have irregular or nighttime work schedules.

“For example, for low-income African American mothers of preschool children, each additional nighttime hour of work is associated with a decrease in cognitively stimulating mother – child activities,” the report said.