Friday, September 10, 2010

Bill Jackson, head of, with some comments on my recent email:


Reading your emails for the last few days, I can't help but connect a few dots between the Steinberg research and the Noguera op-ed.


Steinberg's research provides terrific insight into the effects of parental (and peer) opportunities, attitudes and behavior on student achievement. It's really important stuff.


Noguera, who I largely agree with too, sees the world this way:


"There has been a fierce, ongoing debate among educational leaders about how to teach poor children: One side has argued that we must address the wide variety of social issues (like poor health and nutrition, mobility, inadequate preparation for school, etc.) that tend to be associated with poverty. The other side has argued that schools serving poor children must focus on education alone and stop making excuses."


Actually, both camps that Noguera cites pretty much ignore Steinberg's point:  in addition to poverty per se, parent knowledge, attitudes and behavior have a huge impact on student success. You don't have to be rich to have high expectations for your children. You don't have to have a lot of money to make school and working hard a huge priority in your family's life.  (Of course, it helps a lot to have money…access to great summer camps, private schools, tutors, other benefits.)


Here's one way to dramatize this: If you're a poor kid in New York, there is one "intervention" that is at least as powerful as KIPP and other high-performing schools: having an Asian parent. I looked at the NYC NAEP data and the evidence is pretty compelling on that. I'm not saying that all parents should try to be "Asian" in their parenting approach (or even that there is one "Asian" way to parent). One sees effective parenting in all ethnic and income groups. I am saying that parents have a huge impact, and their potential impact depends only partly on how much money they have.


At GreatSchools, we call use the term "parenting gap" to describe the gap in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors between more effective and less effective parents. Our back of the envelope calculation suggests that closing 1% of the parenting gap nationally would have about the same impact as replacing dozens of low-performing schools with about 150 high performing schools like KIPP. (By "impact," I mean: "increase in college-ready high school graduation rates")


If we're serious about education reform, we can't ignore the parenting gap anymore. Education reform is not just about school improvement, it's also about informing and inspiring parents so that they can "come on the team" with high expectations and high levels of support. We'll get much farther much faster if we think this way.

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