Get real about education reform

In a review of efforts over the decades to improve public education, Diane Ravitch attributes their failure to poverty (“The Education Reform Movement Has Failed America. We Need Common Sense Solutions That Work,” Time, Feb. 1). Neither vouchers, parental choice, nor charter schools have worked to boost test scores, she declares.

I don’t doubt that poverty is indeed a factor in the disappointing outcomes.  But I maintain that what takes place in the home is more important.  I’m talking about the values that parents inculcate in their children.  If poverty indeed is the villain, then how to explain the sterling performance of so many Asian students who come from low-income families?

Proper nutrition, available medical care and decent housing will no doubt help students learn more.  But they will do little to change the attitude that parents teach their children about the importance of education.  All the money in the world won’t do that.

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2 Replies to “Get real about education reform”

  1. As noted in earlier comments, I give a lot of weight to the research re how low-SES parents and high-SES parents differ markedly in the quantity and quality of adult-child verbal interaction in the home from birth through kindergarten. The higher the parents’ SES, the more/better adult-child verbal interaction.

    The research also suggests (but does not show as definitely) that there is a strong correlation between the quantity/quality of adult-child verbal interaction and the child’s vocabulary size, cognitive skills and neural development when the child starts kindergarten.

    In other words, higher-SES parents talk to their kids more (and better) than lower-SES parents + the more/better talking gives the higher-SES kid a better shot at doing well academically in school.

    This would explain why the low-income but higher-SES immigrant parents (the Vietnamese engineers and teachers who are driving cabs or working at 7-11 in the US) raise kids who do well academically.

    My guess is that much of the difference in adult-child verbal interaction is the result of each generation parenting in the same way that they themselves were parented when they were kids — not that higher-SES parents care more about their kids than lower-SES parents but rather that higher-SES parents are working off a more talk-focused model of parenting than lower-SES parents are. Obviously, if a kid is being raised by a single parent and that parent is working two part-time jobs to barely make ends meet, that kid will have a lot fewer opportunities for high-quantity/high-quality adult-child verbal interaction than the kid who is being raised by two parents with at least one of the two parents physically present in the home every night and all day on weekends. So, $ does matter as well re the quantity/quality of adult-child verbal interaction. But, I think culture makes the greater difference.


  2. Labor Lawyer: I keep coming back to culture as the No. 1 factor in explaining differences in student performance. It’s not that poverty is unimportant. Of course it plays a role, but how to explain the performance of poor Asian students? And how to explain the performance of Jewish students from poor backgrounds? No group is a monolith, but since reformers like to generalize, I suggest they look more deeply into these two groups.


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