Originally posted at the National Journal's Education Experts blog, in response to the questions: Since closing the achievement gap is a major national priority, why aren't we making better progress? What new ideas are there out there to close the gap? Are there individual states or schools making gains that could serve as a model for the rest of the country?
Rothstein emphasizes the importance of access to services like health care. Children with a toothache or asthma cannot learn nearly as well as children who have those problems taken care of. This is common sense.
Of course, we ambitious education activists must help work for the day when children come to school with their toothache taken care of or their asthma treated. Whether the solutions be “liberal” or “conservative,” we must pursue them if we want more children to come to school ready and able to learn.
Price is talking about the influence that parents and culture have on education success (and the achievement gap) and I think this factor is also vitally important. And it’s not true that parents’ impact is pre-determined by income.
Take a look at California and compare the achievement of low-income Asian students with low-income Latino students, as measured by California state tests. In 2007, 53% of low-income Asian students were scoring proficient on California’s mathematics standards – compared to just 22% of low-income Latino students. Why?
My high-achieving Asian friends, rich and poor, tell a similar story. “I did well in school because I didn’t have a choice…my parents made sure that I did.” More Asian parents prioritize learning and teach their children that doing well in school is something they need to do for the family.
We need a huge dose of that kind of thinking in America now. Our children should feel the expectations of their parents, their ancestors and their society: Doing well in school is an obligation you have. We insist on this because we want you to be all you can be and we want you to be able to fully participate in and contribute to our family, community and nation.
And then there is the issue of parent skills. In addition to setting high expectations, parents have the opportunity to make a huge difference in their children’s education by cultivating character traits that promote school success, supporting learning at home and school, choosing high-performing schools, and guiding their children to college or other postsecondary training. We have to build parents’ skills so they can do these things better.
This kind of cultural transformation and parent skill-building may be even harder than “school reform,” but it will be immensely powerful. Just closing a modest portion of the “parent expectations gap” between low- and high-income parents would have the equivalent impact on student achievement and success as replacing hundreds of low-performing schools with high-performing ones.
This is the core of what we’re working on at GreatSchools.