Closing the parenting gap

We’ll never narrow the achievement gap significantly unless we narrow the “good parenting gap” separating affluent and low-income families, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

(I think the gap is about parental education, not income.) But back to Petrilli.

Let’s admit it: The Broader/Bolder types are right when they say that a LOT of what influences student achievement happens outside of schools, and before kids ever set foot in Kindergarten. Where they are wrong, I believe, is in thinking that turbo-charged government programs can compensate for the real challenge: what’s happening (or not) inside the home..

Parents can increase their children’s chances of doing well in school by not having children till the papers have graduated from high school and married. (I once saw a study saying that 90 percent of children born to an unmarried, teen-age high school drop-out live in poverty compared to 9 percent of children born to married, high school graduates who waited till 20 to have their first child.) Petrilli adds: talking and singing to the baby, firm but loving discipline, limits on TV, trips to parks, museums and nature centers and “ready, baby, read.”

. . . out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates and divorce rates have reached catastrophic levels for the poor and the working class–but not for the most affluent and well-educated among us.

. . . You don’t have to be Richy Rich to nurse your baby, or sing to her, or learn how to be loving but firm. Sure, a few of these items are easier with money. (I imagine that low income families use TV as a babysitter more because they can’t afford alternative childcare.) But mostly these take commitment, discipline, and practice.

Petrilli doesn’t know how to promote marriage before babies, but he’d like to try.

Single parenting can be a rational choice in some neighborhoods, responds Dana Goldstein. She lives in New York City, where only one of every four young black men has a job.

. . .  as sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas demonstrate in one of my favorite booksPromises I Can Keep, low-income women often prefer to remain unmarried because the men in their lives–men facing chronic unemployment in the legitimate economy, or who may be addicted or engaged in criminal behaivior–simply do not make stable husbands or fathers.

If I worked for a foundation, I’d hire smart people to design a TV show to model good parenting — and marriage — to viewers who haven’t grown up with that. It would have to be entertaining, so people would watch it voluntarily.

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