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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

If families fail, what can schools do?

Who’s your daddy? asks Ian Rowe, a Fordham fellow, who leads two charter schools in the South Bronx. That’s the message on two mobile DNA testing labs that roam the neighborhood.

Education reformers believe that “a child born or raised in a low-income neighborhood should not be destined for a life of poverty,” writes Rowe. “But what happens when poverty is intertwined with widespread fatherlessness and family disintegration?”

Perhaps it is time to confess, somewhat reluctantly, that even the most high-performing schools are necessary but insufficient to overcome the challenges children face when they live in low-income communities in which family instability is the norm.

Poverty isn’t new, he writes. “In 1960, fewer than 5 percent of all births in the US were out of wedlock; today it’s more than 40 percent.”

Schools should teach children that their life decisions, such as finishing school, getting a job and marrying before having children, will affect their adult success, Rowe writes.


For children born into poor, single-parent families, preschool starts too late, concludes a paper by economist James Heckman and colleagues. Two 1970s’ experiments, which provided full-time care from cradle (eight weeks of age) to kindergarten, provided lasting benefits, they conclude.

Government-funded preschool has failed to deliver on promises of massive social benefits, counters Joy Pullman in The Federalist.

Advantaged children hear millions more words by the age of five than disadvantaged children, Heckman told NPR. The way to close the gap is “reading to the child, by encouraging the child.”

That’s what parents — especially married parents — do, writes Pullman. Yet, “two in five children” are “born into a kind of home that social scientists on both the Left and Right unanimously agree sets them up to fail.”

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