Why can’t Johnny read? It’s a parenting gap
Focusing on the racial achievement gap obscures the underlying problem, argues Ian Rowe, a visiting fellow at Fordham. The family structure gap is huge and widening. Reformers ignore “the explosion in unplanned, out-of-wedlock pregnancies and births,” he writes.
Fatherless kids struggle, regardless of their race, writes Rowe. If Johnny can’t read, there’s a good chance he’s growing up in a fractured family.
Consider a 2016 MIT research study that assessed the family characteristics and academic, disciplinary, and high school graduation records for more than one million children born in Florida between 1992 and 2002. One of the report’s key conclusions was that “a sizable portion of the documented minority-white difference in educational and behavioral gender gaps is attributable to higher degrees of family disadvantage among minority families.”
A longitudinal study using data on children born between 1954 and 1985 found that “American children raised in single-parent homes appear to be at a greater disadvantage educationally than ever before.”
“The underlying conditions undermining academic success and mobility in the black community are now doing the same in the white community,” Rowe writes. “As the New York Times just reported, the recent increase in dysfunctional behavior among non-college white men correlates with the substantial increase in the rate of white nonmarital births, up from 22.2 percent in 1993 to 35.7 percent in 2014. In 1965, the white nonmarital birth rate was 3.4 percent.”
Climbing out of poverty requires character as well as cognitive skills, writes Tom Edsall in the New York Times
Key character strengths are “perseverance, industriousness, grit, resilience, curiosity, application” and “self-control, future orientation, self-discipline, impulse control, delay of gratification,” concludes a 2014 Brookings paper. These strengths correlate with family income, the mother’s education level and being raised in a “continuously married two-parent” family.
Growing up in a stable two-parent family gives children a major advantage in life, concludes James Heckman, a Nobel laureate and University of Chicago economist, in a 2011 paper, The American Family in Black and White.