We Need Better Parents


Kids can’t do well in school unless their family has a lot of money, according to an op-ed in the New York Times, which goes on to argue that massive intervention by “policy makers” is needed to confront this issue head-on.

Head Start

The authors, Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske, are a husband-and-wife team of academic researchers. Education reform in a nutshell: First thing, let’s kill all the academic researchers.

Helen and Ed cherry-picked the results of a Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study to show that students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts.

But they didn’t actually link to the PISA results, because if they had, people would see that Helen and Ed just ignored the three main findings, which are:

  • Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all.
  • The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background. [That seems obvious, given that reading a book with your kid doesn’t cost anything. Can’t afford books? Borrow them from the library.]
  • Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.

Andreas Schleicher, a member of the PISA research team, says that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.”

Another recent study, by the Center for Public Education, found that parent actions such as monitoring homework, making sure children get to school, rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college.

Doesn’t this seem way too obvious for funded research?

To be sure, the Epps family doesn’t live in a poverty zone, but neither does it cost anything to teach a kid how to incorporate academics into his daily routine, or to review homework every night, or to read a book together.

I don’t think Helen and Ed have any kids of their own. They’re both white, in their 60s, maybe 70s. They’re true believers, ignoring reality and misrepresenting research findings to stake out what they imagine to be the moral high ground.

Listen, Helen and Ed, Ed and Helen: The only thing that matters in education is parents. Kids can be good at anything if that thing is important to them. And since kids are not born knowing what’s important and what isn’t, it’s up to their parents to teach them.

Are low-income parents going to focus their lives on teaching their children the importance of education? Of course not. They’re going to amuse themselves to death with the television. That’s why they’re impoverished in the first place.

Bad parenting is an epidemic in America. That’s okay. Failure is a part of life, even in America. School is a good place to learn that.

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