The Gap Begins at Home

It's no secret that "closing the achievement gap" is an uphill battle. Even with programs like Teach for America and NYC Teaching Fellows and a massive government program like NCLB, things, to put it mildly, aren't looking up. One major obstacle to closing the achievement gap, amongst the many, is home environments of students growing up in poverty. A recent study done by the ETS, responsible for creating and administering more than 50 million tests annually, and detailed in the NY Times attempted to quantify the effects of home environment on student achievement.

The E.T.S. researchers took four variables that are beyond the control of schools: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.

I'm not trying to take any of the onus away from the terribly flawed system of education in our country. Many studies have shown that an effective teacher is the number 1 factor in student achievement (A recent study by the Hoover Institution for example came to some particularly interesting conclusions about alternative certification programs like NYC Teaching Fellows that really addressed my ongoing question: am I part of the solution or part of the problem?).

Nonetheless, the home factors the ETS studied seem all too familiar. Most of my kids come from single parent homes. Many of them are habitually tardy or absent. Most of their parents are working hard to make ends meet which doesn't leave much time for reading aloud or checking up on homework. The tragic fact is this: "by the time these children start school at age 5, they are far behind, and tend to stay behind all through high school. There is no evidence that the gap is being closed."


Hugh O'Donnell said…
Good post, Ruben! I caught this tidbit on my daily ASCD update today, and posted it this afternoon.

This is a big deal, and I'm glad you put it out there.

I didn't miss the chance to slam the fed for intruding into our territory, especially since it's a wasteful duplication of effort.

Hugh aka Repairman

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