Help under-resourced parents fight for better schools
CHICAGO -- A new national study shows that minorities hold a dim view of public education: 64 percent of African-Americans, 45 percent of Latinos, and 40 percent of Native Americans who were surveyed believe that children in their own racial or ethnic group don't have the same opportunity to get a quality education as white children.
On the contrary, only 12 percent of white respondents and 17 percent of Asian-Americans thought their local school system would disadvantage their kids, according to a report in The Brown Center Chalkboard blog of the Brookings Institution.
Those who took the survey -- which was conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health -- generally believed that the schools in their own neighborhoods were about the same as in other places. The study reflects many previous reports of attitudes toward local public schools, but it also highlights how aggregated data can obscure the needs of those with the biggest challenges.
The reality is that minority families with fewer personal and community resources are the likeliest to be dissatisfied with the education their kids get.
These same families -- typically with lower incomes, higher rates of poverty, lower educational attainment rates and scarcer social capital -- are the worst equipped to do what wealthier white and Asian-American families can do: take their kids' education into their own hands.
We've all heard about ultra-demanding "Tiger Moms" who make their kids into high achievers by force of sheer will. And we know all about the well-educated class of moms who do the same in more of a helicopter style.
Writing in her illuminating book, "The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed," author Jessica Lahey describes the modern conundrum of the privileged parent: "I hover over homework and obsess about grade-point averages as the specter of college admission looms large on the horizon. It is as if the better angels of my nature have been cowed into silence, and I've bought into the hype: Unless I push my kids to do more, be more, they will fail, and, by logical extension, I will have failed as a mother."
But families who live in highly segregated communities and send their children to struggling schools don't have the luxury of supplementing their kids' education with enriching extracurricular activities or personal tutors and coaches. Often they don't even have the skills necessary to help their own elementary school-aged children with homework or projects.
For many black, Hispanic and Native American parents -- but certainly not all -- it is largely seen as the fault of the school if their children fail academically. After all, the thinking goes, the school houses the experts entrusted with making sure their kids learn.
These are parents and extended family members who may never have known to engage their babies in dialogue and never heard of the 30-million-word gap between what 3-year-olds in the wealthiest families have heard compared with children in the poorest families. Or they didn't realize that young kids should be read to -- and should be probed while reading -- to help develop reading comprehension. Or that counting out loud with toddlers is a key step in ensuring that kids arrive to kindergarten with the basic math skills necessary to start formal academic learning.
Viewed in this context, it's no wonder that some minorities have lower expectations for their kids' public education than your "average" respondent.
And it serves to underscore how crucial it is for low-resourced families to get help so they can prepare their children for the best possible start in academics.
Yes, of course, struggling schools need more resources to better serve low-income populations.
But, as much research has found, Latino and African-American children start lagging behind their white and Asian-American peers by 24 months of age -- so even preschool may be too late to intervene.
To ensure academic success for America's neediest students, communities with high-minority and low-income populations require investments in programs that will help brand-new parents understand that they are their child's first, best and most important teacher.
It's great to analyze how parents in these communities feel about their schools. But to actually impact their situations, our country needs to equip badly under-resourced parents with the skills to help educate their children -- and the training to advocate for better schools.
Esther Cepeda's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group