Report: Negligent Parenting Hurts Black Students’ Performance

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

A newly-published report says that some parenting choices and attitudes can hurt the success of black students in school.

The Economic Policy Institute is a left-leaning think tank funded in part by unions. After noting that their report does not describe “all lower-social-class families” the authors look at social factors which depress student performance.

In its first key finding, the report focuses on the different parenting styles found in black and white households and argues that these cultural differences help create an achievement gap not fixable by schools. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey EPI produces the following chart:

Reading ratio

The report states: “White adults spend 36 percent more time than black adults reading to young children, and three times more time talking with and listening to them. Other analyses find that black mothers are about two-thirds as likely as white mothers to read to toddlers daily.”

Later, the report offers this striking factoid: “By age 6, white children have typically spent 1,300 more hours engaged in conversations with adults than black children.”

EPI’s report endeavors to show that these differences are not simply the result of comparing rich against poor. After noting that the number of books in a home is “a reliable indicator of home intellectual environment,” EPI offers this striking chart:


Overall, white homes had 2.5 times as many books as black homes. But the most surprising finding is that the top quintile of black homes reported having fewer books (69) than the bottom quintile of white homes (71).

These differences in reading to and talking with children begin to add up even before kids get to school:

Toddlers of low-income mothers who read to them daily have better vocabulary and comprehension at 24 months. Five-year-olds have poorer language and math skills if, when they were two years old, their parents were less educationally supportive—engaging in less cognitive stimulation, being less sensitive to children’s perspectives, and demonstrating less love, respect, and admiration toward their children—when doing activities like puzzles.

EPI notes that attitudes toward education tend to be based more on the parent’s experience than the child’s immediate environment. The report highlights a study which found, “the quality of the neighborhood where a child’s mother was raised has a bigger influence on the child’s achievement than the quality of neighborhood where the child was raised.”

There is a great deal more to the EPI report, including four more social factors that depressing student achievement. These include single parenthood, irregular work schedules, lack of access to preventative health care and lead exposure. The last of these, which some have posited correlates strongly with overall levels of crime, seems to be declining sharply over the last decade.


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