Opinion
Education Opinion

Cool People You Should Know: Suet-Ling Pong

By skoolboy — August 06, 2008 3 min read

Regular readers know that eduwonkette was an early endorser of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education policy statement crafted by Sunny Ladd, Pedro Noguera, and Tom Payzant, and co-signed by some of skoolboy’s favorite scholars, policymakers and activists. The fundamental premise of the policy agenda is that efforts to advance student’s learning and development need to combine policies intended to improve schools with policies designed to transform the social and economic contexts in which children and youth develop. The approach is described as broader and bolder because it postulates that school improvement—which includes holding schools accountable for students’ learning and development—can’t do it alone. Rather, investments in communities, families and other social institutions that shape children’s lives outside of formal schooling are critical to moderating the powerful linkage between socioeconomic advantage and children’s learning and development.

The potential of this approach is illustrated through the research of Suet-Ling Pong, a cool person you should know. Dr. Pong is Professor of Education, Sociology and Demography at Penn State, where she serves as the Professor-in-Charge of the Educational Theory and Policy Program. (Some colleges and universities have program heads, or chairs, or coordinators. At Penn State, apparently, someone is actually in charge!) Over the past 15 years, she has pursued a program of research that has illuminated the mechanisms by which families, neighborhoods, and labor markets – important out-of-school contexts – shape students’ achievement in school.

Dr. Pong’s research strongly suggests that policies can weaken the links between a child’s social and economic background and her achievement. A key example is in the arena of family structure and family policy. In the U.S., we are accustomed to thinking of single-parent families, typically headed by women, as inherently disadvantaged. Female-headed families without another adult in the household struggle economically, and these mothers find it difficult to balance long hours at work and the time they spend with their children at home. As David Ellwood and Christopher Jencks point out, single-parent families are defined as an economic problem, a child development problem, and a moral problem; and the moral overtones have shaped American family policy.

Suet-Ling Pong and her colleagues have shown that there is nothing deterministic about the correlation between growing up in a single-parent family and children’s school achievement. Instead, she finds, the association between single-parenthood and children’s academic outcomes varies across countries. In the U.S., children growing up in single-parent families are comparatively worse off in their math and science achievement, relative to similar children in two-parent families, than is true in other countries, and some European countries have much smaller achievement gaps between single-parent and two-parent families than do others.

A country’s family policy environment is what makes the difference. Family policy takes many forms, including maternity and parental leave, child-care programming and subsidies, public after-school programs, and housing subsidies, to name a few. Countries which Pong and her colleagues describe as having strong family and welfare policies have smaller achievement gaps in math and science between children in single-parent and two-parent families than are found in other countries.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that policies that have helped to close gaps in other countries will have the same effect in the U.S. Policy-borrowing is a very delicate matter, and the successful enactment of a policy depends on many factors beyond the substance of the policy itself. Nor can we conclude that family and welfare policies are likely to eliminate the many disparities in academic outcomes observed in the U.S. Schools can’t do it alone—and neither can families and communities. But policies that unite these social institutions in a concerted effort have more potential to create progress than those that treat them in isolation from one another.

The opinions expressed in eduwonkette are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read