Education Letter to the Editor

The Achievement Gap Isn’t on Parents

January 16, 2018 1 min read
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To the Editor:

A recent blog post by Walt Gardner (“The Hard Truth About the Achievement Gap,”) placed the blame for the achievement gap on one group above others: parents.

While parents and guardians do play a vital role in academic success, Gardner’s argument fails to weigh the complexity of systemic inequity. More than half of students in U.S. public schools—that’s 25 million students—are considered low-income. Students whose families are in the lowest quartile of income earners have a less than 10 percent college graduation rate by age 24, compared with 77 percent for the highest quartile, according to a 2015 report by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy.

Parents working to overcome the challenges of poverty do not devalue education simply because they live in underfunded school districts or lack financial resources to hire tutors or pay for extracurricular activities. A single parent may have to work multiple jobs, leaving little time to volunteer in the classroom or spend evenings helping with homework. And these challenges are amplified for first-generation college students. Without having applied to or attended college, even the most caring and involved parents simply lack the experience and context to help their students navigate the often confusing system of college admissions.

The solution to closing the achievement gap is not through parents alone, but through a community-based approach. In the 36 years since the “I Have A Dream” Foundation was founded, we have learned that long-term, individualized, academic, social, and emotional support, starting in elementary school and continuing through postsecondary, helps get students in underserved communities to and through college. The more than 18,000 students served by our programs have earned bachelor’s degrees at over 3 times the rate of their peers. We work closely with students’ families to help parents understand how they can best support their children through their academic lives. We don’t blame parents for failing schools and struggling students; we support them. And by doing so, students receive the resources they need to work their way to academic success.

Eugena Oh

President & CEO

“I Have A Dream” Foundation

New York, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2018 edition of Education Week as The Achievement Gap Isn’t on Parents

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