To the Editor:
The article “Data Show Retention Disparities” (March 7, 2012) reveals nothing surprising or especially new to those who have been around the education scene for a while or who are familiar with the recent reports issued by the Schott Foundation. It simply affirms what we have been aware of via anecdotal evidence or data from our local hardworking but unexceptional public schools.
Retention disparities along with dropout rates would seem to be part of the whole achievement-gap picture as pointed out by experts such as Robert Balfanz, who was quoted in the article.
It seems that the disparities in academic achievement based on race are often reported receiving front-page news, but disparities in academic achievement based on family structure are either seldom studied or reported with reticence. The work of Sara S. McLanahan at Princeton University suggests that if we were to study the various aspects of the achievement gap, comparing students growing up with both biological parents with students growing up in single-parent homes, we would also find significant disparities. Other than choosing our mate, there is little we can do about our child’s race, but it would seem that there is much we can do about whether or not he or she grows up in a loving home with both parents.
Just as it may be important to hammer home “the intersection of race and poverty,” as Mr. Balfanz says, it might also be important to hammer home the intersection between growing up without both biological parents and the achievement gap. As the father of three adopted children, my own experience, anecdotal evidence, and a smattering of things I have read over the years indicate that children are emotionally best off when raised by their biological parents, preferably both of them.
The key is that along with studies regarding the achievement gap and race and poverty, we need studies of the achievement gap and being raised by a single parent or stepparent. I believe they would reveal much.
The writer is a retired high school teacher.
A version of this article appeared in the April 18, 2012 edition of Education Week as Achievement Gap Needs Further Study