Malcolm Gladwell, the noted social commentator of Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers fame describes a research study of children in Baltimore. The study was designed to figure out why children from wealthier family backgrounds performed better than those from impoverished families. Prior to the study, some thought genes or the educational background of the parents would be the determining factors. Neither was most significant.
The critical difference: how much students developed academically during the summer. Who is in charge of student’s education in the summer? Parents.
The researchers discovered that the correlation with wealth and academic accomplishment is not about wealth at all but rather parental involvement in providing additional educational opportunities. Wealth made it easier to provide such opportunities and, thus, from a macro perspective, led to greater achievement.
The detail of the study revealed that children from lower economic backgrounds learned at an equal rate as their wealthier counterparts during the school year. For that reason, each group tested nearly equally during the first couple of years of schooling. The noticeable differences in achievement started showing up thereafter. That was curious to the researchers. Differences in genes or parental educational background would presumably have an equal effect on 1st graders as on 4th graders. The students were consistently measured to determine how much they improved during the school year. For the most part, the findings stayed the same: the parental income of students had no effect during the school year.
But, the achievement gap kept increasing each year. It was then that they realized that those from wealthier families learned more in the summer.
So, for example, Student Affluent and Student Impoverished had equal achievement at the end of 1st grade. But, Student Affluent’s parents were able to enforce self-study, send their child to enrichment camps, and obtain tutoring. These parents generally served as Chief Education Officers in the summer. Student Impoverished’s parents were generally not in the position to do any of those things.
It does need to be emphasized that there was no data to indicate that this was a reflection of values. Instead, the lack of involvement emanated due to lack of resources – both economic and energetic. Many impoverished families in the research study were headed by single parents. Most of these working parents neither had the economic resources to pay for academic enrichment nor the energy to meaningfully educate their child. They were, after all, doing their best to provide economic sustenance for their family.
As the years passed, Student Affluent’s summers of enrichment gradually shifted the achievement gap between the two students to greater proportions.
Gladwell pointed to another finding of equally significant dimensions for parental involvement: when reviewing students from countries that performed well on international education tests, the length of the student’s school year was the most dominant factor that predicted success. US students spend about 180 days in school. Several Asian countries – including those whose students crushed US students in international education tests – have 220-240 school days per year.
Parental involvement in education during non-school days is the only way to close that differential.
Prior to global workforce competition, the achievement gap between US students and others would not likely lead to a significant future impact. As the world has become “flat” , our students are competing against international competition. Students from other countries are working 20-30% longer each school year. As the years pass, they are outdistancing the normal American school child. Your son will be facing that competition when he graduates. Only you will be in the position to ensure that he is prepared.