Broken Families and School Performance - 1/6/02
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Sun Jan 6 17:43:25 EST 2002
subject: Broken Families and School Performance - 1/6/02
from: Smart Marriages
> The crucial predictor of a school's performance is the quality of
> the children's families.
> When Barton wrote his study,
> "America's Smallest School: The Family," North Dakota ranked first in math
> scores and second in the percentage of children in two-parent families. The
> District of Columbia ranked next to last in math scores and last in the
> family composition scale.
> The importance of that for American education is in the 9/91 factor: Between
> birth and their 19th birthdays, American children spend 9 percent of their
> time in school, 91 percent elsewhere. The fate of American education is
> being shaped not by legislative acts but by the fact that, increasingly,
> "elsewhere" is not in an intact family.
Broken Families and School Performance
By George F. Will
Sunday, January 6, 2002; Page B07
With an energy that, were he a third-grader, would earn him a megadose of
Ritalin, President Bush this week will hopscotch from Ohio to Massachusetts
to New Hampshire to Constitution Hall here for ceremonies celebrating the No
Child Left Behind Act. The movable feast will wildly exaggerate the act's
importance to primary and secondary education.
Its most important provisions are prerequisites for meaningful school
choice, eventually. Information, generated by testing, is necessary for a
market in which parents can, as comparison shoppers, hold schools
accountable. Under the act, all children will be tested in math and reading
every year from third through eighth grades. Students in schools that fail
egregiously and protractedly will be empowered to choose other schools --
but only other public schools in the same school district. Because failing
schools frequently are in failing districts, the act's "choice" provisions
Federal education legislation is rarely edifying. In 1994 the Senate,
enacting the "Goals 2000" education bill, issued, as is its wont, imperious
commands to the future. Only two goals were quantifiable: By 2000, America's
high-school graduation rate would be "at least 90 percent" and students
"would be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement." Sen.
Pat Moynihan, comparing these goals to Soviet grain production quotas, said:
"That will not happen."
And of course it did not. In 2000 the graduation rate was about 75 percent,
a figure inflated by "social promotions." The widely cited 86 percent figure
included former high school students who pass "equivalency examinations,"
which are not equivalent to graduating from high school. American students
ranked 19th among 38 surveyed nations in mathematics (right below Latvia)
and 18th in science (right below Bulgaria).
In 2000 the top five states in average SAT scores (with their ranking among
the states and the District of Columbia in per-pupil spending) were:
1. North Dakota (41)
2. Iowa (25)
3. Wisconsin (10)
4. Minnesota (16)
5. South Dakota (48)
The bottom five were:
47. Texas (35)
48. North Carolina (38)
49. District of Columbia (4)
50. Georgia (31)
51. South Carolina (36)
Moynihan, being droll in order to be didactic, concluded that the best
predictor of a school's performance must be its proximity to the Canadian
border. He knew that ever since the baby boom generation began moving
through the school system like a pig through a python, policymakers have
assumed that schools' cognitive outputs would vary directly with financial
inputs to the schools. He also knew that by 1966 an ambitious government
study had reached a conclusion so discomfiting the government considered not
releasing it: "Schools are remarkably similar in the effect they have on the
achievement of their pupils when the socioeconomic background of the
students is taken into account."
Meaning: The crucial predictor of a school's performance is the quality of
the children's families. Granted, many schools are heroic exceptions to this
rule. Nevertheless, it is the rule.
A decade ago Paul Barton, then with the Educational Testing Service,
estimated that about 90 percent of the difference among the average
proficiency of the various states' schools could be explained by five
factors: number of days absent from school, number of hours spent watching
television, number of pages read for homework, quantity and quality of
reading material in the home and the presence of two parents in the home.
That fifth factor is supremely important, not least because it is apt
decisively to influence the other four. When Barton wrote his study,
"America's Smallest School: The Family," North Dakota ranked first in math
scores and second in the percentage of children in two-parent families. The
District of Columbia ranked next to last in math scores and last in the
family composition scale.
Family decomposition should dampen this week's self-congratulatory focus on
the latest education legislation. In 1958 the percentage of children born to
unmarried women was 5; in 1969, 10; in 1980, 18; in 1999, 33. The especially
chilling number: In 1999 almost half (48.4 percent) of all children born to
women ages 20 to 24 -- women of all races and ethnicities -- were born out
The importance of that for American education is in the 9/91 factor: Between
birth and their 19th birthdays, American children spend 9 percent of their
time in school, 91 percent elsewhere. The fate of American education is
being shaped not by legislative acts but by the fact that, increasingly,
"elsewhere" is not in an intact family.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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