- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 11, 2011

Culture Challenge of the Week: Schools as Parents

Last week, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced his latest and greatest plan to solve the District’s crisis in education. D.C. schools will extend their reach in 2012, offering “early childhood education” to children as young as 6 months old.

The mayor believes that D.C. babies and toddlers will experience educational success only if school system employees - or subcontractors - are around to prod their intellectual growth. After all, what could be more crucial to a baby’s development than a specially assigned bureaucrat, right?

It’s preposterous.

Even from an educational perspective, the proposal lacks credibility. The D.C. public schools are among the worst in the nation: Scores on 2011 D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System exams show that fewer than half of D.C. public school children can read or do math at the most basic level. (Ironically, according to Census Bureau figures, the D.C. government spends more money per pupil than almost any other state in the union.) Improvements in test scores have been erratic and rising scores at some schools generated suspicion of test-tampering by school administrators or teachers.

The academic failure of the school system, however, pales in comparison to its moral failure. While D.C. schools can’t teach math and reading, they manage to wile away hours of class time learning about conflict resolution, STDs and HIV/AIDS. The schools have plenty of condoms to offer, but morality? Self-restraint? Virtue? Those are in short supply.

But the real missing piece in the D.C. schools has nothing to do with the Department of Education; it has everything to do with “family.”

D.C. families are fragmented, overwhelmingly so. In some areas, 74 percent of households are headed by a single parent, 65 percent of them women. According to expert Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, nearly 70 percent of D.C.’s black children are born to unmarried mothers.

While these moms may love their children fiercely, that love will be sorely tested by the power of the street: Many studies show children of single parents are more likely to drop out of school, do drugs, get arrested, or be involved in a teen pregnancy than their peers who are raised in intact, biological families.

And without a dad at home, children’s educational achievement suffers big-time. While children who grow up in intact, biological families score higher in reading and math, according to the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, children from non-intact families score significantly lower. Family structure affects attitudes, too, not just scores. First-graders born to single moms are more likely to be disruptive in class, and adolescents from single-parent families are more likely to be suspended from school for disciplinary reasons than their peers with married parents.

What to do?

How to Save Your Family: Be a Parent, Help a Parent

Let’s call things as they are. Babies and toddlers don’t need bureaucrats or pseudo-parents to raise them. They need the real thing - parents. A married mom and dad, invested in the success and well-being of their children, is the best ticket to success.

But with the reality of so many one-parent households in D.C. and beyond, it’s more important now than ever to be a good neighbor. Single moms and dads need help so they don’t become “war-weary.” Experienced parents should make it a point to offer encouragement, respite and guidance, mentoring younger families and single moms, in suburban neighborhoods as well as struggling inner cities.

Yes, it’s critical for parents to learn how to ignite a baby’s imagination, curiosity, creativity and intellectual growth. But babies and children also need moms and dads who know how to convey the security, warmth, affection and love vital to an infant and toddler’s emotional stability and sense of self. If you know of a struggling family in your neighborhood, take time to share your heart and skills with them. Even a few hours a week mentoring a mom or dad can make all the difference in the life of their children.

Story Continues →