- - Sunday, January 31, 2016

In September of 2015, New York Times writer Eduardo Porter published an article on the education gap. Mr. Porter took time to acknowledge the achievements made since the 1970s in reducing the significant variance in test scores in black children, specifically due to the civil rights movement, school desegregation and the war on poverty. However, a larger, and more severe gap has increased, which is the income gap. In the year 2000, the gap between black and white students was between one and a half to two times as large as the gap between a student whose family was in the top 90th percent of the income distribution, and a student whose family was in the 10th percent of the income distribution. In 2015, Mr. Porter writes, the gap between those disparate income levels is nearly double the gap between black and white children.

If poverty is a strong predictor of a child’s scholastic performance, and their likelihood of obtaining a college degree, than black families, along with Hispanics, need to be severely concerned. Both demographics outnumber their white counterparts in impoverished areas.

Mr. Porter went on to indicate that the gap begins for students entering kindergarten. Families with low-incomes are enrolling children that are a year or more behind the students from higher income brackets in reading and math. This gap continues to widen through elementary and middle school. While richer students are obtaining tutoring, music and art lessons, and enrolling in pricey sports activities, poorer students are more likely to suffer from obesity, and have social and emotional problems. This can stem from the economic pressures on their parents, and the burdens associated of raising children in single-parent homes.

Australia, Canada and Britain seem to be doing a better job of producing less variance in educational performances across income brackets. Perhaps there is too much emphasis on schools filling in the gaps. Public schools alone cannot provide the support necessary to ignite the curiosity, persistence and drive necessary for students to cultivate the work ethic and ambition necessary to pursue higher degrees in challenging subjects such as engineering, medicine or law.

Parents from lower-class backgrounds that are not as well educated need to be aware of the training and support required at home for students to achieve well academically. Sonya Carson, the mother of Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson exemplifies this concept. She understood the significance of educational instruction outside the home while cleaning the houses of families in significantly higher-income levels. She observed the number of books that were read in the home. She then assigned Dr. Carson and his brother book reports to encourage their reading. She would pretend to review the reports, although she herself could not read at the time.

This instruction must be provided to parents well before kindergarten. The Atlantic recently published an article titled “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids” which reports on how parents are putting pressure on children to cultivate skillsets prior to enrolling in kindergarten, and the expectations on children enrolling in kindergarten has become more rigorous in the past 18 years.

Although praiseworthy, an attempt to reach children about the importance of education during the middle and high school years is way too late in the game. At that point, children who are not successful in school either feel their intelligence is static, or are unwilling to put in the necessary work to cultivate stronger performance.

As we celebrate the countless number of scientists, politicians and writers of African descent who made significant contributions despite obstacles in equality, Black History Month should also be a time of goal-setting. What support is necessary to create an environment which further encourages creativity, innovation and ambition within the community? How should we reach the parents of young children so they may provide an easier transition into the public school system?

Statistically, a lower-income child looks to have more obstacles in achieving their educational and career goals, and gaining access into a higher income bracket. However, income should not be the concluding argument. It should instead be an invitation for all citizens of all backgrounds that fundamentally believe in the American dream to ask themselves, in what ways do we personally support the education of young children, and how can we instill a love of learning at a young age?

Natasha Samuel is a freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland. She has written for Men’s Fitness, NationSwell and is currently working on her first book project.

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