Conventional Wisdom 2.0 On The Achievement/Vocabulary Gap
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As we’ve all heard 30 million times by now, the Hart-Risley study proved that the cause of The Gap in white-black test scores is that African-Americans are a notoriously quiet, taciturn, reticent, reserved, button-lipped race who listen only to Bach’s non-choral works and their favorite comedian is Marcel Marceau, and thus black toddlers hear 30 million words fewer than white toddlers.

But now it turns out that Science has proven it’s not the quantity, but the quality of the words. Apparently, you need the kind of quality you get when, say, the mother has a high IQ herself. And let’s not be sexist: it no doubt helps if the father has a high IQ as well.


Quality of Words, Not Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills, Study Finds By DOUGLAS QUENQUA OCT. 16, 2014

It has been nearly 20 years since a landmark education study found that by age 3, children from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than more affluent children, putting them at an educational disadvantage before they even began school. The findings led to increased calls for publicly funded prekindergarten programs and dozens of campaigns urging parents to get chatty with their children.

Now, a growing body of research is challenging the notion that merely exposing poor children to more language is enough to overcome the deficits they face. The quality of the communication between children and their parents and caregivers, the researchers say, is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears.

A study presented on Thursday at a White House conference on “bridging the word gap” found that among 2-year-olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words — the use of shared symbols (“Look, a dog!”); rituals (“Want a bottle after your bath?”); and conversational fluency (“Yes, that is a bus!”) — were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard.

“It’s not just about shoving words in,” said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and lead author of the study. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.”

In a related finding, published in April, researchers who observed 11- and 14-month-old children in their homes found that the prevalence of one-on-one interactions and frequent use of parentese — the slow, high-pitched voice commonly used for talking to babies — were reliable predictors of language ability at age 2. The total number of words had no correlation with future ability.

Seriously, isn’t one logical implication of this line of thought that educated mothers should be stay at home mothers rather than hire Mayan-speaking Guatemalan ladies to mind their children while they work? But that never seems to come up …
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