In the first half of the 20th Century, well-meaning humanitarians and reformers in America, Canada, and (most notoriously) Australia invested in boarding schools for aboriginal children to help them integrate into the mainstream cultures. Of course, by the late 20th Century those public-spirited people were endlessly denounced by everybody as the perpetrators of The Stolen Generation.
Yet, in the 21st Century, elite opinion has been moving in the same direction in regard to African American children. A study by Hart and Risley was universally seized upon as proving that unlike white toddlers, who are constantly being questioned and encouraged by their mothers, black toddlers grow up in environments of stony silence without verbal stimulation. (Who isn’t familiar with the sheer lack of speech in the ghetto?) The number “32 million” is often bandied about as representing some kind of black word deficit.
What else could possibly be done other than to hire huge numbers of college graduates to verbally stimulate tiny black children?
(Of course, in the late 21st Century there would be the same apologies and condemnations of those who perpetrated the Borrowed Generation, but that’s not the point, the point is to spend a lot of money now.)
On the other hand, a new study suggests that, even without a trillion dollar social program, black adults themselves may have actually responded in recent years to suggestions that they talk more helpfully and interactively with their own children rather than just telling them to shut yo mouf.
It’s almost as if African Americans have free will and can improve their own behavior, although that notion may be too radical to conceive.
From the NYT:
The Good News About Educational Inequality Gray Matter By SEAN F. REARDON, JANE WALDFOGEL and DAPHNA BASSOK AUG. 26, 2016So, let’s spend a lot of money anyway.
When inequality is the topic, it can seem as if all the news is bad. Income inequality continues to rise. Economic segregation is growing. Racial gaps in education, employment and health endure. Our society is not particularly fair.
But here is some good news about educational inequality: The enormous gap in academic performance between high- and low-income children has begun to narrow. Children entering kindergarten today are more equally prepared than they were in the late 1990s.
We know this from information collected over the last two decades by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the fall of 1998 and again in 2010, the N.C.E.S. sent early childhood assessors to roughly 1,000 public and private kindergartens across the United States. They sat down one-on-one with 15 to 25 children in each school to measure their reading and math skills. They asked children to identify shapes and colors, to count, to identify letters and to sound out words. They also surveyed parents to learn about the children’s experiences before entering kindergarten.
Working with the social scientist Ximena Portilla, we used this data to track changes over time in “school readiness gaps” — the differences in academic skills between low-income and high-income children entering kindergarten. What we found is surprising. From 1998 to 2010, the school readiness gap narrowed by 10 percent in math and 16 percent in reading. The gaps that remain are still vast. But even this modest improvement represents a sharp reversal of the trend over the preceding decades.
It’s worth noting that the gap in school readiness narrowed because of relatively rapid improvements in the skills of low-income children, not because the skills of children from high-income families declined. Research one of us did with Scott Latham at the University of Virginia showed that both poor and affluent children entered kindergarten in 2010 with stronger reading and math skills than they did in the late 1990s. School readiness gaps between racial groups have also improved: Both the white-black and white-Hispanic gaps narrowed by roughly 15 percent from 1998 to 2010. …
It is unlikely, however, that preschool enrollment is the primary explanation. Although more poor children today attend preschool than in the 1990s, enrollment rates dipped in 2010, perhaps because of rising unemployment after the Great Recession. …
It may be changes in children’s homes that have mattered most. Tracking the experiences of young children over time, we found that both rich and poor children today have more books and read with their parents more often than they did in the ’90s. They are far more likely to have computers, internet access and computer games focused on reading and math skills. Their parents are more likely to spend time with them, taking them to the library or doing activities at home.
The children of the rich have always had more of these opportunities than poor children. What has changed is that low-income children are now getting more of what the political scientist Robert Putnam calls “ ‘Goodnight Moon’ time” than they did in the 1990s. That’s excellent news.
But here’s the puzzle: In many ways, the lives of rich and poor parents haven’t become more equal — far from it. Among families with school-age children, income inequality grew by roughly 10 percent from 1998 to 2010; economic segregation grew by 20 percent. How is it that the school readiness gap is nonetheless narrowing?
We suspect that in part this happened because of the widespread diffusion of a single powerful idea: that the first few years of a child’s life are the most consequential for cognitive development. …
As encouraging as this new evidence is, we have a long way to go. Poor children still enter kindergarten nearly a year behind their richer peers. Even if school readiness gaps continue to narrow at the rate they did between 1998 and 2010, it would take another 60 to 110 years for them to be completely eliminated.
Changes in parenting are not going to be sufficient to sustain or speed this progress, although more paid leave would help. ….
If we don’t do something about these larger problems, the progress we have made toward equality in early childhood may prove only a brief respite from ever-widening educational inequality. “Goodnight Moon,” for all its charm and power, is no substitute for comprehensive social policy.