Closing the Educational Poverty Gap: Pedagogy Matters

It’s not just how we teach children, but also how we teach parents to teach children. Because there’s an unfortunately reality about the divide in education–it starts early in development (boldface mine):

“If I just say, ‘Look at the dog,’ all you’re going to know about is the dog. But if I instead say, ‘Look, the dog has a big fluffy tail and is chasing the cat,’ you can begin to pick up the meaning of all kinds of other words and actions associated with the dog.”

The urgency of understanding how fast these connections are made grew this year when Fernald and fellow Stanford researchers Adriana Weisleder and Virginia Marchman found the earliest evidence yet of language processing gaps in children. In a study published in the journal Developmental Science, they found it took children of lower economic status 24 months to achieve the proficiency achieved in 18 months by children of wealthier families. The children stay on separate trajectories, leading to very different educational outcomes.

“The discouraging news is that the trajectories don’t close,” Fernald said.

It had long been proven that by age 3, children from professional families knew far more words than children in low-income families. But the new confirmation of the gap being evident from birth to age 3 means that interventions may have to occur at an even younger age. Preschool program funding is flat nationally, freezing enrollment at about a quarter of 4-year-olds and just 4 percent of 3-year-olds since 2008, according to Rutgers University’s early education institute.

Busting teachers unions will help here. There are things parents can do, though we have to acknowledge some real-world constraints:

The good news, Fernald said, is that low-income families can help their children process words on par with wealthier families. In another study this year, she and Weisleder found that Latino caregivers who talked directly to their children, doing simple things like pointing out objects, colors, and creatures, to the tune of thousands of words a day, produced children with larger vocabularies and faster processing. So parent education programs can help.

Fernald said, “We need to get to a place where if you could do just even 10 minutes of book-sharing a day, where a parent just doesn’t read to a kid, ‘Pigs like corn,’ but also asking their child, “Do you like corn?’ it can add up to making a big difference,” Fernald said.

Snow said solutions must also consider the challenges posed by growing economic inequality. Snow said low-income families are often exhausted from “scrambling around to find child care, scrambling around for work. When they come home, many of them just want to keep their kids quiet.’’

When one political party doesn’t even believe in maternal care (despite their purported piety surrounding fetuses), we’re not going to get any coherent action on this nationally.

And somehow I don’t think the education ‘reformers’ will be pushing this either….

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