Is Parenting and Not Poverty the Issue?

Kati Haycock, at the Education Trust annual conference, said that we can’t let “bad parenting” be an excuse for poor educational results — and Michael Petrilli at the National Review thinks she’s right.

“It’s not as if our schools are running on all cylinders, and if only parents were doing their jobs too, achievement would soar. And we’ve got several examples of school models that are making a tremendous difference in educational outcomes for kids, regardless of what’s happening at home.”

Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, thinks that if we’re ever going to significantly narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor unless we narrow the “good parenting gap” between rich and poor families, too.

new book by Minnesota think tanker Mitch Pearlstein addresses the issue head on. And Michael Gerson, at the Washington Post, argues that issues such as divorce and teenage pregnancies are what’s dampening social mobility.

Petrilli says that there is evidence that affluent parents are much more likely to engage in behaviors such as not smoking when pregnant, nursing babies instead of using a bottle and limit TV watching than poor parents.

But it isn’t the money that makes this possible. What is key is getting married and staying married.

“It’s a hell of a lot harder (though not impossible, of course) to be a great parent when you’re doing the job alone than when you’ve got a partner.”

Petrilli believes that if we could convince most poor teenagers to save child-rearing for their 20s, and to get and stay married first, helping them to adopt healthy parenting behaviors, then, would be much more doable, even on a limited budget.

The innovative work that GreatSchools.net is doing is a testament to the fact that you don’t have to be rich to nurse your baby or learn how to be loving but firm. These measures take commitment, discipline, and practice.

So how do we spark a marriage renaissance, especially for poor and working class families? asks Petrilli.

“Some argue for family-friendly tax incentives; others think a religious revival is what’s needed. I would vote for middle schools and high schools that are unafraid to preach a pro-marriage, wait-till-you’re-older-to-have-babies message — paternalistic charter schools or religious schools in particular.”

Petrilli says that Pat Moynihan tried to warn us long ago that our national experiment with large-scale single parenthood would turn out badly.

“He was right, and then some. Let’s not wait any longer to do something about it.”

Whatever the solutions, Petrilli invites us to at least start talking about the problem.