Goodnight Moon and opportunity: A worrisome gap between rich and poor

Shopping at a local gift shop, I overheard a young mother speak to her toddler with the precise diction of an English professor, “I want to meander a little longer. Will you meander with me? Then, we’ll get a delectable snack.”

downey0505Later that week, I walked behind another young mom and toddler leaving a grocery store. The little girl clutched an empty candy wrapper in her hand. “Take this, mama” she said, offering the trash to her mother. “That’s nasty,” the woman told her. “Throw it on the ground.”

Both those kids will arrive in kindergarten around the same time, one primed with SAT vocabulary words, the other trained to litter.

Somehow, schools are supposed to propel these students to the same finish line, ready to take their place in an increasingly complex world where advanced literacy and math skills are imperatives.

In a recent webcast on high school graduation rates, Robert D, Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone” and the new book “Our Kids,” discussed the graduation gap between rich and poor kids, a gap driven, he says, more by social class than race.

As a social scientist and professor of public policy at Harvard, Putnam chronicled the disintegration of civic and community life in America in “Bowling Alone.”

In “Our Kids,” Putnam goes a step farther, how our loss of community extends to school and he uses his own hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio, as a template.

When he grew up, the term “our kids” referred to the larger community, to all the kids in town. People paid for new pools so all the children of Port Clinton had a place to swim and raised money so every player on the football team had a uniform and equipment.

Now, Putnam says “our kids” means either the children in our own family or our own “enclave.” As a result, there are private swim clubs and hefty pay-to-play fees in high school sports.

There is a toll to the United States from the rise of an  under-educated class of Americans. Lost earnings and social services expenditures will add up to more than it would cost to invest in quality preschool, after-school programs, mentoring and extracurricular opportunities, he says.

“Kids are getting better and better coming from college-educated homes. Things are getting worse and worse for poor kids, kids coming from what we used to call the working class,” said Putnam.

Putnam cites the disparity in what he calls “Goodnight Moon” time, referencing the beloved bedtime story as a representation of the hours educated parents devote to their children.

There used to be no difference in the amount of time rich and poor parents spent reading to their kids. Now, Putnam says, “My granddaughter gets 45 minutes a day more reading time with mom and dad than equally smart kids from the working class. We know now from recent brain science that the architecture of the infant brain changes where there is adult-child interaction. There is a growing gap in those kids living in circumstances where the parents don’t or can’t spend that time reading, a growing gap in ‘Goodnight Moon’ time.”

A few weeks, I went with my daughter, the mother of an 8-month-old, to a Mother’s Day celebration at a local community center that specializes in classes for new moms. After meeting young mothers who take their infants to baby sign language and yoga classes and listening to their discussions of breast pumps, homemade baby food and educational toys, I was convinced they were raising a super race.

We chortle over the intense focus of young parents on their children’s development, seeing them as overly attentive and hovering. We shake our heads over Park Avenue parents who pay $35,000 for top Manhattan preschools that teach 3-year-olds Mandarin.

But emerging research shows such investments of time, energy and money in these tiny humans produce immense returns in school readiness and success.

The differences in good and bad schools today is less about what schools do than what students bring to school, argues Putnam. Children of educated households bring a bounty of parental involvement, expectations and resources. Poor kids bring liabilities, including economic pressures, family dysfunction and distracted parents.

More than 90 percent of children in college-educated homes are being raised by two parents, says Putnam, compared to 30 percent of children from high school-educated homes. His concern is not moral, but practical. One parent can do less for a child than two parents.

Smart, poor kids with high test scores are now less likely to graduate from college than not-so-smart rich kids with low test scores, exactly the opposite of what the American dream used to be, says Putnam.

The biggest challenge, Putnam says, “is convincing people on up side of the opportunity gap that this is their problem.”

Putnam says we have to offer early preschool and not just get kids into community colleges, but get them out. We need parental coaching so less educated parents understand the importance of “Goodnight Moon” time.

We have to concentrate our best teachers in the least advantaged schools, and increase mentoring, “not just Big Brother and Big Sister squared but to the nth power,” Putnam says.

“Your chances in life shouldn’t depend on your parents,” he says. “They should depend on you.”

Reader Comments 0

179 comments
newsphile
newsphile

It is a myth to believe that all poverty and all poor parenting belong to the black race.  I watched the Clark Howard story about how some people are working to overcome multi-generational poverty.  I'm happy for those of all races who are doing so.  I did find it interesting that no white families who are fighting to overcome multi-generational poverty were shown on his show.

Howard's show, along with many commenters on this blog, underscores society's perception that poverty is a racial thing.  Having been involved with social service for many years, I disagree.  I also believe we can do a lot to fight racial stereotypes and help ease some of the racial tension by accepting this fact.  

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

I am retired now, but when I was working, I worked in a mostly white Title I elementary school.  Some colleagues and I came up with the dream of a dormitory built next to the school where Monday through Friday the kids who had lousy parents could eat supper, get a bath, have homework supervised and go to bed on time.  We were already feeding them breakfast and lunch, and we had an existing after school program where homework was supervised.  The after school program was not free, but if we gave scholarships to poor kids, they would benefit from the supervised homework, play time and adult interactions.  If we got three or four teachers to take turns each night supervising the dormitory, it would make a world of difference.  The kids could go home on the weekends.  I always thought this was a really good idea to break the cycle of bad parenting and no role models and focus on saving the kids.  I think the movie Superman had at least one dormitory type school in New York that kept the kids all week.  I know it sounds harsh, but we may have to give up on the parents' generation, the one where the grandparents are raising them anyway, and save the kids.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

It's not a gap between rich and poor.


It's a gap between parents with high values who go out of their way to educate their children for success, and parents with low values who want to minimize the effort to manage a child.

Yes, I am judgmental.

Yes, throwing trash on the floor is part of low values.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

Also, an interesting framing of the problem:


"Goodnight Moon and opportunity: A worrisome gap between rich and poor"


So, what is worrisome is the "gap".  Based on that description, if "the rich" parented as poorly as "the poor" with respect to education, there would not be a problem. 


Instead of trying to raise the parenting level of high school graduates (no idea how to do this), let's instead launch a social campaign to reduce the marriage rate of the college-educated.  "Now that you have graduated, live for today! Don't wait until after you have married to have children - marriage is for suckers! Put down that book - there are free spongebob videos to occupy your kids!"


Work with me here - there's got to be a way to narrow this worrisome gap.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Let's see, we started out with the black / white "achievement gap", which now has morphed into a graduation gap, opportunity gap, socioeconomic gap, literacy gap, and now, [drum roll, please] we have a WORRISOME GAP - whatever the hell that means.


Nice tap dancing, but the politically correct cannot bring themselves to admit the one "gap" that most likely serves as the root cause of all the others - an IQ Gap.


Professor Putnam's solution?  Big Brother (i.e. more government) to the "nth degree."

Starik
Starik

@MaureenDowney @Lee_CPA2 No, it's culture. If a majority of the kids are underclass it's distinctly uncool, and possibly unsafe to act superior to the other kids - "act white."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lee_CPA2 


I worked with black students for 17 of my 30 years in teaching.  Believe me, there is as much range in the IQs of black students as there is in the range of IQs of white students.


You are simply showing this audience your racism.  I would be embarrassed if I were you.  Ignorance compounded with racism is not a pretty thing to witness.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@popacorn 


"Ignorance compounded with racism is not a pretty thing to witness."  That goes for you, too, pops.

popacorn
popacorn

@MaryElizabethSings @popacorn

Ironically, it takes a certain minimum IQ to understand the concept of IQ. I understand that you really, really think you understand it, but you can't. The Educator's Conundrum. 

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaureenDowney

And you're ignoring the possibility that a high achieving poor kid may have a lower IQ than a low achieving affluent kid.  They both may be "achieving" at a level commensurate with their inherent "ability" (IQ) level.


I am of the opinion that IQ is a principal driver in many things - including culture, socioeconomics, and yes, academic achievement.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@popacorn @MaryElizabethSings 

Name-calling, name-calling. For many years on this blog, both you and Lee_CPA have stated over and over that you believe IQs and intelligence generally are ranked in a hierarchy according to race. Rigidly. Asians and whites rank the highest, then Hispanics, and then, way at the bottom forever, blacks. You keep hinting slyly at it with  your snipes about "genetics." This flies in the face of all that's known about IQs and intelligence...and also assumes that people have NO component of other races.  But no-one is racially "pure," much as it might comfort you to think so. (For some reason, I assume that neither of  you are black.)

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@OriginalProf 


As I posted previously, "Ignorance compounded with racism is not a pretty thing to witness."  The bitterness of popacorn and Lee-CPA has demonstrated itself on this blog relative to educators, as well as to black citizens, over and over again.


I will recognize that that bitterness has been diffused when popacorn leaves me alone. He seems to perceive that it is his personal mission in life to respond to every post which I write.  Back to the ignoring him. I simply wanted him, and all readers, to know from where it springs.

popacorn
popacorn

@MaryElizabethSings

This makes 6 times you said you're ignoring me. Keep babbling your dangerously unenlightened, regurgitated BS, I'll be there!

Starik
Starik

@RLSmith @MaryElizabethSings @Lee_CPA2 In classic Jim Crow racism all blacks, even the brightest, were inferior in intelligence and everything else to the lowest of whites. Is everybody agreed that there are many black folks who are superior in intelligence, to the point of genius? Why, half of whites are below average! Really!


IQ may pay a part in our problem, because IQ is inherited to some unknown degree and the underclass produce babies like...rabbits?  Consider the plight of children who are raised in homes without a daddy other than a string of boyfriends, without books in the home and where every they meet (including many of their teachers) speak a non-standard dialect with limited vocabulary.  Drugs are everywhere, and jail sentences are more common than academic achievements. Your heroes are drug dealers and other "players" along with gangsta rappers. 


Kids do appear in these neighborhoods and these schools who have intelligence, ambition, and all the personal qualities to contribute to society in a huge way. We need to rescue these kids when they appear.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@OriginalProf

And for all those years of posting about the racial IQ hierarchy, I have issued a simple challenge:


Show me one, just ONE, widely used academic measure that does not follow that hierarchy and I'll shut up about it.


....and here I am, still posting about it after all these years.



Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaryElizabethSings

All you have done is demonstrate your lack of understanding of a simple mathematical concept such as a statistical standard distribution as well as your lack of understanding of a simple concept such as racism.


Sorta ironic you insinuate that I am "ignorant", but yet, you have to resort to name calling.


Very telling indeed.....


OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf 

Your question has a basic fault: none of the "widely used academic measures" are completely objective, for the measures all involve tests of some sort that can be culturally biased in their questions. There is much research supporting this that I have cited in posts to you over the years, but you refuse to consider it. Even a GPA may be biased since the grades are given by individual teachers.

popacorn
popacorn

@Lee_CPA2

She thinks content knowledge screening test is a 'short version IQ test'. Nuff said. Scary. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf 

No, I'm saying that there aren't any purely neutral "widely used" academic measures, which your question assumes exist.


I know that, as a CPA, you must be accustomed to mathematical and numerical measures for everything.  But that's not the way it works outside of Accounting.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@OriginalProf @Lee_CPA2

Years ago, the Atlanta police used a test as part of the qualification to be promoted to Lieutenant.  Blacks claimed racial bias because white officers were passing the test at a much higher rate than the black officers.   They  allowed blacks to develop a new test and whites continued to pass that test at higher rates than blacks.  Finally, they said to heck with it, we're just going to promote who we want.


Sorta like when colleges ignore SAT results to admit blacks, when schools ignore CRCT results to pass black students, when businesses ignore pre-employment tests to hire blacks, ad infinitum.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Lee_CPA2 You are ignoring the data that shows high achieving poor kids don't do as well as low achieving affluent kids. There is something wrong with a system that does not advance its high achievers. 

A recent study found 22 percent of students who are in the top 25 percent academically but from households in the bottom 25 percent financially don't even apply to college.

There is a gap there, but it is not IQ. 


MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Fabulous piece by the Hechinger Report on Mississippi's new third grade literacy test. If you have time, read it.

The long story speaks to many of the postings here on reading. Read the comments on the story; they are also great. 

Nearly 15 percent of third graders in the state did not pass, and may be held back if they don't raise their score in retakes. An interesting fact: The governor of Mississippi was held back in third grade because he was a poor reader and said it helped him. 


http://hechingerreport.org/as-mississippi-delivers-bad-news-to-5600-third-graders-stressed-out-parents-say-there-must-be-a-better-way/

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

To all: There are some very good comments on all sides of this, but you have to slog through some silliness to get to them. Please, can we stay on topic?


Astropig
Astropig

Okay, let's see. We've established that the poor:


1) Can't drive

2) Don't have or won't use public transportation

3) Can't read

4) Work several jobs despite (1,2,3)

5) Listen to Barry White a lot (wink)

6)Litter and vote Democrat. 

7) Don't use words like meander and delectable.

Pretty good day's work.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Astropig


No one has made such broad statements.  YOU seem to be the one making broad, sweeping generalizations, but that tends to be you SOP so I am not surprised.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Quidocetdiscit @Astropig


I love Barry White and I'm not considered poor by most. He does meander at times in his slower ballads but "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" is delectable.


Astro on the other hand, can be quite truculent, intractable, and bellicose and his/her musings put one in an altogether different sort of mood.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

If we see that children whose parents won't or can't provide adequate preschool education to children, should we as a society step up and do it? It is easy to blame parents but that does not solve the problem.

If it allows those children to grow up and be parents that will adequately prepare their children, won't it be worth it - monetarily and societally?


If we bemoan the quality of teachers, are we willing to pay salaries and provide the job conditions that attract the teaching talent we want for all schools? That is what it takes in other fields. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@POAD5150 


Poad - Do you have some other suggestions that seem logical and workable? - so far your blaming and complaining has not improved the situation and probably will not-even if you complain harder and blame more.

ATLPeach
ATLPeach

@POAD5150 Please check the facts. There are just as many, actually more, poor what children being rasied by Grandmas as well. This blog has become a place for racist to come out and belittle black people at every turn.

Starik
Starik

@ATLPeach @POAD5150 Yes, if we were in the Appalachians, or rural areas out west, or in the North Georgia mountains the poor kids would be white or Hispanic. In the schools around Atlanta the problem kids are mostly black. So are the problem schools.

REGAN1966
REGAN1966

@AvgGeorgian screw that IT TAKES A VILLAGE crap. If you can't take care of your kids stop having them. Many poor black children are already raised by their Grandmas so what is mom doing? 

When are we going to pay good Cops and Firemen  their worth for their services. What are Military personal worth?

Teachers would have a Safe Working Environment IF the parents were not POS that don't raise their kids with respect. 

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

'More than 90 percent of children in college-educated homes are being raised by two parents, says Putnam, compared to 30 percent of children from high school-educated homes. ... One parent can do less for a child than two parents....The biggest challenge, Putnam says, “is convincing people on up side of the opportunity gap that this is their problem.”'



And people "on up side of the opportunity gap" are supposed to induce the high school-educated to marry before having children how??

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@AlreadySheared Do you think providing adequate education to the current crop of preschoolers might increase their opportunities to make good parenting choices?

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@AvgGeorgian @AlreadySheared


Or, you know, providing solid, factual sex education and easy access to birth control methods, but many of those who complain about single parent families also seem to want to restrict access to sex ed and contraception.  Makes no sense to me.

REGAN1966
REGAN1966

@AvgGeorgian NO, because most will go home and be influenced to not care to continue to do better. Some of the children will WANT to do better but most will not based on the last 40 years.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@POAD5150 @AvgGeorgian


In the last 40 years have we provided high level education to all preschoolers who needed it? I may have missed that.


So you see the problem as hopeless? Is that your point, that there is no solution?

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@AvgGeorgian @AlreadySheared "You can't roller skate through a buffalo herd".  


The positive effects of the absolute best  pair of skates you give to a kid at school, along with the most extensive, expert scholastic skating instruction will be overwhelmed by negative effects of chaotic, financially stressed, emotionally stressed, fatherless parenting at home.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

I return to find countless responses to my earlier post. The refrain?

The parents can't read. My question?

Why not? Were they not required to attend school wherein they could learn to read?

Did they blow the opportunity to learn? Did the teachers fail to teach?

My husband and I are both avid readers. When I read to our daughter, it was with animated facial expressions and varied intonations in my voice. When my husband read to her, he made it up as he went along, totally changing the text to fit everyday situations. She loved both, and, is today, an avid reader herself.

It's not so much reading as it is spending quality time with your children.

No excuses! It's the kids that suffer from their parents' excuses. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@FIGMO2 

There are many reasons why the parents don't learn to read very well, or are functionally illiterate. Especially if they are poor.


They dropped out of school at 16, as soon as they could. They had the misfortune of attending an APS school between 2001-2010. They are immigrants, legal or otherwise, who aren't even literate in their own language.


How fortunate for your own children that you and your husband are "avid readers."  Not everyone is.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@FIGMO2 In my area, there was little effort to make kids attend school, even as recently as 25 years ago. Even now, parents who do not get their children to school get chance after chance to do so, and frequently move to avoid prosecution.  Also, with a new school year, the slate seems to be wiped clean.


It is easy to say "no excuses." but when parents idea of planning for the future is thinking about what will be eaten for supper...

booful98
booful98

@FIGMO2 Why does it matter why they can't read? How does knowing that solve the problem?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@POAD5150 @Wascatlady 

You know, it's really useless to keep venting against the parents like this. It's like venting against the weather. What do we do now about the children?

REGAN1966
REGAN1966

@OriginalProf The car can't run if the engine & transmission don't work first. The parents have to be FIXED before the children will ever get better. A parent that CARES will make/raise children that care.

REGAN1966
REGAN1966

@Wascatlady those "PARENTS"(a total JOKE term to be using here) were thinking the same crap before they had Children added to the equation. That didn't stop them from bringing a child into their pathetic life situation now did it? No, because the mom knew she would get PAID if she had a child and then she would have money for that NEXT MEAL.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@FIGMO2


Or they came here from another country as an adult and were literate in the country of their birth.  In many countries the poor and women are denied an education. In many places, children are forced to work at at early age and do not attend school.  (We still have undocumented children working on farms here in the US...) It is much harder to learn a new language and get an education as an adult, especially if you are also trying to work to support a family.


Are people so totally unaware of the world outside their bubble?