"School Boards can Crack the Achievement Gap." By William L. Bainbridge. On Board. September 4, 2000.


By William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D.

"Achievement Gap Both Wide and Deep," by NYSSBA President Edward L. McCormick in the July 24 issue of On Board was refreshing and practical reading. School board members should be concerned about reports of black-white test score gaps and lags in minority achievement.

Often tucked near the end of many governmental and academic reports on achievement gaps is a brief statement suggesting that parenting practices may contribute to achievement disparities. In fact, educational researchers have known for years that the greatest predictor of a child’s success in school is the level of education achieved by that child’s parents, particularly the mother.

In studies and audits that my colleagues and I have conducted in hundreds of school systems throughout the nation, we have found that almost all of the achievement gap can be attributed to parents’ education level and, to a lesser degree, economic disadvantage. Also key is the amount of protein in the child’s diet, as the University of Chicago neurologist Peter Huttenlocher has documented in two decades of research.

Schools systems must do more to deal with the root causes of academic disadvantage: lack of protein in the diet and appropriate mental stimulation in the early years.

Parenting practices need to be our yardstick for first assessing and then addressing achievement gaps among groups of students. This is especially true for non-English-speaking immigrants of whatever color or ethnic group; these students’ parents may have little formal education and lack the resources to provide academic stimulation and appropriate diet at home.

School boards need to adopt policies and procedures that recognize that the wide range of ability among students is not a function of race, religion, gender, ethnic group, color of hair, height or anything other than the amount of nurturing stimulation that they receive at home prior to entering school.

In addition, board members need to ensure that administrators are implementing these policies by paying special attention to youngsters from homes in which parent education is low and support is lacking. Some districts have initiated "ET goes home" programs in which students are loaned computers for home use, much like the traditional practices of a public library, athletic department, or musical group. Further, schools should make efforts to educate parents about the need for high levels of protein in the diets of children through age 10.

We must shun the tendency to blame the failings of a society on factors such as race and ethnicity. Boards of education can go a long way to reduce inequalities by paying attention to the real learning indicators.