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For Schoolchildren To Have Equal Opportunity, Strong Families Must Be Top Priority

In the continued decay of American education, one key factor often gets dismissed, particularly among the left.

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As millions of parents pack lunches, kids jump into back seats of cars or ride in buses, and teachers prepare lesson plans for a new school year, a new study by the Institute of Family Studies once again shows that perhaps the most important factor in obtaining a successful education is the family home.

There have been numerous studies over the years that confirm this — that children do best in school when they have a stable home environment. Nevertheless, this factor is often ignored when addressing how to fix our educational system while other solutions are proposed, implemented, and ultimately fail.

In a nation that seems hopelessly divided on every issue, one area that often brings some sort of consensus is that our educational system is hopelessly broken, although the left and right have differing explanations and solutions.

On the left, the Center for American Progress states, “a large percentage of students land a high school diploma that is basically meaningless. The document might indicate that the students are ready for college, but in reality, the students simply do not have the necessary skills or knowledge.”

On the right, Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, has said that American educational attainment is “stagnant, at best, and likely regressing.”

Neither side can overlook the ever-declining test scores or the number of high school graduates who barely have enough skills to do the most menial jobs. The evidence, as shown in one depressing study after another, is too overwhelming for them to deny.

There are numerous factors at play that have resulted in the continued decay of American education, and all have been detailed at length by many academics and social commentators. But one key factor often gets dismissed, particularly among the left, when it comes to the education of our nation’s children. That factor is family structure.

Family Structure’s Role

Earlier this month, Brad Wilcox and Nicholas Zill of the Institute for Family Studies published an excellent piece on how family structure affects a child’s education and their eventual success in life. In their study, Wilcox and Zill document how family fragmentation affects a child’s education.

They show that children from non-traditional families — compared to married birth-parent families — are more likely to have behavioral problems, struggle with schoolwork, repeat a grade, or be suspended or expelled from school, all factors that send them down the wrong road in life at a very early age.

The result is the ever-growing gap between the so-called “haves” and “have nots” that the left wants to talk about endlessly, while not addressing the core issue that had led to such a gap: the decline of the intact two-parent family. Instead, they believe more government, and not necessarily intact families, will solve the problem.

Government Can’t Replace Parents

Wilcox and Zill explain the left’s flawed thinking, writing that many continue to think that “[as] government programs aimed at ameliorating the economic consequences of family instability have grown, so has the expectation that greater support for vulnerable families would improve the chances of children in single-parent families.”

But as has been proven in so many other areas of life, including education, no government program can ever replace a mom and a dad in a child’s life. The left, and others in the educational establishment, may see the problem, but they have no idea of the cure.

This was pointed out nearly 60 years ago, when noted sociologist James Coleman published his report, “Equality of Educational Opportunity.” 

According to Coleman, increased spending could provide many amenities, such as new buildings, new labs, textbooks, and extracurricular activities, but none of these amenities could ultimately compensate for a lack of strong families. Thus, Coleman concluded that a school’s success or failure was tied not to federal funding, but to the family situations of the children who attended those schools.

Educators Deny the Truth

As Ian Rowe, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote, “This unexpected takeaway should have changed the education-policy landscape forever. … [Educators] feared that emphasizing family background (most notably parents’ marital status) as the greatest driver of a student‘s academic achievement would lead to victim-blaming, finger-pointing moralizing, directed at single mothers. Even worse, it would turn attention away from addressing racism, underfunding, and other more acceptable theories of the causes of academic underperformance.”

Thus, we have the irony of the left continuing to advocate for teaching about racial inequality and the sorry state of our educational system, while refusing to talk about how the lack of two-parent married families (sadly true in many minority homes) deny children the nurturing and stable environments that enable them to have the opportunities to succeed in life.

Ultimately, restoring our nation’s educational system starts at home. It requires parents to be emotionally and intellectually involved with their children. George Will perhaps put it best when he wrote, “the best predictor of a school’s performance is the quality of the family life from which the children came. … Family disintegration is the stubborn fact that severely limits the efficacy of even the best education policies.”

Upward mobility and equal opportunity for all will only occur through strong families and a quality education that prepares our nation’s children to become the productive citizens of tomorrow. That is the message of hope we must continue to advocate for in words, actions, and policy.


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