Education: Does the “Achievement Gap” Rest in Our Laps? Does It Begin in Our Homes?

Posted on August 26, 2012 by


What Must We Do? Where, When, With Who?

By Bro. Mxolisi T. / Ozo-Sowande

An African proverb serves to inform and inspire those who live and listen with their ears turned to their souls: “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.”

The wisdom and power embodied in those words are applicable to every aspect of our lives, especially including the raising of our children to realize and develop the fullness of their intellectual genius and their capacity to function effectively at the highest levels of any activity worthy of human pursuit.

As we venture into the 2012-13 school year, it is critical for us to grow in appreciation for the wisdom of those words and grow in bringing that power to bear on the educational challenges before us; before us and our children – together.

The spirit of this writing is in harmony with what Phillip Jackson** of Chicago’s The Black Star Project has expressed: “Black America must take education out of the schools and universities and root it in our homes, our work places, our communities, our churches and even in our streets and (their) prisons.” Further, The Black Star Project cites the findings of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (UK) that only 14% of student achievement can be attributed to the quality of the school; that 86% of achievement is driven by factors outside of the school.

This does not necessarily mean that we no longer attend and utilize those educational institutions, but that we use them more intelligently and purposefully, to help our children – and us (family, community, people) – achieve the goals that we and our children together establish, embrace, nurture and perpetuate. It might be beneficial for us to engage the education process and those institutions with a war-like mentality, with meticulous attention to detail, with failure-apathy-lack-of-engagement being our greatest enemy.  Our well-thought diligence and determination must include knowing how to make the best use of every resource in those institutions, including administrative and teaching personnel – or knowing how to go over, under, around or through them when necessary.

But it all begins in our homes. Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund (among others) have outlined for us the educational ruin of our nation, the “achievement gap,” that must be addressed – by us!

  • At nine months Black babies score lower on measures of cognitive development than White babies;
  • At 24 months the gap in cognitive development has more than tripled between Black babies and White babies;
  • At 4-years-old Black children scored significantly behind White children in their proficiency in letter, number and shape recognition;
  • Black children are enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs at a higher rate than White children, but the programs often are of lower quality;
  • On average, Black children arrive at kindergarten and/or first grade with lower levels of school readiness than White children;
  • Black children spend more time on average watching television* daily, are less likely to have regular mealtimes and have far fewer books than White children.

Additionally, there is research which suggests that the quantity and quality of verbal interaction with infants and toddlers plays an enormous role in determining their readiness for the language arts challenges to be dealt with in school.  One study shows that significant numbers of “poor” children are saddled with a “30 million word gap by age 3” due to the lack verbal interaction in their lives (in their homes), a gap that not even 15 to 20 hours a week of enriched experience and practice when they are four and five (in school) is sufficient to overcome.  That study found that, “By age three, some children were so hopelessly behind in total language experience and resultant total vocabulary size that no later preschool or school intervention could catch them up.”

Also, this research finds that too much of the verbal interaction that “poor” children do experience is “prohibitive” – (“stop that”; “come here”; “what you got there”; “hold still”; “put that down”; and much, much worse!) — serving to stifle their inquisitiveness, reduce or stunt their self-esteem, and negatively impacting their general approach to all experience. 

(Visit that research at these links: / 

But there is (can be) a silver lining to this ruinous situation. For the restoration from this devastation also resides and begins in our homes. It resides in our determination to be and become, to proliferate and perpetuate, the achievement factors (the 86% or whatever) that will inspire and empower our children to eagerly strive to realize the genius potential that resides in each of them.

That restoration will grow from our diligent embrace and practice of recommendations that innumerable studies have placed before us, including:

  • Understanding the vital importance of talking to your infant and toddler children, helping them understand the meanings of words and identifying the objects in their environment as you play and do daily activities with them;
  • Reading to your baby every day starting at 6 months of age, providing for fun, socialization and learning, and building a strong foundation for future learning;
  • Using sounds, songs, gestures and words that rhyme to help your baby learn about language and its many uses; realizing that your baby needs to hear language from a human being (You!), not the television* — which is just noise to a baby;
  • Spending as much time listening to your child as you do talking to him/her; encouraging her/him to remember and repeat words seen in your home and other places you visit together;
  • Taking children’s books and writing materials with you whenever you leave home, giving your child fun activities to entertain and occupy their developing mind while traveling and going to the doctor’s office or other appointments;
  • Creating a quiet, special place in your home for your child to read, write and draw, with books and other reading materials where your child can easily reach them;
  • Letting your good example of reading books, newspapers and magazines help your child see that reading is important;
  • Limiting the amount and type of television* you and your child watch; spending more of that time interacting and reading with your child, providing vital benefits that go beyond helping him or her be ready for success in school.

(The above points come from this study:

At The Black Star Project the reality is spoken of in this way: “The most accurate predictor of a student’s achievement in school is not income, race, language barriers, cultural background, education level of parents or social status, but the extent to which a student’s family is able to create a home environment that encourages learning; express high and realistic academic achievement expectations for their children; and become involved in productive ways in their child’s education at school, at home and in the community.” 

The fortunate thing is that most of us parents, elders and responsible others realize and utilize these and other productive measures.  The challenge is to get all parents, and potential parents, to know the importance of filling up all the awake time of babies and toddlers with activities and conversation that enable them to accumulate and enjoy the power of learning and using language; that encourage and reward their inquisitiveness, promote and enhance their self-esteem, and have a positive impact on their general approach to all experience.

It’s in our hands, if it’s in our hearts! And if it’s in our hearts we will be about the business of doing all we can, in every way we can, to put this issue at the top of the agendas of our homes, our work places, our communities, our churches and other organizations, and even in our streets; to create and maintain a constant environment of learning and high expectations wherever we go, wherever we be, wherever we invest our hearts, minds and spirits; and allow no stone to be unturned, as we transform and overthrow apathy, ignorance and selfish indifference.

The Black Star Project says we are in an era of “Educate or Die.” If it’s in our hearts, we will choose the former and not the latter, relentlessly pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number of our children, with constructive intervention when needed to help every parent help every child – hour after hour, from day-one of their existence.

It’s in our hands, if it’s in our hearts!

*(ON TELEVISION: African American households reportedly average upwards of 8 hours of television consumption daily. Meanwhile, the American Pediatricians Association recommends that no child under two years of age should be allowed to watch television – period. Their studies show it has detrimental effects on physical brain development! . . .

It is said that it takes only 30 seconds of the sights, sounds, and electromagnetic dimensions of TV to put the brain of even the most astute and sophisticated viewer into an alpha state, the same mode that is induced by effective meditation practice. In meditation the alpha mode is a good thing; it is when you are most effective at growing in harmonizing your total being with the values and principles of life upon which you are focusing. . . .

But those who own and run the television industry are not primarily in the business for education and enlightenment; they are in it for the profit that comes from the selling of products and services via commercials, and delivering certain cultural messages. With that being the case, it is understandable that the most-destructive consequences of indiscriminate TV consumption are those that befall our children. In that light, you might join me in knowing TV as the Temple for Vision-less persons! — Mxolisi) 

** (Read Mr. Jackson’s essay here: 

(Other pertinent Visions & Victories articles:;;;  

Next topic: Do African American Teachers Make a Difference in Pre-K thru 12 Education?