STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

What can parents do to help close the achievement gap?

user Andrew Taylor

Thousands of children across Michigan will start kindergarten next week, and the truth is many of them won't be prepared to learn. For many low-income children, this will be their first time in a classroom, so they're playing catch-up from the start. From there it's a short hop, skip and jump to a full-blown achievement gap between low-income kids and their more wealthy peers by the time they're in middle school.

But instead of placing the onus solely on educators to close the achievement gap, a Head Start program in New York placed the responsibility partly in the parents' laps. WNYC reporter Robin Schulman says parents at a Washington Heights Head Start program got a "stark message at a parent orientation" this week. The gist? If you want poor kids – your kids – to succeed, you need to step up and help.

Here, then, are the four things parents can do to help close the achievement gap between their own children and those from more upper-middle class families, as reported by WNYC's Schulman.

The Fort George Head Start program in Washington Heights is one of 10 in New York City participating in the Shine Early Learning program to close the achievement gap and help poor kids to achieve in school. The private program reaches about 30,000 Head Start kids nationally. Anita Grossbard, the deputy director at the Fort George Head Start, told parents they could help their kids succeed by doing four things: Read to your children for at least 20 minutes each day. Speak to them, even about small tasks like selecting food at the market. Establish consistent routines at home. Use positive discipline – praise kids when they do well, instead of only saying “no” when they do something wrong. Educators and policymakers have long debated how to close the gap in the early grades. But few programs have enlisted parents’ help by explaining the difference in skills for lower- and higher-income kids.

What do you think of this list? What else would you add to it (or take away)? Are there other tangible things parents do to take an active role in closing the achievement gap? Let us know in the comments below. 

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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