National Press Club

Parental Support Linked to Education Achievement

May 4, 2009 | By Mike Smith

Marshall S. “Mike” Smith, senior counsel to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Richard Coley, director of the Education Testing Service’s policy information center, seemed to differ on the import and meaning of a new Educational Testing Service report at a Newsmaker April 30.

Parsing the Achievement Gap II – a follow-on report to an ETS research product delivered in 2003, said 16 factors determe success in secondary education – many of them environmental. Joining Coley and Smith were Mike Nettles, senior vice president of ETS for policy and research, and Ed Gordon, professor emeritus of Teacher’s College at Columbia.

“Research has found a difference in the effectiveness between teachers,” said the ETS report, “with less than five years of experience than teachers with more. White students were less likely to have inexperienced teachers than black or Hispanic.” Rigor of curriculum showed racial and socioeconomic disparity. Fear and safety at school also weighs more heavily on minority kids.

Smith said: “Teachers, young teacher experience, has no effect beyond the third or fourth grade,” challenging the report. Smith said the Education Department spends $100 billion per year on children; but noted disparity of spending $18,000 per child in nearby Arlington County Public Schools versus $6,500 in East Palo Alto, California’s system.

Both ETS and the Department of Education said reading to kids early in life and developing strong language skills is critical to higher achievement. ETS “left some of the variables out of its report,” Smith said. “Like a caring adult for a child to talk with about their work. That is not reflected here.” Poverty has increased over 18% since the initial report five years ago. That has a “huge effect on society,” said Smith.

“Don’t take any of these indicators too seriously,” added the Education Department spokesman. “Reading books will help close these language barriers. Speech and fluency in the language also promotes higher test performance.”

Gordon said “government has not responded deeply enough or in a comprehensive way” to reforms provided under both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and equal opportunity amendments.