by Whitney Ireland
It seems that we are constantly hearing about how far the U.S. lags behind other industrialized nations in education.
After testing more than 510,000 students in 65 countries and economies on maths, reading and science, the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ranks the U.S. 21st in reading and 31st in math. Many parents try to beat these results by moving to areas with better schools, or paying the tuition for a private education. The government has tried to address these issues through legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act, and Common Core, but none of these solutions have helped in the ways we hoped they would.
There are many theories for why the U.S. is doing poorly: the government has too much control, the government has too little control, the schools don’t all teach the same thing, there isn’t enough funding for schools, class sizes are too big, teachers are underpaid and overworked, kids are too distracted by electronics, and the list goes on.
One area of concern is startlingly missing from this discussion: What impact do parents and the family have on students’ educational outcomes? In one year 1,000,000 U.S. children experience the divorce of their parents. That number does not include the children whose parents have been divorced a year or more, or children whose parents never married in the first place. Every year fewer children are living with both their mom and dad.
This is sad, but what does it have to do with education?
Children from divorced homes are more likely to be tardy or truant than their counterparts from homes with intact nuclear families. Research has found that some students report “not caring” about education because of the turmoil of the divorce process. Their grades tend to drop, along with their interest in learning. It is true that not every child with divorced parents sees a drop in their academic achievement and not all students from intact nuclear families are perfect or even good students. Some children of divorce seem to be unaffected when it comes to their education. However, in general, children from intact nuclear families tend to do significantly better in school.
It’s not hard to imagine why children from healthy and strong families do better in school. They don’t sit at their desk wondering if mommy and daddy will get a divorce, or when daddy will come visit again. Mom and dad are both there to help the child get to school on time and encourage them to stay there. It is also no wonder that academic performance suffers when a child carries the weight of these adult cares. Children are able to pay attention and learn better when they are able to focus on childhood concerns.
Improving the US education system is a complex problem that will take more than one simple solution. However, if we want to help children succeed in school, we need to take a look at the condition of their families.