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February 4, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The significant discrepancies in educational performance between “African American and Latinos on the one hand and white students on the other” is not caused by “race,” argues William Jeynes at Public Discourse. More than anything, he claims it is due to an intact family, as well as having a strong faith.  

Jeynes, who teaches at California State University, Long Beach, says this is also true of the discrepancies, generally referred to as “achievement gap,” between students from lower levels of socioeconomic status and those of higher levels.

As Jeynes explains in his article, one school of thought emphasizes the “opportunity gaps” of students currently disadvantaged, including gaps “of a racial minority, discrimination, poor nutrition, inadequate health care, not having access to high-quality public education, coming from a family in which the parents are poorly educated or do not speak English as their first language, and lack of internet and computer access.”

Without denying that there is some truth to opportunity gaps playing a role in students’ educational performance, Jeynes points out that there are more causes than those considered opportunity gaps. This second school of thought emphasizes, among other things, the decisions parents make for and with their children.

“How involved will parents decide to become?” Jeynes asked. “How much will the household decide to emphasize faith in God, and the sense of purpose in life, and working hard to realize that purpose and please God, which normally follows?”

After conducting the first meta-analysis of 30 different studies examining attempts to reduce the achievement gap, the professor of education came to the conclusion: “Parental family structure and parental involvement were major explanatory factors and solutions with respect to the achievement gap.”

In other words, if a student comes from a family where the student’s father and mother are living together, raising their children, questions of race and socioeconomic status are a lot less relevant. As Jeynes put it with some humor, “There is an old adage among many family scientists that when a Caucasian comes from a single parent or a blended family structure, he or she loses the advantage of being white.”

What about faith, though? Jeynes, who studied the achievement gap for many years, found that “regularly attending church, or another house of worship, and defining oneself as being a very religious person yielded the most significant reductions in the achievement gap.” He draws this back to the fact that being a person of faith often means being aware of having a purpose in life, as well as pursuing a more disciplined lifestyle.

“Perhaps most significantly, the meta-analysis revealed that, if an African American or Latino student was a person of faith and came from a two-biological-parent family, the achievement gap totally disappeared, even when adjusting for socioeconomic status,” Jeynes continued.

Contrary to Jeynes’ research, many Democrat presidential candidates seem to subscribe to the school of thought arguing opportunity gaps are playing the main role in creating an achievement gap.

Joe Biden, who according to the RealClearPolitics average currently leads in the national polls, claims on his website that “too many parents don’t have access to the resources and support they need to support and ensure their children are developing healthily. As a result, there’s an achievement gap in this country before our children even enter kindergarten.”

Similarly, Bernie Sanders, who is second in the polls, wants to invest heavily in early childhood education, claiming, “This will give all children the opportunity to develop, learn, and reach their highest potential.” Sanders is quoted on his campaign website as saying, “In a society with our resources, it is unconscionable that we do not properly invest in our children from the very first stages of their lives.”

Elizabeth Warren, the only other contender polling in double digits, mentions the creation of opportunities for students (and teachers) very frequently in her plan for public education. Here, too, having strong families with strong faith is not taken into consideration.

Jeynes proposes a different way forward. In his piece for Public Discourse, he suggested, “With all the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been poured into reducing the achievement gap with only marginal success, recognizing — and working to improve — family and faith factors would likely be much more effective in reducing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.”

How does this translate into practical policy? The professor calls the Department of Education, currently headed by Betsy DeVos, to adopt policies that are more faith-friendly, for instance, the promotion of school choice programs that include private schools.

As an additional first step, he proposes the clarification and expansion of guidelines on religious liberty currently in place for public schools.

Jeynes laments the tendency “among many academics to once again try an old initiative that has not worked especially well and to pretend that it is a new effort, simply by calling it by another name.”

A more comprehensive approach is needed. The focus on closing “opportunity gaps,” Jeynes explained, had been in place for 55 years – with little to show for it.


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