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Journal Issue: School Readiness: Closing Racial and Ethnic Gaps Volume 15 Number 1 Spring 2005

The Contribution of Parenting to Ethnic and Racial Gaps in School Readiness
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn Lisa Markman-Pithers

Summary

The authors describe various parenting behaviors, such as nurturance, discipline, teaching, and language use, and explain how researchers measure them. They note racial and ethnic variations in several behaviors. Most striking are differences in language use. Black and Hispanic mothers talk less with their young children than do white mothers and are less likely to read to them daily. They also note some differences in harshness.

When researchers measuring school readiness gaps control for parenting differences, the racial and ethnic gaps narrow by 25–50 percent. And it is possible to alter parenting behavior to improve readiness. The authors examine programs that serve poor families—and thus disproportionately serve minority families—and find that home- and center-based programs with a parenting component improve parental nurturance and discipline. Programs that target families with children with behavior problems improve parents' skills in dealing with such children. And certain family literacy programs improve parents' skills in talking with their children. Several interventions have significantly reduced gaps in the parenting behavior of black and white mothers.

Not all improvements in parenting translate to improved school readiness. Home-based programs affect the mother but do not appear to affect the child, at least in the short term. But center-based programs with a parenting component enhance both parenting and school readiness. And some family literacy programs also improve readiness. Because these successful interventions serve a greater share of minority than non-minority families and have more positive effects for blacks than for whites, they offer promise for closing the ethnic and racial gaps in school readiness.