Journal Issue: School Readiness: Closing Racial and Ethnic Gaps Volume 15 Number 1 Spring 2005
Parenting influences young children in many different ways. The frequency of certain parenting behaviors, those often linked with school readiness, are lower for black and Hispanic mothers than for white mothers, though adjustment for differences in family conditions attenuates these differences to an extent. These racial and ethnic differences in parenting in large part parallel racial and ethnic differences in school readiness. When such parenting differences are controlled, the gaps in school readiness drop 25 percent to 50 percent.
It is possible to alter the parenting behavior of black and Hispanic mothers. In several instances, interventions have reduced the gaps in the parenting behavior of black and white mothers. In these cases, black children also benefited more than white children from the intervention. These successful programs have been high-quality and center-based with a parenting component (typically through home visiting). Exclusively home-based programs have not yielded comparable findings; they affect the mother but not the child and therefore (with a few exceptions) cannot narrow ethnic and racial gaps in school readiness. We cannot say from existing evidence whether all center-based programs should have a parenting component. There is little evidence documenting the effects of parenting components in publicly funded programs such as Head Start. In addition, because virtually all programs for children under age four involve the parent, it is not known whether a center-based program without a parenting component is as effective as one with such a component. The rise of the prekindergarten programs may provide some insight, because many such programs do not target the parent in any significant way. Whether such programs will show similar impacts on children without parental involvement remains to be seen. The exciting findings of the new family literacy programs and the parent behavior training programs also provide possible avenues for targeted parenting programs.