Education Subcommittee Chair’s Response To Low Student Achievement: Blame Parents

Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)

What’s the most significant cause of poor student performance? Inequitable school funding? A shortage of strong school leaders? At least for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the answer is none of the above. Instead, he targets parents in a recent interview:

The blame in the end goes to the parents — to the mom and the dad, that’s where the blame lies. You could send my kids to any school, and I guarantee you that they are going to get straight A’s. My wife is standing behind them whacking them over the head every time they stop doing their homework…we stand over them like little dictators and make them do exactly what they’re supposed to do…If a parent doesn’t do that, there’s only so much an educator can do, no matter how good they are, no matter how much money is invested in that school.

As the Chair of the House Education & Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, Hunter plays a significant role in ESEA reauthorization, and his response to low student achievement is troubling. Family involvement is integral to a child’s education and future, but policies should actively engage parents instead of blame them. For example, the School District of Philadelphia was recently highlighted for its efforts to boost student achievement by offering free classes to families of enrolled students on topics ranging from math to computer training.

In addition, Hunter’s comments entirely ignore the fact that systemic inequities contribute greatly to low student achievement. New research shows that low-income students have unequal access, on average, to the highest-performing teachers. Funding formulas and loopholes shortchange high-poverty schools. Districts have varying levels of educational efficiency.

Addressing these inequities requires reforming an Elementary and Secondary Education Act that is badly in need of repair. Its teacher policy ensures teachers have degrees and credentials but it doesn’t make sure the teachers are effective at improving student learning. Schools are required to implement improvement strategies that are not strong enough to help them improve, and they get zero credit for making growth.

Reauthorizing ESEA is an effective way to stop perpetuating institutional problems that contribute to low student achievement. Failing to act means that students and families will have no one to blame but Congress.