Four Things Low-Income Parents Can Do to Narrow the Achievement Gap

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There was a stark message at a parent orientation in Washington Heights this week:  low-income kids--your kids—enter kindergarten less prepared than kids from upper-income homes. And here’s what you can do this year to catch up.

The Fort George Head Start program in Washington Heights is one of 10 in New York City participating in the Shine Early Learning program to close the achievement gap and help poor kids to achieve in school. The private program reaches about 30,000 Head Start kids nationally.

Anita Grossbard, the deputy director at the Fort George Head Start, told parents they could help their kids succeed by doing four things:

  1. Read to your children for at least 20 minutes each day.
  2. Speak to them, even about small tasks like selecting food at the market.
  3. Establish consistent routines at home.
  4. Use positive discipline—praise kids when they do well, instead of only saying “no” when they do something wrong.

Educators and policymakers have long debated how to close the gap in the early grades. But few programs have enlisted parents’ help by explaining the difference in skills for lower- and higher-income kids.

“It’s very concerning, I didn’t know it was that big of a difference,” said Jorge Estevez, a truck driver whose four-year-old daughter is starting pre-kindergarten at Fort George next week.

“I’m going to go to the library right now, get a library card, and pick out some books, so we can get on that right away,” he said. I as a parent want to do whatever I can to close that gap.”