While heaping more praise on Rich: We want to heap a bit more praise on the New York Times’ Motoko Rich.
As a general rule, the New York Times does terrible education reporting. Yesterday, Rich did one of the finest education reports we’ve ever seen in the Times.
Rich discussed an important fact—in many cases, loving parents from low-literacy backgrounds don’t know that they should be talking and reading to their infants and toddlers. In our view, this is one of the finest examples of education reporting ever seen in the Times:
RICH (3/26/14): Educators say that many parents, especially among the poor and immigrants, do not know that talking, as well as reading, singing and playing with their young children, is important. “I’ve had young moms say, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to talk to my baby until they could say words and talk to me,’ ” said Susan Landry, which has developed a home visiting program similar to the one here in Providence.Too Small to Fail is a program is “an initiative aimed at closing the word gap across the country,” Rich reports. As we once again praise Rich for this very helpful report, it might be time to think again about the late William Raspberry.
“In the same way that we say you should feed your child, brush their teeth, you should be stimulating their brain by talking, singing and reading to them,” said Ann O’Leary, the director of Too Small to Fail...
Raspberry was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at the Washington Post. When he retired from the Post in 2005, he returned to his home town—Okolona, Mississippi!—to run a program called Baby Steps.
We first wrote about Baby Steps that very month. In part, the program was designed to help low-income parents learn that they should talk and read to their children, as with Too Small to Fail.
Raspberry had discussed Baby Steps in a column the month before. He started by describing a young mother who was thrilled by the progress she saw her baby making as she learned to “chatter” to him.
He then described the fuller sweep of the program:
RASPBERRY (11/7/05): Chattering isn't all that Baby Steps does, of course. The program, just over two years old, begins with the notion that much of what we describe as school failure is in fact the result of inadequate foundations laid at home. But it also assumes that parents love their children, want them to succeed and would do the things that promote school success, if they knew what those things were. We aim to teach them, well before the children enter school, and to have fun doing it. The program serves parents of children from birth to age 5.We mentioned Baby Steps in two other posts, wondering how the program was doing. But we never saw it mentioned again in the Post, or anywhere else, except in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Mississippi).
So far (though there's no pre- or post-testing to prove it), parents in the program really do seem to be picking up the habits—talking and reading to their children, praising more and criticizing less, finding teaching opportunities in everything from a handed-down family story to a packet of flower seeds—that many middle-class parents take for granted. And they seem to take delight in each new step toward increased parental competence.
That doesn't surprise me. What does is the easy willingness of other people in my home town—parents, professionals, friends, family, ministers, merchants, educators and just plain folk—to join in the enterprise. Only a tiny handful are paid (and not very much); a few have their travel expenses reimbursed. But most are happy just to be involved with something positive for the town's children.
Those deserving kids just keep on coming. It’s a very rare day when a major newspaper goes to the heart of the education struggles they and their parents may face.
Our big newspapers don’t bother with that. They spend their time disinforming the public with their Standard Bogus Stories about the way American test scores are a mess. (In fact, test scores have never been as high as they are.)
Raspberry died in 2012; Baby Steps is still up and running. How much better Rich’s report would have been if she had added this point about Too Small to Fail:
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, black and Hispanic kids have shown large score gains in recent decades in both reading and math. Too Small to Fail is a national effort to keep that progress rolling.
Low-income kids have recorded large gains. But when will the public ever be told? When will people be allowed to take pride in the ongoing progress? To learn that their country’s improving?
Why won’t liberals talk about the large score gains those kids have recorded? The silence of the liberal world is one of the great disgraces—and an unflattering tell.