Fatherhood offers the best school reform plan

August 23, 1999|By Wade F. Horn

FOR ANY of the year 2000 presidential contenders searching for a school reform proposal guaranteed to improve test scores and educational achievement of America's children, I have just one word: Fathers. An involved father in every home is the best school reform initiative there is.

Granted, delivering on this campaign promise won't be easy. Our society is still paying the price for 30 years of cultural denial about the importance of fathers and marriage, fooling ourselves into believing that children don't need fathers for anything but a child-support check and that any family structure is as good as any other. The result? Nearly 25 million children (36.3 percent) live absent their biological fathers.

Consider these data, just a small sampling of the research demonstrating that father presence is directly related to academic achievement:

Noted researchers Nan Marie Astore and Sara S. McLanahan report that, based on studies involving more than 25,000 children using nationally representative data sets, children who lived with only one parent had lower grade-point averages, lower college aspirations, poorer attendance records, and higher dropoout rates than students who lived with both parents.

Based on a study of 17,110 children, researchers reported in the Journal of Marriage and Family that a child who did not live with both biological parents was 45 percent to 90 percent more likely to have been the subject of a parent teacher conference than a child who lived with both biological parents.

Analyzing the 1988 National Health Interview Survey, Deborah Dawson found that, nationally, 29.7 percent of children living with a never-married mother and 21.5 percent of children living with a divorced mother have repeated a grade in school, compared with only 11.6 percent of children living with both biological parents.

Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. There are numerous viable school reform initiatives being tried throughout the country. But these and other data suggest that, as long as so many children are growing up without a father, the odds of anyy of these other proposals having lasting impact are long.

The good news is that Americans are coming to realize that children do need fathers and that fathers cannot be replaced by a coach, teacher, Scout leader, uncle or other substitute role model, as important as each of these can be and are in the lives of children. A 1996 Gallup Poll found that 79.1 percent of Americans think "the most significant family or social problem facing America is the physical absence of the father from the home."

Furthermore, this attitudinal change is being translated into behavioral change.

For example, in 1997, the National Fatherhood Initiative joined with the Virginia Department of Public Health in a public education effort promoting responsible fatherhood.

An independent evaluation completed a year later, revealed that approximately 40,000 fathers in Virginia reported spending more time with their children as a result of the campaign.

It can be done, putting an involved father in every home, but it will require a commitment from every sector of society. Doing so will raise student test scores nationwide. Guaranteed.

Wade F. Horn is president of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of several books on parenting. Readers may write to him at: The National Fatherhood Initiative, One Bank Street, Suite 160, Gaithersburg, Md. 20878.

Pub Date: 08/23/99

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