Bridgeport · Reform · Students

Let’s Just Blame the Parents! And Other Ways To Write Off Bridgeport Kids

On Sunday, the Republican American published editor Chris Powell’s response to a recent article on Bassick High School written by reporter Naomi Nix for the website which contained an agrument that was so cringeworthy, I couldn’t believe that someone wrote it in earnest.

In his commentary, Powell insists that Connecticut’s persistent achievement gap isn’t a result of a lack of resources or funding. No, according to him, it’s the parents, or more accurately, a lack thereof, that’s to blame.

To Powell’s credit, unlike other commentators, he doesn’t mince words.

Usually when people want to dismiss urban students and their parents it’s coded in phrases like, “education starts at home.” Instead Powell flatly claims that “fatherlessness” and lack of parental support is the reason for chronic failure at schools like Bassick:

“Even if the plaintiffs succeed and Connecticut is ordered to spend billions more in the name of education, city students will remain fatherless and unsupported at home and troublesome on the street. They will continue to drag city schools down and push the middle class out, and the cities will keep manufacturing just one thing: Poverty.”

He’s right when he says in his article money alone won’t fix the achievement gap. Hartford is a good example of this. They get only a $100 less than Westport and are in the same dire straits as Bridgeport, but pointing fingers at “unsupportive parents” and “troublesome” youth is not the answer.

While I agree that social justice and poverty policy shouldn’t be ignored, placing blame on parents is reductive and essentially says: “Well, there’s nothing we can do.”

As Nix reported, zero students are on grade level in math at Bassick and only 15 percent in Language Arts. It’s clear we don’t have the time to sit on our hands and wait.

Yes, Bridgeport kids often face issues that kids in Westport, or other affluent suburban towns, do not. Over the past three years that I’ve written on education, I’ve heard stories of parents struggling to keep food on the table and the lights on. Parents who care deeply, but have to choose between holding down a job or going to parent-teacher nights. And, we all know there are kids facing issues greater than absent or busy parents.

Does this have an affect on students? Of course. Research shows the importance of parent involvement, but that doesn’t mean all the blame should rest on parent shoulders, or that we should dismiss reform efforts. Poverty is absolutely an obstacle, but it’s not an insurmountable one. This is not just some nebulous statement either. There is real evidence that proves this. There are schools that are beating the odds and doing great work, both in Bridgeport and across the state — for example, most Bridgeport’s magnets and charter schools. These schools are proof that students in Bridgeport and other urban districts can succeed.

Perhaps, Powell’s commentary was well meant, but his sentiments are misguided. When generations of students are suffering, there’s no room for the kind of discriminatory rhetoric that writes off students of color as lost causes. Bridgeport kids have proved time and again they’re not.

Now, can we please stop playing the blame game and for once focus on solutions?



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