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Can Love Close the Achievement Gap?

April 18, 2017
Tara Garcia Mathewson
The Atlantic

Seat-belt use in the United States rose from 14 percent in 1985 to 84 percent in 2011 thanks, in large part, to a massive ad campaign promoting the practice. Even now, with “buckle up” warnings far less prominent, seat-belt use continues to rise.

Ronald Ferguson wants to see a similar trend with the use of five evidence-based parenting principles dubbed the Boston Basics: maximize love, manage stress; talk, sing, and point; count, group, and compare; explore through movement and play; and read and discuss stories. Ferguson is the director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University and the lead creator of the Basics, which experts agree are most important for children from the time they are born to when they turn 3. For much of his career, Ferguson studied educational achievement starting in kindergarten, but when he learned that gaps based on socioeconomic status and race were already stark by the time children turn 2 years old, he decided to broaden his focus.

Generating support in Boston for the Basics has not been difficult: Scores of nonprofits, government agencies, and other community-based organizations have agreed that there is value in teaching the principles. What remains unclear, however, is whether the Basics will help close achievement gaps in practice. Broad support for the concept, in theory, may not yield a meaningful, educational result.

But Ferguson and other participating leaders are hopeful.