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Community Commentary: Like it or not, parental education influences API scores

November 29, 2011

There is a simple solution to poor test scores after all. What America has been seeking for decades is a simple solution — and now we have it. It's not nearly as complicated as Humberto Caspa makes it out to be ("Community Commentary: Student success rests on many factors," Nov. 2019).

Caspa asserts, "Because the problem is complex, and there is no single medicine to cure the illness, our focus should transcend simple answers. We must seek a multifaceted solution that involves parents, teachers, school administrators and nonprofits. In addition, a thorough socioeconomic study is required to fully identify the problems on this issue."

This flies in the face of so many earnest efforts to find one easy-to-grasp solution that would permanently fix education. We've done curriculum to death. We've done bloated, complacent administration to a fare-thee-well. We've challenged textbooks. We're castigating teachers. We experiment with magnet, academy, fundamental and charter structures. Is there anything we haven't tried?

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Well, there is one. There is solid evidence that there is one "medicine," as yet untried, that will cure most of what ails the Academic Performance Index (API) of schools in our district.

The California Department of Education (CDE) analyzed tests from 5,355 public elementary schools and found one factor that explained 81% percent of API results. In truth, there are no other factors that explain as much.

This one factor is reliable because it correlates with success and failure in API tests across the secondary schools (middle and high schools) and years other than 2010 as well.

Not surprisingly, that one factor is "average parent education." It stands to reason that when parents are well educated their children will do well on tests like API.

Now, some may object, correctly observing that there are a host of things that contribute to a child's success, and that "average parent education" is really just a stand-in for a complex of factors such as family wealth, family involvement, number of jobs the parents are working, adequate housing with a quiet place to study, safe neighborhoods, adequate nutrition, the family's culture and even grandparents' education.

But if it's a simple solution we're looking for, we need look no further than "average parent education."

This will be a modest proposal. It's simple in concept and easy to remember. Best of all, it is guaranteed to greatly improve API numbers at low-performing schools. Here it is: Just replace all the parents at low performing schools with highly educated ones.

So now we have a stark choice: Either something simple like this, or something complicated as Caspa suggests.

TOM EGAN is a Costa Mesa resident.

Editor's note: A computer glitch led to the deletion of several letters to the editor sent over Thanksgiving Day weekend. Maybe one of them was yours. Please resubmit letters sent during that time period to dailypilot@latimes.com or john.canalis@latimes.com.

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