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Citation:Phillips, M., Brooks-Gunn, J., Duncan, G. J., Klebanov, P., & Crane, J. (1998). Family background, parenting practices, and the black-white test score gap. In C. Jencks & M. Phillips (Eds.), The black-white test score gap (pp. 102-145). Washington, DC:: Brookings Institution Press.

This study investigates Herstein and MurrayÕs assertion in their 1994 book The Bell Curve that socioeconomic status explains only about a third of the black-white test score gap and that genetic factors explain the rest. This study suggests that environments provided by ordinary families do influence childrenÕs cognitive development. It found that there is no empirical evidence that mothersÕ attitudes and values about educational expectations, self-efficacy and self-esteem, or their welfare status had any effect on childrenÕs vocabulary scores. It also found that grandparents affected their grandchildren by passing along advantages and disadvantages to their children, who then pass them along, and that large racial differences in neighborhood poverty do suggest that traditional measures of socioeconomic status understate the differences between black and white childrenÕs environments. The researchers used data from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (CNSLY), which covers all children born to the 6283 women in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). In 1986 the CNSLY began to focus on 1626 African American and European American five-and six-year olds who took the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (revised). Data from the Infant Health and Development Program (IHDP) supplemented the CNSLY. They analyzed measures such as parentsÕ economic resources, grandparentsÕ educational attainment, mothersÕ household size, high school quality, and self-efficacy, as well as childrenÕs birth weight and household size. They also controlled for active and passive correlation between genetic and environmental reasons for differences. Both the CNSLY and the IHDP used the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME) scale to measure the quality of childrenÕs home environment, and it assigns high values to activities and practices that are more common in middle class families. In this study the HOME scale was an important predictor of childrenÕs test scores even after controlling for other measures in the family environment. The authors suggest that for parents who want their children to do well on tests, middle class parenting practices seem to work. This study does not settle the question of whether the black-white test score gap is entirely or partially environmental in origin, but it does identify family characteristics that seem to matter the most for reducing the gap.

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