father reading Gene Veith’s blog alerted me to a story in yesterday’s Washington Post about the importance of fathers in educational achievement:

“Why don’t you guys study like the kids from Africa?”

In a moment of exasperation last spring, I asked that question to a virtually all-black class of 12th-graders who had done horribly on a test I had just given. A kid who seldom came to class — and was constantly distracting other students when he did — shot back: “It’s because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study.”

Another student angrily challenged me: “You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us.” When I did, not one hand went up.

I was stunned. These were good kids; I had grown attached to them over the school year. It hit me that these students, at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, understood what I knew too well: The lack of a father in their lives had undermined their education. The young man who spoke up knew that with a father in his house he probably wouldn’t be ending 12 years of school in the bottom 10 percent of his class with a D average. His classmate, normally a sweet young woman with a great sense of humor, must have long harbored resentment at her father’s absence to speak out as she did. Both had hit upon an essential difference between the kids who make it in school and those who don’t: parents.

My students knew intuitively that the reason they were lagging academically had nothing to do with race, which is the too-handy explanation for the achievement gap in Alexandria. And it wasn’t because the school system had failed them. They knew that excuses about a lack of resources and access just didn’t wash at the new, state-of-the-art, $100 million T.C. Williams, where every student is given a laptop and where there is open enrollment in Advanced Placement and honors courses. Rather, it was because their parents just weren’t there for them — at least not in the same way that parents of kids who were doing well tended to be.