Educators who worry about the persistent achievement gap between white and minority youngsters ought to pay more attention to a disastrous development hidden in plain sight: the terrible (and rapidly growing) over-use of entertainment media by children of color.
Focused efforts by parents, community groups, teachers and the students themselves to limit their immersion in electronic diversions might bring more immediate improvements in educational outcomes than expensive and bureaucratic schemes to restructure schools.
A powerfully disturbing new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that black and Hispanic kids consume 4-1/2 more hours of media every day than their white counterparts—investing a startling total of more than 90 hours a week on television, video games, social networking and other distractions. “It’s clear that, overall, American youth spend an enormous amount of time with media, but minorities spend most of their waking hours with media,” says study director Ellen Wartella, head of the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University.
The chief culprit is television, of course: black youngsters spend more than 41 hours a week watching the tube, while white kids devote less than 25 hours per week.
This contrast connects directly with the disparity in academic performance: while the Kaiser study “cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between media use and grades,” it reports a dramatic correlation between heavy indulgence in electronic entertainment and poor performance in school. Whether over-indulgence in media leads to lousy grades, or kids who get lousy grades seek solace by over-indulging in media, the association emerges as undeniable.
Among “heavy media users” (defined as the 21 percent of all young people who consume more than 16 hours a day) nearly half (47 percent) report fair or poor grades (C’s or lower). Among “light media users” (the 17 percent of youngsters investing three hours a day or less) only 23 percent receive those disappointing grades. These conclusions echo the results of scores of studies going back more than 30 years that relate heavy television viewing to weaker grades and lower achievement scores in school.