Mississippi Governor Attributes Decline in Child Education to Mothers in the Workforce

June 5, 2013

The American education system can be a topic of heated debate. While most experts and politicians agree that U.S. schools are losing their competitive edge, they often disagree about why. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) offered his own explanation for the decline on Tuesday -- one that immediately struck up a controversy.

According to The Washington Post, Bryant participated in a panel on Tuesday alongside Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R). The topic: How to improve childhood reading proficiency by the third grade. Washington Post journalist and event moderator Mary Jordan asked the three governors how American schools became "so mediocre" with respect to literacy and educational outcomes. Bryant's response: "I think both parents started working. And the mom is in the workplace."

CBS News reports that Bryant seemed to recognize that his response might be controversial, noting that he was "going to get in trouble," and could already see Wednesday's emails. He said he does not think both parents working is necessarily a bad thing, and "...it's a great American story now that women are certainly in the workplace." When asked whether he believes mothers should return to the home, Bryant recalled his own childhood. "I think there was that loving, nurturing opportunity, that both parents had a little bit of time," he said. Today's parents, in contrast, are "so challenged," and must "try to balance both of them in the workplace."

Bryant's comments came on the heels of a recent report from the Pew Research Center that indicated women are the sole or primary breadwinners for a record 40 percent of U.S. households with children under the age of 18. According to CBS News, the report found that 79 percent of Americans reject the notion that women should return to their traditional, stay-at-home roles -- yet 51 percent say children benefit when a mother stays home and does not work.

In a piece he penned on Bryant's remarks, Slate business and economics correspondent Matthew Yglesias suggested that the governor's comments were "especially egregious" because there is another, "perfectly plausible" link between the rise of working women and issues within the K-12 system. A few decades ago teaching was one of the only opportunities available to educated women, Yglesias wrote, which put many talented teachers into the classroom. Now that women have a lot more career options, only 23 percent of today's teachers come from the top third of the college admissions test distribution compared to most teachers in countries with highly regarded educational systems, like South Korea and Finland.

As for Bryant's co-participants on Tuesday's panel, they offered their own explanations. According to The Washington Post, Markell blamed a "lack of urgency on the part of the public," while Martinez suggested that responsibility falls squarely on adults.

"Education became adult-driven and not child-driven," said Martinez.

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"Miss. gov.: Education problems started with working moms," cbsnews.com, June 4, 2013, Stephanie Condon

"Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant Blames Working Moms for Bad Schools," slate.com, June 4, 2013, Matthew Yglesias

"Mississippi governor: Educational troubles began when 'mom is in the workplace,'" washingtonpost.com, June 4, 2013, Valerie Strauss

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