Parental Involvement Is Overrated
By KEITH ROBINSON and ANGEL L. HARRIS, OpEd in the New York Times | http://nyti.ms/1ilF0xt
April 12, 2014, 2:32 pm :: Most people, asked whether parental involvement benefits children academically, would say, “of course it does.” But evidence from our research suggests otherwise. In fact, most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.
Over the past few years, we conducted an extensive study of whether the depth of parental engagement in children’s academic lives improved their test scores and grades. We pursued this question because we noticed that while policy makers were convinced that parental involvement positively affected children’s schooling outcomes, academic studies were much more inconclusive.
Despite this, increasing parental involvement has been one of the focal points of both President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama’s Race to the Top. Both programs promote parental engagement as one remedy for persistent socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps.
We analyzed longitudinal surveys of American families that spanned three decades (from the 1980s to the 2000s) and obtained demographic information on race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, the academic outcomes of children in elementary, middle and high school, as well as information about the level of parental engagement in 63 different forms.
What did we find? One group of parents, including blacks and Hispanics, as well as some Asians (like Cambodians, Vietnamese and Pacific Islanders), appeared quite similar to a second group, made up of white parents and other Asians (like Chinese, Koreans and Indians) in the frequency of their involvement. A common reason given for why the children of the first group performed worse academically on average was that their parents did not value education to the same extent. But our research shows that these parents tried to help their children in school just as much as the parents in the second group.
Even the notion that kids do better in school when their parents are involved does not stack up. After comparing the average achievement of children whose parents regularly engage in each form of parental involvement to that of their counterparts whose parents do not, we found that most forms of parental involvement yielded no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing.
In fact, there were more instances in which children had higher levels of achievement when their parents were less involved than there were among those whose parents were more involved. Even more counterintuitively: When involvement does seem to matter, the consequences for children’s achievement are more often negative than positive.
When involvement did benefit kids academically, it depended on which behavior parents were engaging in, which academic outcome was examined, the grade level of the child, the racial and ethnic background of the family and its socioeconomic standing. For example, regularly discussing school experiences with your child seems to positively affect the reading and math test scores of Hispanic children, to negatively affect test scores in reading for black children, and to negatively affect test scores in both reading and math for white children (but only during elementary school). Regularly reading to elementary school children appears to benefit reading achievement for white and Hispanic children but it is associated with lower reading achievement for black children. Policy makers should not advocate a one-size-fits-all model of parental involvement.
What about when parents work directly with their children on learning activities at home? When we examined whether regular help with homework had a positive impact on children’s academic performance, we were quite startled by what we found. Regardless of a family’s social class, racial or ethnic background, or a child’s grade level, consistent homework help almost never improved test scores or grades. Most parents appear to be ineffective at helping their children with homework. Even more surprising to us was that when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse. One interesting exception: The group of Asians that included Chinese, Korean and Indian children appeared to benefit from regular help with homework, but this benefit was limited to the grades they got during adolescence; it did not affect their test scores.
Our findings also suggest that the idea that parental involvement will address one of the most salient and intractable issues in education, racial and ethnic achievement gaps, is not supported by the evidence. This is because our analyses show that most parental behavior has no benefit on academic performance. While there are some forms of parental involvement that do appear to have a positive impact on children academically, we find at least as many instances in which more frequent involvement is related to lower academic performance.
As it turns out, the list of what generally works is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school (despite the complications we mentioned above), and requesting a particular teacher for your child.
Do our findings suggest that parents are not important for children’s academic success? Our answer is no. We believe that parents are critical for how well children perform in school, just not in the conventional ways that our society has been promoting. The essential ingredient is for parents to communicate the value of schooling, a message that parents should be sending early in their children’s lives and that needs to be reinforced over time. But this message does not need to be communicated through conventional behavior, like attending PTA meetings or checking in with teachers.
When the federal government issues mandates on the implementation of programs that increase parental involvement, schools often encourage parents to spend more time volunteering, to attend school events, to help their children with homework and so forth. There is a strong sentiment in this country that parents matter in every respect relating to their children’s academic success, but we need to let go of this sentiment and begin to pay attention to what the evidence is telling us.
Conventional wisdom holds that since there is no harm in having an involved parent, why shouldn’t we suggest as many ways as possible for parents to participate in school? This conventional wisdom is flawed. Schools should move away from giving the blanket message to parents that they need to be more involved and begin to focus instead on helping parents find specific, creative ways to communicate the value of schooling, tailored to a child’s age. Future research should investigate how parental involvement can be made more effective, but until then, parents who have been less involved or who feel uncertain about how they should be involved should not be stigmatized.
What should parents do? They should set the stage and then leave it.
Teachers often blame parents for problem students
Teachers say that many disruptive students can be blamed on unsupportive parents, but that's not always true. Teachers and parents should be partners in a child's education.
Sandy Banks, LA Times columnist | http://lat.ms/1gAUAVn
7:58 PM PDT, April 14, 2014 :: I figured that teachers wouldn't let me off easy — even though my Saturday column took their side.
I wrote about the recent classroom scuffle between a teacher and student at Santa Monica High, defending the teacher and listing the forces that make teaching so hard — including spineless administrators and unruly students.
Still, many of the teachers I heard from last weekend had the same indignant response:
What about the parents? If parents raised their children right, we wouldn't have problems on campus.
Good parenting skills are "indispensable to quality education," insisted Andy Ligeti, a Glendale Community College history professor and former high school teacher.
"When students become a problem in the classroom, 9 [out of] 10 times, the root of the issue is a lack of parent support and responsibility for children's educational welfare," Ligeti's email said.
I hear some version of that from teachers whenever I write about any problem involving public schools.
Blame them, not us, they say. Teachers can't work miracles or undo parents' failures.
It's not fair to presume that any child who frustrates adults is a product of derelict parenting. Teenagers, particularly, tend to break rules, challenge authority and test their budding autonomy in unhealthy and embarrassing ways.
Depending on the child, the teacher and the moment, I may have been lumped in with those "irresponsible parents" by a teacher or two as my three daughters moved through school. Maybe that's why I'm sensitive to the claim that parents are almost always to blame for a kid's boneheaded move.
Still, I understand that teachers are frustrated too. They are expected not just to teach, but to tend to the social needs of children warped by instability, poverty and family dysfunction.
There are indeed bad parents; some are selfish, absent, neglectful or cruel. But others are just overwhelmed or failed themselves at school. And compounding that is a cultural shift that has reshaped the relationship between parents and teachers.
Today's parents grew up in an era when challenging the powers that be was an honorable thing. We tend to bring to child-rearing more pride in self-expression and less respect for authority.
Kids mouth off at school because they are allowed to at home. "Our children are made to believe that they are above the schools and the teachers," Riverside's Vincent Hoang wrote. "And the parents are made to believe that the rules apply to everyone else but them."
Some parents behave like schoolyard bullies, belligerently taking their children's side in any dispute: Junior's being picked on. The teacher's not fair. The classroom rules are stupid.
In some neighborhoods, they threaten lawsuits. In others, they show up on campus, shouting and ready to brawl. That's contributed, teachers told me, to a climate of fear. School officials back down, parents gloat and teachers privately fume.
Children take a lesson from that. "These misguided parents believe they are being a good parent by protecting their child," said Ventura County teacher Charley Bensley. "The result is we are educating a significant number of students that there are no consequences for their poor behavior."
My problem with the "blame the parents" mantra is that it doesn't move us forward. When teachers believe that poor parenting blocks students from success, I imagine them writing off chunks of children they have already deemed failures.
It's a societal shame, but the campus might be the only stable space in a struggling student's life.
That's why schools need support teams: counselors, librarians, nurses and classes small enough that no child gets left behind. That's why what happens in the classroom has such life-changing importance. And that's why the relationship between student and teacher matters so much.
When teachers care enough to reach out to a problem student's parents, they often see more clearly why things are going wrong in class.
"The struggle with disruptive students is constant," high school science teacher Fred Lammers wrote. "I cannot tell you how many parent conferences I have had, via phone or face-to-face, and have had a parent say to me 'I can't do anything. I don't have any control over him (or her).' "
When discipline problems get a student bounced from Lammers' classroom, the child can't return unless a parent agrees to a conference. "I want to clarify with the parents the unacceptable behavior of their son or daughter and receive assurances that this is being dealt with in the home," he said.
Does that stop the problem? Not always. "Some students still will refuse to work and create disruptions," he said.
But it does remind the parents that what they say and do at home is important to students' success. In fact, research shows that the biggest contribution that parents make to lifting academic achievement is by communicating to their children the value of education.
What better way to do that than by partnering with teachers?
Teachers need to understand and accept the challenges that parents face. And parents need to be aware of and held accountable for their children's conduct in the classroom.
“What should parents do? They should set the stage and then leave it.”
Yes, so called “Helicopter Parenting “and “Tiger Mom-ing” are extreme and outcome-skewing disruptions to data-driven ivory tower sociologists and ®eform Inc educators who would let the Return on Investment in Public Education be measured on spreadsheets - whether in scholarly treatises or corporate P&L statements or USA Today graphic snapshots. But Robinson and Harris have a book to sell and writing inflammatory op-eds that encourage parents to abandon their children to the system is a strategy.
I won’t be buying the book.
The business-model-would-be-®eformers should remember that parents are their customers. And that well-informed customers are the best customers …unless you’re selling an inferior product.
And thank you Sandy Banks.
Missed in the discussion is the importance of parenting as practiced in the home – of parents being involved in their kids everyday daily lives; every day. Knowing who your kid’s friends are. Knowing what’s going on in their lives. Listening. Supporting. Reading what they read, watching what they watch. Knowing what they think about things; who their teachers are and what their homework is. It sounds easy; it’s very hard.
Giving space but being present.
Setting the stage, helping with the production and attending the performance.
“Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”― Elizabeth Stone
Forever is a long term investment.