I recall a homework assignment when I was in first grade that asked my class to draw a map of their neighborhood. I remember dutifully finding a piece of cardboard and drawing a crude bird’s eye view of our cul-de-sac and its 15 houses. One of my classmates returned to school the following morning with a rolled poster board. Once opened, the poster revealed an intricate set of roads neatly drawn in fine pencil with a ruler used to guide the lines. At the time I was shocked that a 6-year old could produce such quality and embarrassed that my effort was by comparison, pitiful. I now of course recognize that his parents did the work. I remembered this story while reading about recent research (The Broken Promise: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education), that surprisingly shows that parents doing such things as volunteering at school and helping with homework have little effect on their child’s academic achievement. The study tracked 63 measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives and found that most of these yielded few academic benefits for students. The findings are of course in stark contrast to the common assumption that more parental involvement means better grades.
The analysis did reveal that the acquisition of literacy was the key to academic success and that children who are raised in homes with limited intellectual conversation and reading opportunities will struggle to keep pace with those who have this advantage. So are we to turn parents away at the school house door? Of course not. We should not however, expect a child to magically get straight As because his mom volunteers each Friday. What this all points to is a greater emphasis on helping parents understand that school does not begin in kindergarten, that the ability to learn can be greatly enhanced by parental involvement that starts well before a child can walk.