Parental Involvement

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.


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  1. Pat Daly
    Posted April 8, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    A recent article in “Atlantic” magazine indicates that parental involvement might be overrated, also. I agree–let kids run around, invent and hurt themselves while learning about the world. And check to make sure their chores and homework is done on time, help if asked.

    Incidentally, I note that my 6th grader (and 4th) have little homework–about 15 to 30 minutes per week, and it is cancelled at the drop of a hat–no school Friday? then we will have no homework this week (it is due Fridays). Also, there will be no homework next week (it is assigned on Fridays).

    2 weeks of no homework b/c one day off?

    Pat Daly

  2. David Thomas
    Posted May 5, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Clearly parental “involvement” can be detrimental if it the completion of a student’s task by the parent. And volunteering in the school office to file or xerox papers is very helpful free labor for the school, but I fail to see how it helps the parent’s child directly.

    Things that parents do that help a student’s progress include:

    Early reading – lots of reading to the child at ages 1, 2 and 3 so that they are reading themselves at ages 3 and 4.

    Kill your TV. Passively watching entertainment does not develop a child’s abilities or intellect like creative play, reading, and conversations with adults.

    Modeling good work and study habits.

    One-on-one time with your young child doing your day-to-day tasks (gardening, cooking, home repair, hiking, house work) while talking A LOT the whole time.

    Not taking the Summer off. The drop in student performance from May to August is so very clear if nothing academic is done all summer. This district produces some very accomplished students – none of whom “vegged out” all Summer long.

    Being a task master on homework and assignments. No, you don’t play until you’ve finished your homework.

    Filling in when the school fails to challenge a student. There are sub-par teachers in any school. There are students who need more of challenge than the other 20 kids in the classroom. “School is boring” should be a wake-up call to parents. Maybe you need to transfer to a class with a more engaged teacher. Maybe your student should be given more challenging work. Hopefully that can be accommodated in class, but home-schooling, online classes or Khan Academy can fill the gaps in this day and age.

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