• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Thursday 16th August, 2007

Are all those pushy parents right to keep on pushing?

The kids who do well at school are different from the kids who don’t. The high achievers are more natively intelligent. Or they work harder. Or they come from different kinds of families...Of course, these are vague and sweeping generalizations, but there is hard evidence to show that the parents of the kids who do well go to parent-teacher conferences, volunteer in classrooms, and attend school performances. And so seriously have these findings been taken by schools that they have prompted administrators to bend over backwards to encourage parents to become actively involved.Parent-involvement programs have consequently multiplied, even though it’s not at all clear from the evidence whether involvement causes achievement or if the children of parents who are predisposed to being involved are simply predisposed to doing well. The question remains: does parent involvement boost children’s achievement? The authors of a recent article in the Journal of Educational Psychology devised a study to solve the cause-or-effect puzzle. They examined the reading ability of 281 children from a group of ethnically diverse, low-income families in the US over six years (from the time that children were in kindergarten to the fifth grade). They also asked their parents how involved they were in school during this period and gathered data on the families’ backgrounds.Their findings should be reassuring to proponents of parent involvement. Not only did children from more involved families generally perform better on reading tests, but children whose families became more involved in school during the study also saw improvements in their reading scores. Boosting involvement did indeed appear to boost achievement. Moreover, children from disadvantaged families appeared particularly to benefit from their parents' participation. Although children with less educated mothers generally had lower reading scores, a subgroup of children defied the odds. Students whose mothers were not well-educated but were involved at school performed as well on the reading tests as those with well-educated mothers.The findings also highlight the importance of rigorous evaluation of programs designed to foster parental involvement. referencesEric Dearing, Holly Kreider, Sandra Simpkins, and Heather B. Weiss, "Family Involvement in School and Low-Income Children's Literacy: Longitudinal Associations Between and Within Families," Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 98(4), November 2006, p 653–664.For more on past and ongoing evaluations, see the Harvard Family Research Project’s Evaluation Exchange, Evaluating Family Involvement Programs, Volume X, No. 4, Winter 2004/.

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