• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Friday 16th July, 2010

There’s this thing about assumptions. They tend to be wrong

It’s the job of prevention science to come up with innovative solutions to endemic problems, but at its core it also looks to question long held assumptions. The involvement of parents in their children’s education and school activities has greatly increased over the last 30 years. The belief has been that parents can work with teachers to improve their child’s development and academic progress. But is this actually the case?Getting the answer wasn’t simple. It required a longitudinal study with stringent enough criteria and a big enough sample size. Just such a study was initiated in 1991 and is now beginning to bear fruit. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have analysed the data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD) which was sponsored by the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. SECCYD sought to explore the relationship between child care and academic achievment. SECCYD was launched in 10 US locations. Almost 9000 children were screened for participation. The application of a priori criteria—which eliminated non English speakers among others—culled about 3,000 from the original group. There were some who declined to participate and of those that were left, 1,364 were randomly selected to join the study. At the end of Phase Three in 2004, 1073 children remained active. These children have received 13 assessments since they were born, the last came when they were 15. The data that was used for conclusions about parental involvement, however, only concerned the children up to the fifth grade of elementary school when they were between 10 and 11 years old.When the children were compared at different time points up to the fifth grade, there was a consistent pattern – both for the group as a whole and for individuals. High levels of parental involvement, as reported by mothers and teachers, were associated with improvements in children’s social skills and behaviour. However, this relationship did not apply to academic improvment during the five years of their schooling. Let’s be clear about this. The results shows that parental involvement in a child’s middle school has a strong impact on his or her social development, but a negligible one on their academic development.Up until now, the research picture has been mixed. Some studies have shown a positive relationship between parental involvement and children’s academic achievement with others showing no such connection. What’s unique about SECCYD is it’s focus on middle school children. Most of the other studies have looked at preschool, kindergarten or high school kids. An exception is Dearing et al.’s study in 2006. Their results contradicted SECCYD. They found that improving parental involvement helped improve literacy. Their sample size was smaller, however, at 281 students, and focused on low income familes.One possible reason for the findings of this study is that for middle school children, parents are more likely to focus more on helping them adjust to the classroom rather than on their academic progress. Parents know much more about what happens at school than was the case in previous generations and are more likely to encourage positive behaviours from home. While these might have later benefits for academic achievements, this study found that those advantages were not manifest by the fifth grade. Nevertheless, SECCYD has confirmed that involving parents as much as possible can help prevent poor behaviour and social skills. But radical experimentation and testing are needed to see if all this hands-on time that parents are willing to give their kids’ schools can be used to produce higher grades.Nermeen E.El Nokali, Heather J. Batchman and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal,‘Parent involvement, achievement and social development’,Child development, May/June 2010, 81.3, pp. 988-1005 ReferenceE.Dearing, H.Kreider, S.Simpkins and H.Weiss, (2006) ‘Family involvement in school and low-income children’s literacy: Longitudinal associations between and within families’, Journal of Educational Psychology, 98.4, pp.653-664Website of National Institute: www.nichd.nih.gov

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