STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Ideas & Stuff: Does parental involvement in schools make a difference?

U.S. Navy
Wikimedia Commons

A new study on parental involvement with their kids' schooling is making the rounds. Keith Robinson (University of Texas at Austin) and Angel L. Harris (Duke University) wanted to find out whether parent involvement impacted academic achievement.

Here are the factors they looked at, according to Dana Goldstein, from The Atlantic:

The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. In an attempt to show whether the kids of more-involved parents improved over time, the researchers indexed these measures to children’s academic performance, including test scores in reading and math.

You can have a listen to an interview Goldstein did with WYNC's The Brian Lehrer Show. 

Goldstein also took a closer look at the study to see what it says does and doesn't work. 

Robinson and Harris concluded that helping your child with homework can actually negatively impact scores on standardized tests. Also, frequent meetings with teachers and staff might work against children being comfortable at school if there's always the possibility of parental drop-ins disrupting the day. 

It turned out that the thing that helped kids' with school achievement the most was parental involvement at home. Those activities included reading to young kids daily and talking to teens about college plans.

The study begs the question, what does active involvement in your child's education mean? Does it mean parachuting in for every single field trip to chaperone? Or do you need to take some Kahn Academy classes to figure out how schools are teaching math these days so that you can help you child with homework?

And more to the point, have efforts to involve low-income parents been successful? Goldstein cites a requirement in No Child Left Behind that schools receiving money under this plan create parent involvement committees. Do parents working two or three jobs have the time to participate in these committees?

Recall our work on time poverty.  Time is a resource. Many of us feel we don't have enough of it. But time is difficult to claw back from service industry jobs where time isn't as flexible. What are some solutions for parents who want to be more involved in their children's schooling, but are also experiencing a time deficit?

In her article, and in the study, there's awareness of how race and class shape parental involvement. But once we have the data that shows the disparities, what can low-income parents with limited time and resources do to help their kids?

One place to start, according to Great Schools, is knowing what'srequired by law to help kids from low-income families. 

Robinson and Harris' results also lend credibility to previous studies findings that low-income parents value education just as much as middle- and upper-income parents.

This study moves the conversation a step forward in finding ways for parents across class to effectively participate in their children's success.