If there is one thing nearly every parent has in common with other parents, it is that they want their children to succeed in school. Some parents believe that being extremely involved in their children's education improves grades and test scores, but does the research back up this belief?
Does Parental Involvement Make a Difference?
University of New Hampshire
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire studied data from 10,000 students in eighth grade to determine if parental involvement was a factor in student success. The students came from both public and private institutions.
Surprisingly, one of the things the researchers found was that parental involvement was the equivalent of schools investing an additional $1,000 per student. However, the study also found that the more schools invested, the less parents felt the need to be involved.
- Parents of girls were more likely to ask about schoolwork over dinner.
- Students do better when parents are actively involved.
Michigan Department of Education
The Michigan Department of Education released a report citing different studies on factors impacting a student's success in school. The report looked at everything from how much time students spend at school to different types of parental involvement. Some types of involvement that created success in students included:
- Practicing reading at home with parents
- Reading to children
- Participating in field trips
- Express high expectations
Harvard Family Research Project
Another study conducted by Harvard Graduate School of Education found that parents and how involved they were was also a big factor that affects student success in school.
- Family involvement equals success no matter the age of the child
- Parents who model learning behaviors encourage the same behavior in their children
- Reading to children promotes early literacy success
Communication Between School and Parents
In a recent article on CNN, Todd Rogers, Lucas Coffman and Peter Bergman, look at a wide variety of studies and models to find that parental involvement does equal success. Examples include:
- In one field experiment, parents of children in a low income area of Los Angeles were sent text messages when a child missed an assignment. This caused an increase in the number of completed assignments that equaled that of "high-performing charter schools." It also improved students' overall performance.
- James Berry of Cornell University found that in India, paying parents if students' literacy improved had a significant, positive impact on the literacy rate among students.
- A Harvard study found that when teachers in a Boston middle school phoned parents in the evening and updated them on their children's performance, class disruptions decreased by 25 percent and overall homework assignment completion increased by 40 percent.
As these studies show, keeping parents in the loop pays off big in terms student success. Most parents care about their children's education and want to be involved, but some parents don't know how. Keeping lines of communication open between the school an the parent can help bridge this gap.
Ways to Get Involved
If you're unsure how to get the information you need to stay on top of your child's education, or you don't quite know how to get involved, here are some ideas that have worked for other schools. If these programs aren't already in place at your school, get involved in the Parent/Teacher association and suggest that they be implemented. Share relevant research with them to encourage your point.
- Online grading systems allow parents to see real-time statistics on the grades their students are receiving, if homework has been turned in and upcoming assignments. Systems like Harmony or Gradelink also have features that can alert parents to low grades, absences and behavior problems.
- Parent nights where parents come to class and get to hear about what students have been working on. Many elementary schools feature open house nights, but attendance at high school open houses tends to be low. Find ways to encourage higher attendance to open houses for middle and secondary students by offering events, a simple meal and other activities to encourage parents and students to attend.
- Teacher pages where teachers share what the class is working on. For example, a science teacher might list that in an upcoming class they are going to be dissecting frogs and what students can do at home to prepare for the activity. This provides parents with important information to help students succeed.
Supporting Student and Teacher
As a parent, what is your reaction if your child is getting a poor grade in a particular class or subject? Do you immediately blame the teacher? Immediately blame the student? Perhaps you blame yourself. However, when it comes to your child's education, the best approach is to look at the triangle of teacher/student/family as a team. How can the three work together to improve your child's performance?
- Contact the teacher and find out why she thinks your child is struggling.
- Ask for ideas from the teacher on how to help your student. She sees him everyday and knows his academic weaknesses. She may have tools to address the issue.
- Find out if she recommends outside help, such as tutoring.
- Encourage your student that hard work will help him improve in this area. Remind him of other times he struggled, worked hard and succeeded.
- Don't blame yourself. Sometimes a grade can slip before a parent realizes the child needs help.
While the studies cited above prove that parental involvement does have an impact on students' academic success, you also need to balance how involved you are. There is a term that was coined that describes the overbearing, doing everything for their child, be involved in every minute of his life parent. It is called helicopter parenting. You might be a helicopter parent if:
- You check your child's grades several times a day.
- Volunteer at his school so much that people think you work there.
- Insist on doing homework for three hours every night.
- Make him describe every second of the day in great detail.
- Insist that he rework that research paper 19 times until it is a college level paper (and he is in fourth grade).
Basically, if you are hovering so much that your child is stressed out over school, then it's probably time to lighten up. Not every grade has to be an A+ or a 4.0. It is okay for your child to take a regular English class instead of an AP class.
While honors classes, AP classes and advanced work is a positive thing, it can also be a negative experience that creates undue stress. Colleges will also tell you for admission purposes that it is better to get a 4.0 in a regular English class than a 2.0 in an honors class. If your child can do the work without extreme stress, then that is great. If not, allow him to know his own limitations and learn from them.
Help Don't Hover
In the Harvard Family Research Project, it was found that when parents monitor social and academic performance of students that those students have "lower rates of delinquency and higher rates of social competence and academic growth." Stay aware of areas in which your child needs extra help, encourage his strengths, but don't hover so much that you make him wonder why he would ever want to continue this torture for four more years of post-secondary education. If you can do these things, it is an almost certain recipe for success.