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Just what role should parents play?

I can’t remember a time when my parents ever helped me do my homework.

It wasn’t that they weren’t interested and it wasn’t because they didn’t have high expectations. My parents always stressed the importance of doing well in school.

They stayed involved in my education. They volunteered for the band booster club, helped maintain school facilities and gave of their time and money when asked, but when it came to teaching, they left the teaching to the teachers.

In recent years, I have written about the importance of parental involvement in schools. It is one of the problems with our failing public schools, I said.

I am not the only who feels this way. The lack of parental involvement is a favorite talking point of many public school critics, and in many ways has become conventional wisdom.

At first glance it makes sense. If parents show little interest in their children’s education then the children are not going to learn.

Maybe not, say researchers Kevin Robinson and Angel Harris.

In January, Robinson and Harris released the results of a study that looked at 63 measures of parental participation in education. The April issue of The Atlantic details the many ways Robinson and Harris looked at the issue, from parents helping with homework to volunteering in schools.

By almost every measure, the amount of time parents devoted to their children’s education had little effect on academic performance.

In fact, when it comes to helping children with homework, their research shows parents may actually do more harm by teaching material they have forgotten, never understood or that is so new and they have never seen.

Is there is anything a parent can do to assure a child’s success?

The answer may lie in setting expectations and making sure children get the best chance to succeed.

According to the research, one of the biggest impacts parents can have is by setting high expectations and surrounding their children with family and friends who meet their definition of academic success. Robinson and Harris suggest middle and upper-middle class parents have a greater opportunity than lower class parents to put their children in situations with college-educated adults with interesting careers.

Even more interesting is the positive effect a successful teacher has on a student’s scores. Parents who request a specific teacher with a good reputation helped improve academic performance significantly in reading and math. White parents are twice as likely as black and Latino parents to make sure their children were taught by the best available teachers, the article said.

Looking back several decades to my school days, I now understand that it wasn’t so much my parents’ direct involvement in the day-to-day minutia of my education as it was their ability to pay attention to the bigger picture — by setting high expectations and providing an environment that fostered academic success.

It is still parental involvement, just not the kind many people have been advocating, including our federal government that has spent millions on programs in an effort to increase parental involvement in schools.

The research may show parents no longer have to help their children do homework, but they do have to be involved. By understanding this more fully, maybe we can begin to finds ways to improve education for all children.

 

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.

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