When Parent Involvement Helps – and When It Doesn’t
In this thought-provoking New York Times article, Keith Robinson (University of Texas/Austin) and Angel Harris (Duke University) report on three decades of research assessing 63 different forms of parent involvement in children’s schooling. Robinson and Harris found that virtually all parents try to help their children do well in school, but most of their efforts don’t produce positive results. Here are some forms of involvement that do not boost achievement:
- Observing a child’s class;
- Contacting the school about a child’s behavior;
- Checking in with the teacher;
- Attending PTA meetings;
- Helping decide a child’s high-school courses;
- Helping a child with homework.
The bottom line, say the authors, is that “most forms of parental involvement yielded no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing. In fact, there were more instances in which children had higher levels of achievement when their parents were less involved than there were among those whose parents were more involved.” Even seemingly positive forms of involvement such as discussing school or regularly reading with a child had mixed effects with different racial/ethnic groups, and helping with homework was associated with lower student achievement. “Most parents appear to be ineffective at helping their children with homework,” say Robinson and Harris. The only exception was Chinese, Korean, and Indian parents, whose help was associated with higher grades (but not higher test scores) for their adolescent children.
Does parent involvement ever help? Yes, say Robinson and Harris. “We believe that parents are critical for how well children perform in school, just not in the conventional ways that our society has been promoting.” Their research found a positive impact from parents who:
- Communicate the importance of school and an expectation that the child will go to college;
- Discuss what the child is doing in school (in most racial/ethnic groups);
- Request a particular teacher for a child.
“Schools should move away from giving the blanket message to parents that they need to be more involved and begin to focus instead on helping parents find specific, creative ways to communicate the value of schooling, tailored to a child’s age… [P]arents who have been less involved or who feel uncertain about how they should be involved should not be stigmatized. What should parents do? They should set the stage and leave it.”
“Parental Involvement Is Overrated” by Keith Robinson and Angel Harris in The New York Times, April 13, 2014 (p. SR7), http://nyti.ms/1gvtDCn
"I don't know about you, but I wonder if this holds true in our community. We work hard to ensure a strong parent-school relationship at Westgate, and in my opinion that is an important piece in making sure that everyone is on the same page. In my opinion, even if student achievement isn't positively impacted by parental involvement, I think there are other benefits that may not be able to be measured but are certainly important!"
- Paul Solarz