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Questioning Parental Involvement

Conventional wisdom isn't always supported by empirical evidence, as a study about the importance of parental involvement in the educational process makes clear ("Don't Help Your Kids With Their Homework," The Atlantic, April).  Analyzing nearly three decades of longitudinal surveys of 63 measures of parental participation, researchers reported that there were few academic benefits.  In fact, paradoxically there were some downsides.  

Yet I wonder if using test scores as the primary basis for the study's counterintuitive conclusion is misleading.  Test scores certainly matter, but they do not allow valid inferences to be made about non-cognitive outcomes, which are every bit as important in the final analysis.  For example, students may not perform well on standardized tests for a particular subject and yet still retain a lifelong love of the subject because of the attitude instilled in them by their parents.  Conversely, students can post impressive test scores for a particular subject and hate the subject because of the excessive meddling by their parents.

Healthy parenting is more art than science.  What works well with one child does not work for another, even in the same family. Moreover, there are racial and cultural differences that play a powerful role.  For example, the study found that white parents are at least twice as likely as black and Hispanic parents to request a specific teacher.  Since the single most important in-school factor in learning is the teacher, this difference is significant.

It's always beneficial to re-examine widely-held beliefs.  Until this study, parental involvement was considered sacrosanct.  Based on my experience as a classroom teacher, however, I still believe in its value. I had students from the inner city who excelled in my class because their parents revered education and modeled that value for them. And I had students from the suburbs whose performance was lackluster because their parents were too self-involved to know what was going on in school.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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