Should A Parent Play A Role In The Educational Process?

High School Classroom

High School Classroom
(Not Mine)

An article recently came out in The Atlantic by Dana Goldstein. The article is entitled: Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework.

The article references a study by Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke. The study was the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement.

According to The Atlantic article, the study found that “most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.”

With all due respect, I find these results hard to believe. Let me remind you of my background.

I am a high school English teacher in an inner city public school. Between my five classes (3 senior and 2 sophomore), I have 140 students (3 classes have 34 students). There are approximately 10-15 students who never show up to class. I’ve called their houses but never heard back.

Here is my first hand evidence to counter the article and referenced study in The Atlantic.

Parent-teacher conferences recently concluded. Less than 20% of parents showed up. Those numbers are not atypical. A number of my colleagues who I spoke to reported the same attendance rate.

I have been in the school 11 years.  The attendance rate at parent teacher conference has fallen from approximately 65% to the now less than 20%. It has been steadily declining.

And so has the school.

The typical student is less able and motivated than in the past. I’d like to add that the percentage of students who passed has fallen as well. Again, I don’t think all of this is a coincidence.

The media and politicians seem to enjoy bashing teachers these days. All the nation’s problems are because of poor teachers. If we had good teachers, all would be in the good world.

I am biased and have a limited perspective. I’ll admit it. So, read on with a grain of salt.

The mass majority of teachers I have worked with and met are caring individuals. They want to help their students grow, learn, and succeed and are willing to work hard to make it happen.

I have also come across ineffective teachers. And lazy teachers. And teachers who are burnt out and counting down the days till retirement.

Tell me what profession are you in? Does everyone in the profession meet the highest standards of the calling? Didn’t think so.

Of course, teachers are a huge factor in the education process, but they are NOT the only element. Most obviously, the student him or herself matters. There is the administration. There are the therapists, guidance counselors, etc. And then there are the parents.

I’m not blaming the parents, or denying that there are multiple reasons why their involvement has declined. However, I very much believe that their involvement in the educational process would help.

Now, the influence of parents does not have to come via parent teacher conference. Many times the teacher will not be able to see the influence of the parents. However, they often see the result.

Did you ever see the movie Waiting for Superman? The movie Waiting for Superman follows a few students as they strive to get into Charter Schools. I’ll never forget the scenes where parents whoop it up as if they won the lottery when they recognize their child got in to the public side. On the flip side, those whose children did not get in are so clearly dejected. It’s as if they have been told they have months to live.

It’s not a coincidence that Charter Schools, as a whole, have students who achieve higher results than those kids in public schools.

Again, I know there are other factors that one would be naive to ignore. However, the naivety would be just as great if one ignored the influence of the parent(s).

Therefore, I say sorry to The Atlantic, but I can’t agree with The Robinson and Harris study. Parents matter in the educational process.

Pic is courtesy of Photopin

18 thoughts on “Should A Parent Play A Role In The Educational Process?

  1. I agree with you 100%. I’ve actually been told by teachers to not spend too much time looking over homework because it hurts their self esteem. Remember when we were kids, the championship team won the trophies and were invited to the banquet? Now everybody gets the trophies. There is no incentive to try to better yourself anymore. Kids are graduating school with a 4.50 GPA because of “Extra Credit”. My high school sophomore step-daughter got a 65 in her midterm. Her report card grade was a 97. What the hell is going on anymore?

    • First off, great to hear from you again. It has been a while and I’ve been wondering what’s up with you. Hope all is good.
      I wrote a post in the past that is even more related to what you are saying: http://larrydbernstein.com/should-we-recognize-achievement/
      I do agree with the sentiment you are voicing here. We are too soft.
      Parents can and should be a factor in their child’s education process. I truly believe that.

  2. Oh, yes, hear hear. I come from a family of teachers, and I hate when teachers get blamed for all the educational problems in this country. Sure, there are some bad apples–just like any profession, as you point out–but the vast majority are working their butts off with inadequate resources. To me, the bigger problem is lack of parental involvement. That doesn’t mean parents should be hovering and doing their children’s work for them (helicopter parents are another problem), but they should be aware of what their children are working on, know whether they’ve done their homework or not, and be there to help them when they struggle. Seems so common sense, and yet so many parents don’t do this.

  3. Interesting study – I’m surprised by it! I’m pretty hands off unless Mr. T needs help, but that doesn’t mean I’m not involved. I like to keep track on what’s going on and how he is doing and what he is doing in each class. I couldn’t imagine NOT being a part of his education and helping him succeed!

    • I think what you are doing is what the magazine/study is suggesting.
      I believe that in many situations the parent needs to do more particularly when the school/environment is not encouraging.

  4. I’m with you. That study sounds absurd. Sure, my husband and I are both educators, so perhaps we’re biased as well. But even despite that, parent involvement in kids’ lives breeds success in whatever area. (So long as it’s not overdone, of course.) Parents who don’t care about their kids’ education will have kids who don’t care about their education either, duh. (Morons!) 🙂

  5. As a parent with a student who is struggling (mightly I might add – will probably fail all but 2 out of his 7 Sophmore classes this year), it isn’t one factor that depends on the student’s success.

    However, I agree that parental involvement is a key factor. One of the things that is VERY noticeable to me is the teachers’ reactions when they call me or my husband regarding one of our children. Whatever the reason for the call, we make sure to let the teacher know that we support them as teachers and if our child isn’t doing the work, then it is okay to fail him/her and we will support that decision. We know our children. We know they’re not doing the work. We know what we’re trying to do at home and if they’re not doing it at school either, it doesn’t do them any favors by coddling them.

    The teachers are ALWAYS surprised to hear our stand of supporting them. By supporting the teacher (who is obviously concerned about our child in our experience to be calling us) we ARE supporting our child to be the best they can be. The child doesn’t agree, but that’s okay. As parents and as teachers, we see the bigger picture on what outcome we’re trying to reach is.

    So I say to you MMK as I say to so many others – I support you as a teacher!! I could not do what you do as a job and you have my admiration. Thank you for caring about “your” kids that walk through that door (including those that don’t) each and every day. You are making a difference! Thank you!

    • Firstly, thanks for your long and thoughtful reply. It is nice to hear from you again.

      You are certainly right. There are many reasons/factors that contribute to student success and failure. Many of these factors do not necessarily become clear to the teacher.

      Anyway, I am simply saying that parents have the ability to be a positive in the equation – even if the results are not always clear.

      To be honest, if I called your house and you told me I support you. I would thank you. However, if you added just fail him, I would respect your knowledge of the situation. I also would be disappointed and sad. I would feel powerless.

      I realize situations can be complicated. Kids get to a certain point where they become more and more independent and less responsive to their parents.

      • I was attempting to hurry with my reply yesterday and wasn’t clear – there is always explanations on why we would support the teacher if failing the child is a necessity. I understand being sad at that statement and I’m sorry I didn’t explain very clearly.

        We’re going through this right now with my stepson (the one mentioned above). For lack of typing space, he has simply decided to “not do the work” because acting out and getting suspended was not getting him the reaction he wants (to move back in with his mom). He’s in counseling, we’re working with him, the teachers are giving him multiple opportunities to pass and he’s still refusing to do the work. He’s only hurting himself and we acknowledge that there comes a point that he has to feel the consequences of his choices – failure is one of those choices because he’s “choosing to fail”. Powerless is a great descriptive word – we feel that right now with him.

        Compare that with the conversation I had with him last night – we were talking about his older sister’s upcoming graduation. I commented that I couldn’t wait to see her walk across the stage, and I couldn’t wait to see him graduate as well. He stated, “If I graduate.” I said, “I believe in you and I have faith that you will. I KNOW you will!” The look on his face said it all – the “I’m not quite sure I believe you” and “I’m so glad someone believes in me” confused look teenagers will sometimes have.

        Anyway – I still give you kudos for being a teacher!

        • As a teacher, I always try to keep in mind that I don’t know what is going on at home. There are issues that can weigh on a kid. Quite frankly, some of these issues are much more important than school.
          Wonderful exchange between you and your stepson. You are building something. Hopefully, it will sink in sooner rather than later.

  6. Being a parent of not one, but two kids with special needs, parental involvement is a must. I used to volunteer in their classes, attend every parent teacher meeting and chat with the teachers regularly during pick up. My kids’ teachers knew if there was an issue they could contact me and could expect a open mind open to suggestion on how to make my kids’ education experience better for everyone.
    As the kids have entered high school I’ve stood back a bit. My health has played a factor in that, but also I want them to learn to advocate for themselves. I’m on the teachers’ email lists, I have regular meetings (usual twice a year) with the Learning Support Teacher and I make a point of contacting the school social worker if I see issues that kids are struggling to deal with.
    However, when the kids come home and tell me that they are having problems with another student or that they are struggling with some school work I talk it out with them and remind them to use the resources the school provides.
    I agree with you 100%, parental involvement is very important. The amount of parental involvement will vary from child to child, depending on his or her individual needs. And as an involved parent, thank you for being an involved teacher. Teachers and parents working in partnership are much better able to raise a strong, diversified community.

    • I agree with you in that as the child older, it is natural to ease off. Of course, like you say, it depends upon the child and his or her needs.

  7. Jake goes to a charter school and I LOVE it. I love the fact that he does more work than the other kids in our neighborhood who go to the public elementary school. Plus, they put in an enrichment class and a reading class that was his level when he started in Kindergarten. He wouldn’t have access to that in the public elementary school.

    I totally agree with you about parents! I’m completely involved with every teacher. On the first meet/greet, I make sure they have my email address. Of course, most of the emails that I get are from his behavior problems but they can clearly tell – he’s just bored. That’s another conversation but I couldn’t imagine not showing up to a parent/teacher conference and helping my son. The Atlantic needs to rethink their thinking on this one.

    • Glad things are going so well for him at school. I have mixed emotions regarding charter schools. I’m sure you can imagine as such since I am a public school teacher. Jake is lucky to have you be so involved.

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