Most people, asked whether parental involvement benefits children academically, would say, “of course it does.” But evidence from our research suggests otherwise. In fact, most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.
Over the past few years, we conducted an extensive study of whether the depth of parental engagement in children’s academic lives improved their test scores and grades. We pursued this question because we noticed that while policy makers were convinced that parental involvement positively affected children’s schooling outcomes, academic studies were much more inconclusive.
Despite this, increasing parental involvement has been one of the focal points of both President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama’s Race to the Top. Both programs promote parental engagement as one remedy for persistent socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps.
We analyzed longitudinal surveys of American families that spanned three decades (from the 1980s to the 2000s) and obtained demographic information on race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, the academic outcomes of children in elementary, middle and high school, as well as information about the level of parental engagement in 63 different forms.
What did we find? One group of parents, including blacks and Hispanics, as well as some Asians (like Cambodians, Vietnamese and Pacific Islanders), appeared quite similar to a second group, made up of white parents and other Asians (like Chinese, Koreans and Indians) in the frequency of their involvement. A common reason given for why the children of the first group performed worse academically on average was that their parents did not value education to the same extent. But our research shows that these parents tried to help their children in school just as much as the parents in the second group.
Even the notion that kids do better in school when their parents are involved does not stack up. After comparing the average achievement of children whose parents regularly engage in each form of parental involvement to that of their counterparts whose parents do not, we found 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 more counterintuitively: When involvement does seem to matter, the consequences for children’s achievement are more often negative than positive.
When involvement did benefit kids academically, it depended on which behavior parents were engaging in, which academic outcome was examined, the grade level of the child, the racial and ethnic background of the family and its socioeconomic standing. For example, regularly discussing school experiences with your child seems to positively affect the reading and math test scores of Hispanic children, to negatively affect test scores in reading for black children, and to negatively affect test scores in both reading and math for white children (but only during elementary school). Regularly reading to elementary school children appears to benefit reading achievement for white and Hispanic children but it is associated with lower reading achievement for black children. Policy makers should not advocate a one-size-fits-all model of parental involvement.
What about when parents work directly with their children on learning activities at home? When we examined whether regular help with homework had a positive impact on children’s academic performance, we were quite startled by what we found. Regardless of a family’s social class, racial or ethnic background, or a child’s grade level, consistent homework help almost never improved test scores or grades. Most parents appear to be ineffective at helping their children with homework. Even more surprising to us was that when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse. One interesting exception: The group of Asians that included Chinese, Korean and Indian children appeared to benefit from regular help with homework, but this benefit was limited to the grades they got during adolescence; it did not affect their test scores.
Our findings also suggest that the idea that parental involvement will address one of the most salient and intractable issues in education, racial and ethnic achievement gaps, is not supported by the evidence. This is because our analyses show that most parental behavior has no benefit on academic performance. While there are some forms of parental involvement that do appear to have a positive impact on children academically, we find at least as many instances in which more frequent involvement is related to lower academic performance.
As it turns out, the list of what generally works is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school (despite the complications we mentioned above), and requesting a particular teacher for your child.
Do our findings suggest that parents are not important for children’s academic success? Our answer is no. 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. The essential ingredient is for parents to communicate the value of schooling, a message that parents should be sending early in their children’s lives and that needs to be reinforced over time. But this message does not need to be communicated through conventional behavior, like attending PTA meetings or checking in with teachers.
When the federal government issues mandates on the implementation of programs that increase parental involvement, schools often encourage parents to spend more time volunteering, to attend school events, to help their children with homework and so forth. There is a strong sentiment in this country that parents matter in every respect relating to their children’s academic success, but we need to let go of this sentiment and begin to pay attention to what the evidence is telling us.
Conventional wisdom holds that since there is no harm in having an involved parent, why shouldn’t we suggest as many ways as possible for parents to participate in school? This conventional wisdom is flawed. 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. Future research should investigate how parental involvement can be made more effective, but until then, parents 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 then leave it.
Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a professor of sociology and African and African-American studies at Duke, are the authors of “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education.”
A spat between parents and administrators over a Seminole County high school history lesson in Islam has simmered into a minor cause célèbre for online critics.
Ron Wagner of Longwood complained to a local TV station that his 15-year-old son was required to recite an Islamic prayer as part of a world history class at Lyman High School. The students also had to make an Islamic prayer rug as a homework assignment, according to Wagner, who said lessons like that don’t belong in public schools.
"There’s a difference between teaching of the significance or the impact of a religion and teaching the specific tenets of the religion," Wagner told WFTV on Feb 9, 2015.
Blogs and right-leaning media seized on the report, decrying the lessons as attempts to indoctrinate students.
One blog, DownTrend.com, featured a post on Feb. 12 with the headline, "Students In Fla. High School Forced To Recite Islamic Prayer, Make Prayer Rugs."
We don’t mean to pick on this one site -- because there are many, manyotherplaces that have rebloggedthe report -- and the writer did update the story after we asked him some questions. But the headline encapsulated the alleged events that have outraged so many people. Were students forced to recite an Islamic prayer and make prayer rugs at Lyman High School? PolitiFact Florida did our own homework.
Wagner met with Seminole County Public Schools administrators on Oct. 17, 2014, to discuss concerns about his son’s 10th grade world history class. Wagner alleged the class had been told to recite the first of the five pillars of Islam as printed in their textbook -- "There is no god, but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God." The prayer, known as the shahada, is an affirmation of faith among Muslims.
Wagner also complained about 100 pages missing from his son’s history book and assignments to make Islamic prayer rugs and watch videos about Muslims. He said the teacher had contacted his son directly about the assignments via text messages, without his parents’ knowledge.
Wagner’s wife, Lisa Huston, told PolitiFact Florida she and her husband believed the school district was favoring Islam, and that the missing pages were possibly removed deliberately. The textbook, published by Prentice Hall, has been singled out by some Florida and nationalgroups for allegedly being pro-Islam, although it is approved by districts nationwide.
District executive director of secondary education Michael Blasewitz conducted an investigation in October to determine if Wagner’s allegations were legitimate. Blasewitz concluded the teacher hadn’t violated any rules.
Blasewitz repeated to PolitiFact Florida that the state has included Islam in its world history guidelines, and that Judaism and Christianity both are taught during the sixth grade, which the Florida Department of Education confirmed.
You can read the entire district investigation report, but here are the highlights.
Text messages: Wagner’s son had enrolled in Remind 101, in which students sign up for a third-party text messaging service for teachers to contact pupils about homework or class events. Blasewitz said parents were allowed to opt in.
Missing textbook pages: The district found that 68 of the year-old textbooks lost pages from a binding error. Teachers had reported the problem, but Blasewitz said the school didn’t tell the district. Pearson, the publisher, replaced all the faulty copies, he said. (The missing chapters do include more information on Judaism and Christianity in the context of earlier civilizations.)
Videos: The students watched short videos, including a TED Talk about stereotypes featuring an unidentified Iranian-American comedian. While the video did not violate guidelines, the district said a more straightforward selection should be made in future classes.
Prayer rugs: Students were told to create prayer rugs, but the lesson was an assignment about Islamic art and not worship. The students were told they could incorporate any religious icons they wanted, as long as they observed Islamic artistic values, including no depictions of people or animals. The district said the assignment could be seen as controversial and recommended that a different art assignment "would be more appropriate."
Prayer recitation: Blasewitz interviewed 10 students in the teacher’s two world history classes, and only one remembered the whole class being made to recite the prayer. Other students recalled following the book together in class, and the teacher gave extra credit to students who volunteered to read aloud. The teacher may have written the pillars of Islam on the board, they said, but did not make the students say any of them.
Huston insisted to us that at least one other student in a different class period remembered an event similar to her son’s version of events, but Blasewitz said no other complaints had been filed.
DownTrend.com’s headline read, "Students In Fla. High School Forced To Recite Islamic Prayer, Make Prayer Rugs." This makes it sound as if students were being indoctrinated into a religion, and that's not the case.
Instead, students were studying the religion of Islam as part of a world history class. According to a district investigation, pupils were assigned to make prayer rugs as an art assignment. The district recommended a different art assignment be made from now on.
As for reciting the pillars of Islam in class, only one student complained his class was made to read the shahada. The investigation cited a notable lack of evidence that anyone was forced to recite a prayer.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.