Study: Parents matter more than schools

Parents who value education have more impact on student’s achievement than attending a school that’s a “positive learning environment,” concludes a new study, Does Capital at Home Matter More than Capital at School? 

“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” Dr. Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. and a co-author of the study, told Education Week.

Measures of family social capital included:

• Does the parent check the student’s homework?
• Does the parent attend school meetings?
• Does the parent attend school events?
• How much trust does the parent have in the child?
• How often do students report discussing school programs, activities, and classes with parents?

To measure school social capital, defined as a school’s ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, the researchers evaluated:

• Student participation in extracurricular activities;
• Whether the school contacted parents;
• The level of teacher morale;
• The level of conflict between teachers and administrators;
• Whether teachers responded to individual student needs; and
• An overall measure of school environment that tapped delinquency, absenteeism, and violence.

This is not surprising.

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  1. Hallelujah!

  2. Confirming what James Coleman, Bryk et al, and many others have been saying for years– at least about social capital at school. I’d add the importance of parents and teachers interacting and having a shared sense of mission or values.. Catholic K-12 schools are the prime example of this.

  3. Under family capital, I would place factors like; (1) limiting TV/video games (2) regular visits to libraries and local places of interest like government buildings, museums, historic places, gardens etc. Even parents who are unable to check or help with homework can do these things; most of which are free. I recently read a book about a DC student (class of 93) who had, with much struggle, graduated from Brown and, despite individual help from his teachers, had never visited a library, museum or one of the historic sites with which DC is paved. He also had read nothing written by a non-black author and nothing other than personal narratives. No one had suggested that such things would be very helpful in college. Even worse, a letter from a 2010 grad of a DC charter school, then finishing his first year at Georgetown, implied the same was true of him. Both boys realized that they were FAR behind their classmates in general knowledge; to the point that they did not understand common allusions and references and they were unprepared for academic reading/writing assignments. Has the ed world never heard of the idea that education is supposed to widen horizons; to expose kids to things beyond their own immediate surroundings? “There is no frigate like a book, To take us lands away.”

    • Mom of 4 — fascinating. What is the name of the book? Thanks.

      • A Hope in the Unseen – can’t remember the author. The young man in question was about the age of some of my kids and I can remember reading about him in the WaPo. His school, in Anacostia (SE DC – the poorest area) had an Afrocentric curriculum – probably all/most schools did. It’s appalling that a kid who was working as hard as he obviously was, and with a mother who clearly shared his dream, was not given better guidance/resources in school – and it’s apparently not all that much better now. Having lived in that area for so long, I’m not surprised. The idea that bright and motivated kids don’t need/deserve any resources is well-entrenched.

        I read City on a Hill, about City College of New York, at about the same time and it sheds further light on the products of our urban schools.

  4. I believe the central factor is this: good parents are one-on-one tutors for at least four hours a day, 365 days a year. Think about the staggering difference this can make.

    • Right; it’s hard to believe that schools can close that magnitude of difference – although I think better discipline (removal of all kinds of disruptors), better curriculum choices and more effective/efficient instruction could certainly help.

      I was visiting one of my sons last year, when his not-quite-3yo daughter informed her not-yet-5yo brother that he was “being inappropriate and uncooperative and there will be consequences” – which she was happy to enumerate, at her father’s request. Her brother embarked on a very fluent justification for his behavior, until he realized it was not being bought, at which point he switched to an apology. That kind of background is light years away from kindergarteners who don’t understand words/concepts like between, beside, under, over, next to – and that wasn’t at a high-poverty school.

  5. Ponderosa says:

    M4: I agree your prescriptions will help. At the same time, we need to educate educators and policy makers about the true nature of the dilemna. Otherwise: more false solutions, more scapegoating teachers for failing to do the impossible.