Parent involvement doesn’t help much

Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework, writes Dana Goldstein in The Atlantic. And, if you do, don’t expect it to make much difference.

“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,” writes Goldstein, citing research by Keith Robinson, a University of Texas sociology professor,  Angel L. Harris, a Duke sociology professor.

The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools.

“No clear connection exists between parental involvement and improved student performance,” they conclude in The Broken Compass.

Helping your kids with homework won’t raise their test scores, the study concluded. “Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down,” writes Goldstein.

What does help: Requesting a teacher with a good reputation, “reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans.” 

Robinson asked UT statistics undergrads  how their parents contributed to their achievements.

He found that most had few or no memories of their parents pushing or prodding them or getting involved at school in formal ways. Instead, students described mothers and fathers who set high expectations and then stepped back.

I suspect the parent involvement that really matters happens at home. My husband’s mother told him to “be the best,” he said in her eulogy. She didn’t say, “try.” Like Yoda, she told him to do it.

If parents teach certain values — set goals and work to achieve them, take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, do your own damn homework — their children are likely to do well in school and in life. It doesn’t matter if Mom volunteers for the PTA bake sale or not. 

About Joanne


  1. I’m guessing that none of the questions asked about tutoring – by parents, by Kumon etc or by private tutoring.- – all of which exist in “high-performing” schools/districts. In my experience, schools (both -12 and ed schools) deliberately avoid asking about this. As long as “enough” kids (defined by the local HS) get onto the accelerated math track, learn to write decently, get good SAT/ACT/AP scores and get into good colleges (again, defined by each HS), schools don’t want to know that Dad taught the kids real k-6 math so the kids would get onto the accelerated math track in 6th-7th and Mom/tutor made sure the kids learned the vocab that comes from high-level conversation and reading high-quality fiction and non-fiction and learned how to write by correcting spelling and grammar errors – all things in which k-6 or k-8 refuse to provide explicit instruction. Their mantra is “kids will learn when they’re ready” – and label those who don’t as LD – when it’s too late for them to make up the ground they’ve lost by wasting precious instructional time in k-5.

    • Indeed. My mom (previously an elem ed teacher) taught us all how to read at home via systematic and explicit phonics before the schools could mess us up. She also fought to get us the best, most appropriate-for-us teachers, schools, and curricula (direct, not constructivist) she could, homeschooling/private schooling/running her own little private school/moving states/driving across town as necessary. Some of this she did as a poverty-stricken single mother with a large family.
      By middle school, she didn’t help with homework, though. K-6 is essential for giving kids a good start, and if they have that, they can go far without hand-holding.

  2. “Requesting a teacher with a good reputation,”

    Well, unless all the teachers are from Lake Wobegon, this looks like a losing strategy for about half the kids.

  3. Ruth Joy says:

    The researchers seem to have a peculiar definition of parental involvement.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    My kids sometimes wanted answers, while I would talk about how to get answers. So they quit asking. Both were NHS.
    I learned early “they teach math differently now” because I completely didn’t understand how/why their math work from about middle-arithmetic on up. They were on theirr own in that.
    I’d talk about history, but that probably didn’t help scores one way or another.
    However, since my wife is a teacher and I’m in the insurance biz, we each had evening work. So doing homework in the evening didn’t–I am guessing here–seem like a human rights violation visited on innocent children. I don’t think we “told” them to do their homework more than once. Didn’t think until later how easy that had been for all those years. Lucked out.
    Anyway, I’d be interested in how “help” with homework is defined. Deciphering inconclusive directions? Getting a book from the library on the way home from work for a paper? Talking about methods as opposed to providing answers?

    • I would also like to know what ‘help’ is defined as. I had to teach Gr. 3-5 math at home, as the teachers were unable. Gr. 3 was full inclusion of special needs; the class never reached grade 3 level work. Grade 4 was catchup, and the school decided they weren’t responsible for remediation as the child was only one year behind, not two or more. Grade 5 teacher should not have been in the classroom….total script, did not understand what she was doing. I merely went to the publishers website and printed off the ESL sheets (we’re not ESL but those sheets had complete instructions) and the practice sheets for each lesson, made the kid his packet, and had him work thru it. Voila, his test scores improved without destroying our relationship. Grade 6 was similar. Grade 7-12 all had competent math instructors…different teaching certificate req’ts.