Researcher Says Parental Involvement May Be Overrated

Photo courtesy of PittCaleb/Flickr.
Photo courtesy of PittCaleb/Flickr.

Duke University professor Angel Harris and his team set out to answer two questions about parental involvement:

"One was whether or not there was racial and social class differences in how parents are involved," he said. "Aand two, whether or not parents who were involved have children who had higher achievement than parents who were not involved.

And after analyzing more than 30 years of data from thousands of families with his research partner, The University of Texas at Austin's Keith Robinson, the results may be surprising.

HARRIS: “This research is suggesting that parents don’t have all the answers, and in some cases when they try to be involved, it can actually lead to declines in achievement.”

Harris talked about their findings on WCPN's call-in show The Sound of Ideas. Out of 60 kinds of parental involvement they looked at, only 20 percent was found to have a positive affect on academic achievement, while roughly 30 percent actually had a negative effect, and 50 percent didn't make any difference. And, Harris said, parental involvement affects students’ achievement differently, depending on their race

"For white students, regularly talking about school experiences is associated with increases in reading, but not in math or grades," Harris said. "For Hispanic students, it's not associated with reading, math, or grades."

But some parents find this research counterintuitive. Here’s host Ida Lieszkovszky, reading an email from a listener in Cleveland.

"Whether it's teaching or other areas, I never assume competency," she read. "And as such in an educational setting, a parent has to be aware and involved."

Other guests on the show said schools may need to rethink their definition of parental involvement, and that there's no "one size fits all" approach.

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