Does Parental Involvement Really Make A Difference?

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It's a relatively common belief: the more involved a parent is with their student's education, the better they'll perform in school, right?

Well, new research says maybe not.

Researchers Angel Harris and Keith Robinson say that parental involvement, defined by things like parents helping students with homework or volunteering at schools, may be overrated.

The team studied data from thousands of families over three decades to reach their findings, which were published in a book late last year.


“This research is suggesting that parents don’t have all the answers," Harris said on WCPN's call-in show The Sound of Ideas. "And in some cases when they try to be involved, it can actually lead to declines in achievement.”

Harris and his team looked to answer two questions.

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

Out of more than 60 types of parental involvement they looked at, only 20 percent was found to have a positive effect 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," he said. "For Hispanic students, it's not associated with reading, math, or grades."

But some parents may find this research counterintuitive.

"Whether it's teaching or other areas, I never assume competency, " said host Ida Lieszkovszky, reading an excerpt from an email written by a listener in Cleveland. "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.

You can listen to the entire The Sounds of Ideas show by clicking here.

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