Educators and parents have been saying for years that parental involvement is one of the most important factors in a child’s education. But what does that mean? Cooking brownies for a bake sale? Attending PTA meetings … or something else? Two recent studies spell out which parental behaviors have the most impact on a child’s performance and, while this has long been suspected, the fact that there is now proof is truly exciting news.
The studies were highlighted in Thomas Friedman’s column in the New York Times this past weekend and are a beacon of light in what has been an otherwise dismal news year. The results of the studies show parental involvement can give children a marked performance advantage, regardless of the family’s socio-economic background. Plus, it turns out that the actions that create positive achievement don’t require a lot of time or effort.
The first study, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), was conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and examined 15 year old students in OECD nations. The study found that “genuine interest and active engagement” can make a significant difference in testing. Among families whose parents read a book to their children at least once or twice a week during the first year of elementary school, these children scored an average of 25 points higher on PISA testing – the equivalent advantage of an extra half-year of school.
The PISA study (links to .pdf) also found that simply probing about a child’s day at school can also lead to a statistically significant score point difference. Certain activities have stronger relationships to performance than others – reading a book with your son or daughter will produce a better outcome than playing with alphabet toys.
Other activities like eating meals together around a table and discussing books, film and TV programs also resulted in better performance in school. Finally, the study shows that students are never too old to benefit from parents’ interest in them.
A second study by the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education (CPE) shows similar results. The CPE study also showed that certain activities equated to gains across all socio-economic boundaries. Further, the report reinforced that some parental activities result in positive academic gains, while others did not.
The exercises that the CPE report found to help included literacy exercises, parent education, and the simple pressure of conveying parental expectations. Another piece of good news found in the CPE report is that a huge percentage of parents, regardless of background, want to be involved in the child’s education. More than than 80% of parents reported being involved.
While both studies highlighted similar activities that parents could practice to give their children academic advantages, both the PISA and CPE reports are careful to point out that other activities, while not necessarily showing statistical importance, can still have value in a child’s development, especially, as the CPE report points out, in “solving problems that are typically barriers to student achievement, such as attendance or school discipline.”
As GeekDad readers, you are likely already pretty involved in your child’s education. So, this news should make you feel good and reinforce your dedication and involvement. If not, maybe it’s time to reassess. Instead of pecking away at email on your smart phone during dinner or spending the evening fragging friends in Modern Warfare, perhaps it’s time for a conversation with your kids over supper or just find a warm spot on the couch to enjoy a good book together.