Creative Commons/Pete

Creative Commons/Pete

The GEM Debate:
Is Parental Involvement Overrated? (POLL)

I’ve read several articles in the last couple of months that suggest that parental involvement may not help children academically, and in some cases, may even hinder them. First, there was this piece in The Atlantic titled “Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework” and this New York Times op-ed, “Parental Involvement Is Overrated,” followed a month later. Both articles refer to the same research by Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris.

Robinson and Harris looked 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. In an attempt to show whether the kids of more-involved parents improved over time, the researchers indexed these measures to children’s academic performance, including test scores in reading and math.”

The upshot of it all is that most measurable forms of parental involvement doesn’t mean academic success for kids. Sometimes, parental efforts backfire regardless of race, class, or level of education. To answer the question, “What should parents do?” Robinson and Harris say, “Set the stage and then leave it.”

I’m interested in understanding more about how the researchers got their results. One basic premise of research is that the existence of a relationship does not tell you what causes it. As this article states, “Think of it this way: If you had two children, and one was getting A’s and the other C’s, which of them would you help more? The C student. An outsider, noticing that you’ve spent the school year helping only one of your children, might infer that parental help caused that child to earn lower grades. This of course would not be the case, and inferring causation here would be a mistake.”

Related: Ask Rene: My Sister-In-Law Does Her Kids’ Homework!

I fear that telling parents their involvement doesn’t matter or could be a hindrance is a mistake. It lets parents off the hook for their children’s educational success and parents are, in my opinion, a big piece of that puzzle. Parents don’t need to hover over their children, but they should be encouraged to have standards. I think it’s best to look at cost-effective policies and strategies that encourage parents to find creative ways to get involved, ways that are customized to the needs of that family.

This is purely anecdotal, but it’s an example of what could be done to involve parents. I taught in a community with low parental involvement. Every year, all the schools hosted a back-to-school night and my school’s parent participation was lackluster at best. The principal and teachers threw some ideas around to encourage parents to come in. We decided to do a circus themed back-to-school night. Many of us took responsibility for running an aspect of the circus. The principal got businesses and community members to donate door prizes and the event was widely promoted.

I had never seen so many parents visit the school. Most of them were drawn in with the possibility of a prize, but that didn’t matter. Once parents were in the door, we had a chance to inform them about what they could do to help their kids and empower them that their participation in whatever way they could do it was welcome. This is not the kind of parental involvement that hurts or hinders.

On a personal level, the bottom line is this: I will always stay involved in my children’s education. It’s important for my husband and me to do certain things like provide a loving and stable home, communicate how much we value learning and education, and establish a relationship with their teachers. There are many other things that we do, but above all we provide balance. We will help with homework, but we will never do it for them. We will encourage our children, but we will not enable them. Sometimes we will be the director who offers suggestions on different ways to get things done. Other times we will be the minor actors who complement their work. But we will not “set the stage and then leave it.”

Related: Our Story Begins: Hannah And The Homework Hassle

Is parental involvement overrated? What’s your level of involvement in your children’s education? Take the poll and share your thoughts below.

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