I've read some
studies recently that have strongly reinforced Pleasant Valley's
strongly-held premise that home and school must partner to produce the best
possible academic achievement for our scholars. A study by researchers at
North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University
of California-Irvine, for example, found that parental involvement-checking
homework, attending school meetings and events, discussing school activities
at home-has a more powerful influence on students' academic performance than
the school the students attend.
published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, reports that the
effort put forth by parents (reading stories aloud, meeting with teachers)
has a bigger impact on their children's educational achievement than the
effort expended by either teachers or the students themselves. A third study
concludes that schools would have to increase their spending by more than
$1,000 per pupil in order to achieve the same results that are gained with
parental involvement (not likely in this stretched economic era).
This research also
reveals something else: that parents, of all backgrounds, don't need to buy
expensive educational toys or digital devices for our kids in order to give
them an edge. We don't need to chauffeur our scholars to enrichment classes
or test-prep courses. The research states what we need to do with their
children is much simpler: Talk. For example, a study conducted by
researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health and published in the journal Pediatrics
found that two-way adult-child conversations were six times as potent in
promoting language development as when the adult did all the talking.
Engaging in this reciprocal back-and-forth gives children a chance to try out
language for themselves, and also gives them the sense that their thoughts
and opinions matter. As they grow older, this feeling helps kids develop into
assertive advocates for their own interests, asking for help or arguing their
own case with others, including teachers, parents, and peers.
The content of
conversations matters, too. Children who hear talk about counting and numbers
at home start school with much more extensive mathematical knowledge, report
researchers from the University of Chicago-knowledge that predicts future
achievement in the subject. Psychologist Susan Levine, who led the study on
number words, has also found that the amount of talk young children hear
about the spatial properties of the physical world-how big or small or round
or sharp objects are-predicts kids' problem-solving abilities as they prepare
to enter kindergarten.
conversations parents have with our children change as kids grow older, the
effect of these exchanges on academic achievement remains strong. And the way
mothers and fathers talk to their middle-school students makes a
difference. Research by Nancy Hill, a professor at Harvard University's
Graduate School of Education, finds that parents play an important role in
what Hill calls "academic socialization"-setting expectations and
making connections between current behavior and future goals (going to
college, getting a good job).
Engaging in these sorts of conversations, has a greater impact
on educational accomplishment than volunteering at a child's school or going
to PTA meetings, or even taking children to libraries and museums. When it
comes to fostering students' success, it seems, it's not so much what parents
do as what we say, and how we say it.