April 30th, 2014

Parental Involvement Overrated?

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I read it in the New York Times, so it has to be true. Right? The title of the article was “Parental Involvement is Overrated.”  Yikes. That headline is not going to sit well with a lot of parents.

In fact, most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.

Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris authors of “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education”

Through the years, I’ve known lots of friends of our kids whose parents were overly involved in projects and papers. In addition, they spent a lot of time helping out at their kids’ schools. It made this working mom feel a bit guilty to be sure. But when I heard a friend say how hard seventh grade is “for us,” and “how much homework we have,” and that “we won the science fair contest”—it took everything I had in me not to cringe. She might want to read this Times article.

My parents never helped with homework even though they had both been to college. My husband and I followed suit. For me, any math assistance ended for real in 4th grade. It always annoyed me to death that schools assigned projects in lower schools that kids could only do with parental help. Who’s in third grade here?

A lot of the findings in the authors’ study are counter-intuitive. The 655 comments were as interesting to read as the article itself. But there were some takeaways from the research that resonated. The authors suggested that parents set the stage, talk about how important education is, and allow children space to figure it out on their own. I know there are so many exceptions where parental involvement is necessary, but in many cases it’s simply helicoptering. One teacher respondent felt that the most valuable kind of parental involvement was making sure that children have loving homes with well defined boundaries and limits. Not a bad idea.

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