[Paleopsych] WP: Parents' Effect on Achievement Shaky

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sat Nov 26 02:08:37 UTC 2005

Parents' Effect on Achievement Shaky

    Parents' Effect on Achievement Shaky
    Other Factors May Play Greater Role, Study Says

    By Jay Mathews
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, November 22, 2005; A10

    Maria Allen, a parent who has been critical of her Fairfax County
    school system, recently called the principals of three Richmond
    elementary schools to find out why -- and how -- it is that their
    low-income black students were doing better than similar students in
    her school system.

    Their answer was telling, she said.

    "The bottom line is this," Allen said one principal told her. "We
    don't have an expectation of the home. We don't blame the home. We
    can't teach parents. We don't worry about whose responsibility it
    should be. We just consider it ours."

    Parental involvement is often cited as vital to raising student
    achievement. The best schools usually have the most school-oriented
    parents, many experts say. So doesn't it make sense that all schools
    need that kind of support at home?

    But a new study of low-income public schools in California has
    concluded that several other factors, including teaching the state's
    rigorous academic content and getting experienced teachers, have much
    more influence on achievement than does parents' involvement. The
    findings have inspired a national debate on the subject, with some
    parents like Allen saying the study is correct and others saying
    parental influence should not be so quickly dismissed.

    Attempting to clarify the study after seeing the conflicting
    interpretations, the nonprofit EdSource group in Mountain View,
    Calif., which led the project, as well as others in the 11-member
    research team cautioned against concluding that parents are not
    important. "In fact, parent involvement was found to be positively
    correlated" with scores on California's academic performance index
    (API), the authors said. However, they said, other factors "had a far
    greater impact on school performance."

    The group surveyed 5,500 teachers and 257 principals at California
    public elementary schools with large numbers of low-income students.
    They compared the methods used at each school with the average score
    on the 200-to-1,000-point API scale, which is based on state test
    results. The four practices most closely associated with high student
    performance were putting greater emphasis on student achievement,
    tightening the curriculum to fit the state academic standards, using
    student assessments to identify and remove weaknesses in instruction,
    and assembling certified and experienced teachers and principals with
    the best educational equipment.

    The student characteristics of the 257 schools were very similar, but
    the schools' API averages varied by as much as 250 points. The authors
    calculated that, on average, strong emphasis of the four leading
    approaches was associated with 16- to 18-point higher API scores,
    while emphasis on "involving and supporting parents" was associated
    with a 9.9-point API difference.

    Some experts said this matched what they have seen in other parts of
    the country. Karin Chenoweth, a senior writer with the Achievement
    Alliance, a Washington-based group promoting school improvement, said
    she recently visited Lincoln Elementary School in Mount Vernon, N.Y.,
    with plenty of parental involvement, and Frankford Elementary School
    in Frankford, Del., which had very little. "Both schools are very
    high-poverty, and both have 100 percent or close to 100 percent of
    their kids meeting state standards, depending on the grade level or
    subject," she said.

    "Principals need to make schools welcoming places for parents," said
    Elizabeth Useem, a research consultant with the group Research for
    Action in Philadelphia, "but that is different from putting huge
    amounts of time into trying to get parents involved in governance or
    in coming to events at school planned for them. It takes a long time
    for parental governance input to work its way into classroom learning
    -- and even then, it might not be helpful input."

    Many principals insist, however, that working with parents is crucial.
    Miriam Hughey-Guy, principal of Barcroft Elementary School in
    Arlington, said: "Parents need to know what their children are
    learning in school. They need to understand the educational system
    from the beginning to the end."

    To make that happen, Hughey-Guy schedules many events that draw
    parents to the school. Last week, for example, she invited parents to
    view student science exhibits on Tuesday night, with pizza as an added
    inducement. On Wednesday morning, she had an open house for parents
    and community members. Thursday night was McSchool Night -- a
    gathering and fundraiser at a McDonald's.

    "Building positive relationships through outreach efforts such as
    newsletters, fliers, telephone calls, personal contacts, family
    gatherings, attending neighborhood and/or out-of-schools events is
    vital," Hughey-Guy said.

    Betsy Devlin-Foltz, secretary of the Parent Teacher Student
    Association at Einstein High School in Silver Spring, said her group
    realized that many of the school's Hispanic parents did not have
    Internet access and missed news of coming events but often drove their
    children to school. So, she said, her group "tries to hand out fliers
    in English and Spanish in the drop-off loop before important events."

    Like the California study's authors, researchers say that regular
    parental contact correlates with achievement, even if it is unclear
    how much. "I've published four research reviews on this topic since
    1981 . . . and I'm convinced that parent involvement is a key factor
    in the achievement gap and in improving low achievement," said Anne T.
    Henderson, a senior consultant with the Institute for Education and
    Social Policy at New York University.

    Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for
    Academic Excellence in Lexington, Ky., said his group has worked to
    increase parental involvement for years and has many success stories.
    "Schools should make unequivocal public commitments to involving
    parents," he said. "An effective strategy we've found is to identify
    parent leaders and prepare them to reach other parents."

    Ann Monday, assistant superintendent for instruction in Fairfax
    County, noted Allen's comments about county schools and said she
    thought that "achievement should be more broadly defined than just
    test scores." She said there is too much research showing parents
    playing a significant role to ignore them.

    But Allen said she was still disappointed when the Fairfax County
    superintendent's community advisory committee recently put the
    greatest emphasis on parental involvement. "Great schools and school
    systems . . . aren't obsessed with teaching the parents," Allen said.
    "They aren't making excuses. They are focused on one thing: teaching
    the children."

More information about the paleopsych mailing list