[Paleopsych] WP: Parents' Effect on Achievement Shaky
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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
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