In recent years, the push for educators to base teaching policies and practices in evidence has been growing stronger. Topics like seat time, retention, class size, and learning styles have all come under scrutiny because research indicates they don’t influence student achievement as much as we’d like. As the new school year begins, it’s worth taking a look at the evidence in a commonly overlooked area—parent involvement—so we can maximize what matters for student achievement.
It’s widely accepted that students whose parents are involved in their education do better in school. In fact, that link is so strong that districts often have policies to encourage parental involvement. The good news is that it’s difficult to find a way parents engage with schools that has a harmful effect on students, but there are four things parents can do that have a greater impact on achievement than anything else: parent tutoring, supporting homework, communicating expectations about learning, and academic socialization.
1. Encourage parents to actively teach their students
We often assume all good teaching comes from teachers, but parents can be great teachers too. Research into reading acquisition found that training parents to teach their children to read was better than teaching parents to listen to their children read aloud or having parents read aloud to their children. An earlier study in 2006 showed similar results for every content area and age level, no matter how long the tutoring sessions were or what kind of instruction or modeling was provided to the parents.
Takeaway: Make time to sit with your child and help them work through the new skills and strategies they’re learning.
2. Make rules about homework and help your child when he/she struggles
After learning all day, the last thing most kids want to do is come home and do homework. Helping students manage their out-of-school time and working with them when they struggle can make a big impact on achievement. One study analyzing this topic found a strong link between increased achievement on almost any measure when parents regulate homework time and help students when they struggle. Regulations were household rules about when and where students complete homework. However, significant results were found for only elementary students and were not seen when parents simply monitored homework. Interestingly, training parents to be involved in homework had little effect on performance and seemed to have a negative effect on students’ attitude.
Takeaway: Designate a specific time and place for homework each evening. And don’t just monitor your child’s work; engage with them and help them when they struggle.
3. High expectations aren’t just for teachers
We know that teacher expectations have a big impact on student achievement. What’s lesser known but equally as impactful are parent expectations for students. Two reports from 2005 and 2009 looked at a variety of parent behaviors and found that parental expectations and parenting style were significant predictors of higher achievement in both elementary and middle school. In fact, expectations were the most generalizable result from all the parent research, across all populations and ages. When teachers encourage parents to believe in their student and expect them to do well, it fosters self-confidence and makes a big difference in how students perform.
Takeaway: Set high expectations for your child, communicate those expectations with them often, and encourage them along the way—both when they struggle and when they’re successful.
4. Academic socialization: making high achievement normal
As mentioned above, parents who expect good school behaviors from their students often get them, but it’s not enough to expect achievement in the present. Parents should also socialize longer term and lifelong educational goals. This is especially true with older students. According to a 2009 study, academic socialization included parents’ expectations for academic achievement, fostering academic aspirations in children, discussing learning strategies, and planning for children’s academic future, and all of these activities increased student achievement significantly.
Takeaway: Make academic success a norm in your home. Talk with your children about their future aspirations and foster a success mindset by helping them set goals to work towards.
Setting students up for success requires cooperation between educators and parents. These four evidence-based parent-engagement strategies will help teachers encourage the parent behaviors that impact achievement the most.
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