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Parents Or Teachers? Who’s More Important?

Parents Or Teachers? Who’s More Important?

A fascinating article by Thomas Friedman in Sunday’s New York Times discussed this premise: In recent years, we’ve been treated to reams of op-ed articles about how we need better teachers in our public schools and, if only the teachers’ unions would go away, our kids would score like Singapore’s on the big international tests. There’s no question that a great teacher can make a huge difference in a student’s achievement, and we need to recruit, train and reward more such teachers.

But here’s what some new studies are also showing: We need better parents. Parents more focused on their children’s education can also make a huge difference in a student’s achievement.

The Importance Of Parental Involvement

Some of us education reporters have been saying this for years. There are numerous studies showing that the most successful students are those whose parents are actively involved in their education.

This could be a number of things: showing up to back-to-nights; checking in with children every day to see who they’re doing; modeling the idea that education is important; reading to children on a regular basis. There are many, many ways for parents to be involved in their kids’ education.

In this case, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., which conducts exams as part of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems — decided to look beyond the classrooms.

Starting with four countries in 2006, and then adding 14 more in 2009, the PISA team went to the parents of 5,000 students and interviewed them “about how they raised their kids and then compared that with the test results” for each of those years.

Parents Interviewed On How They Raised Their Kids

From The New York Times:

Two weeks ago, the PISA team published the three main findings of its study:

“For instance, the PISA study revealed that “students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child ‘every day or almost every day’ or ‘once or twice a week’ during the first year of primary school have markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child ‘never or almost never’ or only ‘once or twice a month.’ On average, the score difference is 25 points, the equivalent of well over half a school year.”

Yes, students from more well-to-do households are more likely to have more involved parents. “However,” the PISA team found, “even when comparing students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, those students whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score 14 points higher, on average, than students whose parents did not.”

The kind of parental involvement matters, as well. “For example,” the PISA study noted, “on average, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day, and when they tell stories to their children.” The score point difference is smallest when parental involvement takes the form of simply playing with their children.

Parental Actions At Home Most Likely To Have Impact On Academic Achievement

These PISA findings were echoed in a recent study by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, and written up by the center’s director, Patte Barth, in the latest issue of The American School Board Journal.

The study, called “Back to School: How parent involvement affects student achievement,” found something “somewhat surprising,” wrote Barth: “Parent involvement can take many forms, but only a few of them relate to higher student performance. Of those that work, parental actions that support children’s learning at home are most likely to have an impact on academic achievement at school.

As Friedman rightly points out, there is no substitute for a good teacher. But it’s time to stop putting the whole burden on teachers. Parents also play a huge role. As a teacher, I like to work with my parents – that’s the best way to achieve real success in the classroom.

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5:39AM PST on Feb 22, 2012

The teachers are supposed to be more important when it comes to educating your child. They are paid professionals whose sole job is to educate children, they themselves study in order to do this but yet when they fail at it they blame the parents. Too often teachers 'coast' through their days and readily admit that it is just a job and no longer a vocation. 
Digital camera technology is cheap enough now that we could put several cameras in each classroom to identify the good and bad teachers and pupils, and make either responsible for their own actions. We need more transparency and recourse, bad teachers need to be sued if necessary and good teachers rewarded. In England schools are institutionally racist and classist as can be evidenced by the most failing (failed) students, black males and white working class males, if you have a Similar statistic then you may have a similar problem and a similar solution. Or are we going to continue to blame the parents, the children, the governors, the principals, the lighting, MTV, popular music, the government, anything! Except the teachers. We all went through the school system, are you going to tell me that there were more good teachers than mediocre or bad ones?

11:50AM PST on Nov 28, 2011

What an easy answer... PARENTS. Parents have gotten lazy and decided it's not their job to teach their kids anything. My grandma helped me with my homework every day. When she couldn't help, my aunt would. My mother didn't help my sister and she failed. I always had A's and B's. I did have some good teachers, but I never would have done so well if it weren't for the help I got at home. Education was everything to my grandmother as she was a drop out. She didn't want the same life for me.
Parents need to step up and spend time with their kids, or STOP having them!!

6:29PM PST on Nov 27, 2011

I am a teacher and a parent. I was far more important in the education of my own children than the teachers they had. My children had a variety of teachers, from poor to fantastic. From these people, my kids learned academic subjects. From my family and me my kids learned how to behave, how to get the most out of school and why it is important.

Will R. reflects a sad and short-sighted attitude that I see in many of my marginally performing students. Believing that it is all up to teachers and schools is a major reason our educational system is in trouble. Schools are expected to do everything. It isn't even remotely realistic.

8:13AM PST on Nov 27, 2011

IMO parents are the more important. The ideal is involved parents AND good teachers, but bad teachers last for maybe a year, or for a single subject. Bad parents last a lifetime. However, my best subject in school was that which had the best teacher. The guy was amazing. Everyone in his class was ahead of the "average".

I read three books to my son every night beginning when he was three. No deliberate attempt to teach reading. He was reading everything when was 5. My son read to my daughter, she was reading when she was 4.

5:59AM PST on Nov 27, 2011

All the teacher bashing gives bad parents an excuse to avoid blaming themselves.

How about we rate the parents too? Maybe preschool assessments of the kids and a record of parental involvement. Things like "do you make sure your child does his/her homework every day? Do you punish your child if the teacher reports he/she was disruptive in class?"

5:57AM PST on Nov 27, 2011

Common sense, science and experience all say no one is more important to a child in his/her first few years of life than the parents. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who actively involve kids in learning as early as possible provide the best preschool one could hope for.

I see it as an uncle to several kids. We're always looking for educational games, books, and opportunities to show and teach them how the world works.

When I was in grade school my mom did a few very simple things to prepare me for school. She taught me things herself. I wanted to learn how to tell time so she made a clock out of cardboard and taught me. No need to wait for it to be presented in school. She bought me books on science, and I would regularly learn something new at home that was later presented in school! She also said "do your homework before you go out and play." Guess what, the homework always got done!

In addition to academic preparation, parents must prepare their kids to sit still, listen, respect the teacher and not disrupt class. Stuff so basic it doesn't come up often enough in these discussions. When I was a kid, if a teacher told our parents we did something wrong, we were in trouble! Now all too often the parents agrue with the teachers, saying things like "my child would never do that."

So good teachers can facilitate learning. But that becomes increasingly difficult the more students they have in the classroom who are not properly prepared by their parents.

4:47AM PST on Nov 26, 2011

Here we go again--deep into evaluating teachers & other school staff. Why don't we hear more about the bloated, incompetent US military fumbling/bumbling around in two everlasting wars, doing more harm than good?????

2:44AM PST on Nov 25, 2011

If teachers were good, as in great! This question would not have arisen.
We as parents try to teach our kids the best way, but we have to go to work and do many things. We are not professional educators whose working lives are spent educating children. Teaching is a specialised job and the parents are the teachers bosses because it is the tax revenue from non teachers that pay for them, so of course they should be answerable to parents, but any failings in children's education should be down to the teachers, and any teacher that cannot outsmart a child in the classroom and anywhere else isn't qualified to teach. (even if they are academically qualified, they may still be socially inept) good teachers are good teachers who can teach any child, irregardless of what parents they have, (of course theres always exceptions, but we're not dealing with the 'exceptions' right now!) teachers get off too easy, and unfortunately there are bad ones everywhere, so if you left your child to the mercy of schools, they may not get the education which they deserve. It's not supposed to be like that but there is a systemic problem in most of the worlds schools. There is something missing from education but we don't seem to know what it is yet, but it means that too many bad teachers are in teaching.

10:29AM PST on Nov 24, 2011

The quick poll question s ridiculous! When those questioned are given an "either - or" choice as with this poll, the answers cannot be "yes" or "no"! My vote would have been "Parents".

6:09PM PST on Nov 23, 2011

The most important time in a child's life, in terms of brain development, is the first five years, with the first two of those being the most important. That means that a big chunk of a child's potential in terms of IQ and academic potential is determined before a child is old enough to enter school. No, you can't take a five-year-old who's parents never read to them and write them off to a lifetime of menial burger-flipping jobs, but we definately get more bang for our buck by encouraging good parenting and building skills in parents.

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