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.
Photo Credit: Aniriduh Koul