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What Do Education Policy Makers Need? A Good Dose of Parental Advice

Current education policies are misaligned with parenting and the role it plays in child development, achievement and school governance.

Photo Credit: KonstantinChristian via


For most children, their first teacher is a parent or primary caregiver. And most teachers will tell you that parent behaviors in the home affect student learning in schools.

So it would make sense to make sure education policy isn’t strongly at odds with what we know about good parenting.

However, a recent spate of new research studies have revealed current education policies – particularly high-stakes assessments, harsh accountability mandates, zero-tolerance discipline policies, and obsessive attention to student testing data – as being dangerously misaligned with parenting and the multiple roles it plays not only in child development and achievement but also in school governance.

Alternative approaches more in tune with the parental role in education attainment are being tried and used successfully in schools. But too little attention and resources are being focused on these potentially more positive policy directions.

Set The Stage And Leave

Of the new perspectives on the role parenting in education and achievement, a recent opinion piece in The New York Times generated the most attention. Under the hyperbolic headline “ Parental Involvement Is Overrated,” two sociology professors, Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris, wrote, “Most forms of parental involvement … do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.”

The authors based that claim on research they conducted and described in their book, “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children’s Education,” and they note that despite their findings, “increasing parental involvement has been one of the focal points of both President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama’s Race to the Top.”

The book was also the subject of an article by education journalist Dana Goldstein writing for The Atlantic, who seemed to echo the provocative nature of the research with the title “Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework.”

The writings indeed provoked response, collected by the always-useful classroom teacher Larry Ferlazzo, who directed us to developmental psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D. writing at Psychology Today. Price called the conclusions “inflated” and stated, “Let’s not be so quick to reject several decades of scholarly wisdom.”

And in a letter to the Times, parent researcher Wendy S. Grolick noted that a negative correlation between increased parental involvement to a student’s low academic attainment may just be an obvious outcome of a child having trouble with school. Correlation, after all, isn’t causation.

Yet hyperbole aside, Price-Mitchell noted there are “kernels of learning” in this research. As Robinson-Harris stated in their Times op-ed, “There are some forms of parental involvement that do appear to have a positive impact on children academically,” specifically, that parents “communicate the value of schooling, a message that parents should be sending early in their children’s lives and that needs to be reinforced over time.”

Goldstein noted “a handful of habits that make a difference, such as reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans.” What also helped is having greater financial and educational resources that “allow some parents to embed their children in neighborhoods and social settings in which they meet many college-educated adults with interesting careers. Upper-middle-class kids aren’t just told a good education will help them succeed in life.” (Emphasis original.)

Mostly, what parents should do, the researchers recommended, is to “set the stage and then leave it.”

Be Who You Want Children To Become

Also in The New York Times, an opinion piece by Adam Grant on “Raising a Moral Child” looked at survey data and found that, much more so than academic success, parents “are concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful.”