One of the sacred truths of American education is that it’s crucial for parents to be involved in their child’s school. I’ve been hearing this since my kids were born. Imagine my shock when I read that parents showing up at school has little effect on how quickly their kid memorizes the multiplication tables.
According to author Amanda Ripley, the countries producing the smartest kids have little parental involvement in education. A mother in Finland, for example, attends two brief conferences with her daughter’s teacher during the school year. Yet, Finnish kids finished first in the world in science and second in reading.
South Korean parents, who care a great deal about their kid’s education, rarely visit their schools. In fact, a study of thirteen countries showed that children of parents who helped with extracurricular events had poorer reading scores than those who didn’t.
American parents, by contrast, are great at showing up at their kid’s school. Last year, 90 percent of us attended at least one school meeting. Six out of ten are willing to bake a cake for the fundraiser, pay the middle-school kids to wash the car and clock out early to catch the volleyball game.
My wife and I have been strong adherents to this gospel. I thought it was overkill but we both would attend parent-teacher conferences. We also went to their games, concerts and art fairs. This fulfilled our parental responsibility and the kids appreciated our presence. Apparently, though, it did not raise their GPA.
So, how could parental assistance be a bad thing? Some parents fear schools will fail to adequately prepare their children to get into a top college and, by extension, a good career. They are such advocates for their kids; they interfere with teachers and undermine school authority. There are also fifty studies showing that “helping” Madison with her homework is not helping her learn.
It turns out that parents staying home, reading to their kids, can help their grades more than showing up for the book fair. When they reach their teens years, discussing movies, books and current events around the kitchen table, sharpens their critical thinking. Reading books in front of them, improves their chances of becoming avid readers.
Schools and parents are partners in educating children but they have different jobs. If parents model learning at home and leave the three R’s to the professionals, their kids are more likely to succeed in school. If they also have time to bring orange slices to their soccer game, so much the better.
Apart from these educational studies, I have anecdotal evidence that parent involvement might be harmful. My parents rarely set foot in my school, because I was careful to lose notes announcing parent-teacher conferences. If they did meet with a teacher, they would always side with her and punish me for my classroom antics when they got home.
I also discussed this topic with an elementary school teacher, who has raised five children. With the first three kids, she threw her heart and soul into their schools. This had zero effect on their grades. The last two – her shadow rarely darkened the school door and both are doing well in college.
American parents should be commended for trying to help their kids at school. But, if we don’t do the heavy-lifting at home, we’re never going to catch those kids from Finland.