A+ Advice for Parents

Family Involvement Key to Child's Academic Success

Q: Since my son was in kindergarten, I've communicated with his teachers and volunteered in class. He's now in fourth grade and resisting my involvement. He's doing well. Should I back off? I don't want to be a helicopter mom.

A: Unless you're doing his homework, laying out clothes for him each morning, and taping a note to his lunch bag to remind him to eat, you're a far cry from a helicopter mom.

Stay involved; just leave a lighter footprint. As kids get older, we want them to assume independence along with responsibility. One of the key reasons your son is doing well in school is your involvement all these years. You sent a clear message: School is important.

There's no shortage of data showing that kids whose parents are engaged in their education have an edge in academic achievement throughout school.

A study released last fall, "Does Capital at Home Matter More than Capital at School? Social Capital Effects on Academic Achievement," is particularly intriguing. It suggests that parents may have more influence over their children's academic success than schools themselves.

Study authors (Toby Parcel, Ph.D, North Carolina State University; Mikaela Dufur, Ph.D, Brigham Young University; and Kelly Troutman, Ph.D, University of California-Irvine) analyzed the achievement levels of 10,000 12th graders in math, reading, science and history. They matched the students' scores with the level of their "family social capital."

Family social capital included such measures as: Does the parent check the student's homework? Does the parent attend school meetings and events? How often do students report discussing school programs, activities and classes with parents? How much trust does the parent have in the child?

Those students in families with high levels of family social capital were more successful than those with low levels of family social capital.

"Our study shows that parents need to be aware of how important they are, and invest time in their children -- checking homework, attending school events and letting kids know school is important," says Parcel. "That's where the payoff is."

The researchers also looked at "school social capital," a school's ability to serve as a positive environment for learning. This included measures such as student involvement in extracurricular activities, teacher morale and the ability of teachers to address the needs of individual students. The researchers found that students with high levels of family social capital and low levels of school social capital were more likely to excel than students with high levels of school social capital but low family social capital.

"In other words, while both school and family involvement are important, the role of family involvement is stronger when it comes to academic success," Parcel says.

So stay involved in your son's school life, but instead of volunteering in his classroom, contribute in other ways: Tackle a PTO project; serve on a parent advisory committee; spearhead a club such as robotics; or help in the lower grades. Ask the principal how best to apply your energies. When one student's parent is a role model at school, every student benefits.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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