Unlike other potential contributors to low student achievement, I heard complaints about parent involvement fairly often from my colleagues when I was teaching, especially in the Bronx. This didn’t match my experience all that well- parents were coming into the school constantly to meet with teachers and administrators, and did a reasonably good job trying to enforce punishments on kids who were acting up in class or not doing their homework at home. If anything, I wished the parents would loosen up a little bit and let their kids run around in the park more when they weren’t in school, rather than cooping them up in the apartment, but obviously, even if crime had fallen since the early 90s, there were real dangers they had to consider.
But, since this comes up often in policy discussions of education as well, it’s worth looking at what representative data says about how well parent involvement explains differences in student achievement. The National Center for Education Statistics runs the NAEP, a nationally representative testing program that uses a representative sample of different groups rather than a census of all students to describe achievement gaps, with predictably stable and depressing results– in my dichotomy from earlier this year, this is Tragedy Social Science rather than Comedy Social Science at its finest. The NCES also runs a number of surveys of parents, students, and school staff to figure out what’s going on in schools at an aggregate level.
Here, for example, is a survey of parents’ involvement in their kids’ education that says that, not only are gaps in parental involvement not sufficient to explain achievement gaps, they often don’t even go in the direction you would predict.
For example, black parents are slightly more likely to report that their child does homework at home and that they monitor and set aside an area for this homework:
They are more likely to report that their child visited a library, zoo, aquarium, or attended a community event in the last month.
They are less likely to have received a newsletter or email but substantially more likely to have received a telephone call about their child.
They are less likely to have attended a school event or volunteered at the school but more likely to have met with a guidance counselor:
They are less likely to expect their child to finish college, but more likely to expect them to finish a graduate or professional degree:
They are somewhat though not dramatically less satisfied across the board with their child’s school (except for level and difficulty of homework), though that could certainly be the result of being more rather than less involved in their child’s schooling- note that Asian parents are also less likely to be satisfied with their child’s schooling than white parents.
(Although, interestingly enough, this difference does not appear to be the result of poor parents rating their schools more poorly- across all races, poor parents rate their schools equivalently to non-poor parents.)
There are dramatic differences in the living arrangements of America’s children by race (from another NCES publication):
As I’ve said before, I think it’s likely that these differences in family structure are a cause as well as an effect of growing racial inequality. But it is condescending and false to blame racial gaps in student achievement on a lack of parent involvement in their child’s education or schoolwork.