In a New York Times article, Professors Keith Robinson of the University of Texas and Angel Harris of Duke reveal their findings that parents taking an active interest in schools -- helping with homework, visiting classrooms, checking on behavior, etc. -- not only doesn't help student achievement, but may hinder it.
It seems we parents have three choices:
- Ignore the findings and assume future studies will refute them.
- Accept the findings and stop wasting our time in schools.
- Ask why we are stuck with an educational system that has no room for our efforts?
I think parents involved in their children's school know there is truth in this study. Short of being elected to the school board, the only roles really open to parents in this system equate to being supporters/cheerleaders for the school. Such roles don't affect student achievement.
So why should we tolerate an educational system that leaves its most powerful educators on the sidelines? If this happened to a team or a corporation, an instant leadership shakeup would occur.
Parents are the primary teachers of children and the home, the primary classroom. Parents maintain this role until their children reach adulthood, when, hopefully, they get fired as parents and hired as consultants. But for better or for worse, parents always remain major figures in their children's lives.
To have constructed an educational system and expecting to create a vibrant thirteen year learning community in which these most powerful teachers in our student's lives do not fit, even detract, is both ridiculous and arrogant.
Parents largely determine just how well students will do in our schools -- note the achievement gap that persists between White and Black/Hispanic/Native American students from the first day they enter school. And before blaming poverty, recognize that Asian students, who dealt with similar poverty disadvantages, outperform White students in our educational system.
When I founded Hyde School in 1966 to find a better way to prepare kids for life, I knew our real test would be in how our graduates actually did, not just in college, but in life. By 1974, I traced enough grads to realize the key factor in how they were doing was their parents!
We accepted kids into Hyde based mostly on an in-depth family interview. The parent who said, "I wish this school had been around 35 years ago," typified the kid who was then doing well in life. But what I came to call the "fix-it" parent ("We're a successful family, but I don't know what is wrong with this kid") tended to be the kid who was struggling in life.
I thought I could reach any kid, but now I depressingly realized that in life, our best efforts seldom trumped the parent's. So I said to myself, "Joe, if you really want to help these kids in life, help their parents." That began the Hyde family program, now in seven Hyde private and public schools, which focuses on parental growth and family issues.
For the past 40 years, this program helps parents become primary teachers and their homes, primary classrooms. It's very rewarding, because every time we help change a parent's life, we're changing the student's life as well.
Our inner-city schools find some resistance from parents, which generally melts away once they experience the help our program gives their parenting, families and their own lives.
We accept college as a preparation for life and 98% of Hyde students are accepted to college. But character development and emotional intelligence built on our parent/family involvement greatly enriches this life preparation at our schools.
Finally, I say the study reveals that our most powerful growth institutions--family and school--have become disconnected. United we stand; Divided we fall.
Gain the courage to reconstruct American education so that schools support families and families support schools and we would not only conquer problems like bullying, cheating, school shootings and achievement, we would create an educational system to lead the world.
The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children's Education
Keith Robinson & Angel L. Harris
Harvard University Press