Saturday, March 22, 2014

Another blow against the idea that poverty itself cannot explain the diminished academic performance of poor students

I'm not an expert in educational policy, so I don't have much to say about it. I wrote previously about how it's long been known that poverty is the greatest predictor of student performance, and how parents or teachers need to be scapegoated in order to justify the poverty and inequality that are the real source of the problems in the American education system.

Basically, if poverty and inequality are the real causes of poor student performance, than there is an obligation to alleviate poverty and inequality. But that's a very expensive proposition. What if there was a cheaper, more convenient explanation of poor student achievement? Who can we blame instead?

Poor parents are a popular scapegoat: If poor parents were more involved in their children's lives, impoverished students would be doing just fine in school. If only poor parents had the initiative and desire to exercise the same level of responsibility as rich parents.

Dana Goldstein explains how a major study has just fatally wounded the scapegoating of poor parents:
In the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement, Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, mostly found that it doesn’t. The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. In an attempt to show whether the kids of more-involved parents improved over time, the researchers indexed these measures to children’s academic performance, including test scores in reading and math.

What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.

Do you review your daughter’s homework every night? Robinson and Harris’s data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education, show that this won’t help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down...students whose parents frequently meet with teachers and principals don’t seem to improve faster than academically comparable peers whose parents are less present at school. Other essentially useless parenting interventions: observing a kid’s class; helping a teenager choose high-school courses; and, especially, disciplinary measures such as punishing kids for getting bad grades or instituting strict rules about when and how homework gets done.
What’s more, although conventional wisdom holds that poor children do badly in school because their parents don’t care about education, the opposite is true. Across race, class, and education level, the vast majority of American parents report that they speak with their kids about the importance of good grades and hope that they will attend college. Asian American kids may perform inordinately well on tests, for example, but their parents are not much more involved at school than Hispanic parents are—not surprising, given that both groups experience language barriers.
Note that this study didn't look at the use of resources available only to wealthy parents:
Robinson and Harris chose not to address a few potentially powerful types of parental involvement, from hiring tutors or therapists for kids who are struggling, to opening college savings accounts. And there’s the fact that, regardless of socioeconomic status, some parents go to great lengths to seek out effective schools for their children, while others accept the status quo at the school around the corner.
The entire article is worth reading in full.

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