The Silent Factor

“Every schoolteacher will tell you that there is no substitute for engaged parents in the education of a child.” ~James Lankford

It seems that everyone is talking about the need to fix the American education system. Various interest groups advocate for increased funding, changes in curricula or school choice as solutions. However, the discourse often ignores one of the most important factors in educational outcomes. 17600Parental involvement is critical to the success of students. Differences in parental involvement among socioeconomic and racial groups can help to explain some of the disparities between the students in those groups. “Within education circles, this achievement gap is increasingly referred to as the biggest civil rights issue of this generation.” Because the positive correlation between student success and parental involvement has been shown to be true even across socioeconomic and racial boundaries, a focus upon increased involvement could be the key to overcoming the gaps that have been historically observed along those lines.

“For those who are interested in schools that produce academic success for minority students, there is no lack of examples, past and present. Tragically, there is a lack of interest by the public school establishment in such examples. Again, I think this goes back to the politics of education.

~Thomas Sowell

Many minority groups as well as those tending towards the lower end of the socioeconomic status (SES) spectrum, often attain lower levels of academic achievement. This can be clearly seen in objective measures like standardized testing. These gaps also vary across states, often according to income, poverty rates, unemployment rates and educational attainment. North Carolina places a little below average in achievement gap. This is concerning because it ranks below North Carolina’s historic average. What is not discussed is that all school-event1-1024x682of these factors directly affect parental involvement. For example, minority groups, which have higher rates of poverty have lower rates of parental involvement, which is most obvious at school event attendance, parent teacher conferences, etc. This is not to say that parents that fall into that category do not care about their children. However, there is an increased likelihood that the parents experience factors that inhibit their ability to be involved with their children academically. These barriers to school events  include transportation, the hours that a parent must work, and financial resources. It may be argued that school events do not give a complete picture of parental involvement in students lives, but it serves as a useful indicator. A parent that cannot or will not take the time or dedicate money to a school event has a lower chance of being meaningfully positively involved in the educational process for their child.

“Education, like neurosis, begins at home” ~Milton Sapirstein

Now we must ask the question, what does it mean for a parent to be positively involved in their child’s education? There are many ways in which parents affect their children, not only in their degree of involvement but also in the method and specific characteristics they use. One important parental characteristic that impacts educational outcomes is the educational attainment of the parents themselves. Studies show a strong correlation between the education of the parents and the educational aspirations and academic achievements of their children. Parents with higher education levels, and especially those with advanced degrees, may place more emphasis on the importance of their children’s education. “Their past achievements become a benchmark for their children to follow as parents’ past pursuits in education may augment structural factors on intergenerational behaviors. Whether the parent’s GPA is tied to intelligence or disciplined study or both, these traits and behaviors are passed down to their children.dreamstime_s_43150158.jpg
Higher achieving parents foster those things that are important in their children and prioritize academic success. In contrast, those who graduated with a minimal degree generally do not have the financial means or aspirations to raise higher-achieving students.”


“Put bluntly, failure (of schools that attempt to produce academic success for minority students) attracts more money than success. Politically, failure becomes a reason to demand more money, smaller classes, and more trendy courses and programs, ranging from ‘black English’ to bilingualism and ‘self-esteem.’ Politicians who want to look compassionate and concerned know that voting money for such projects accomplishes that purpose for them and voting against such programs risks charges of mean-spiritedness, if not implications of racism.” ~Thomas Sowell

A perceived lack of educational funding is frequently blamed for the failure of American public schools. However, research shows this claim to be without foundation.  The United States spends more money per student than any other country in the world save Luxembourg. In 2011-2012 the United States’ total expenditure for public elementary and secondary schools amounted to $621 billion. That comes to an average of $12,401 per public school student enrolled in the fall, including capital outlay (i.e. expenditures for property, buildings, alterations completed by school district staff or contractors, and interest on school debt). And expenditures continue to rise. From the 2000-01 school year to 2011-12 school year, the money spent per enrolled student increased from $9,904 to $11,014, an 11% increase in expenditures excluding capital outlay.UUZ8jTz Yet, in 2012, the United States was 27th on the list of world rankings for school educational achievement placing it below even countries that spent half as much on public education. The data shows us that simply throwing money at the problem of student achievement is a faulty strategy and one that is costing the American people. Something else needs to change before we ironically bankrupt ourselves trying to improve our own economic future through education, among other things. A growing body of research shows us the benefits of a focus on parental involvement, which could solve many of the problems of our education system including gaps between the educational outcomes between students of differing socioeconomic and racial groups. Thus, parental involvement rather than the emptying of our wallets ought to be the main focus of the public discourse on educational improvement.


3 thoughts on “The Silent Factor

  1. Vitruvius, I agree strongly with your claim that parent involvement in a child’s educational upbringing is one of the strongest influences upon long run academic achievement. At home brain development, the formation of crucial study skills, familial encouragement and so much more are critical for a child to grow into a successful student. Like you stated, this fact can’t really be refuted. Yet, the challenge with this phenomenon is how as an education advocate or policy maker do you change the internal education culture of a household? You can’t simply declare parents to be more involved and expect this declaration to actually create change. It is a cyclical problem and families who fail to be involved with their children’s academics raise children who most likely will carry on the same pattern with their own children. This leaves me to ask, what would be you approach for effectively making families become more involved with their children’s education?


  2. One of the things that I take issue with when it comes to this topic is that people assume that they can control things that they can’t. I assume when you say “declaring parents to be more involved” you mean who cannot legally force someone to care more about their child’s education, and that is correct, you cannot and should not be able to force that upon someone. However, by writing about it I first hope to draw attention away from the obviously ineffective strategies that are being taken to try to fix some of the problems like the idea that pouring money in will help. Second, by showing that the real problem is a social one hopefully people will start to realize that policies cannot solve everything, nor should they, you cannot forcefully create a better world. Instead it is crucial to raise awareness and create social pressure to help change the mindsets of the people and help show them why caring matters. There is no law or policy that you can implement to create that, to think that there is not only is wrong but it is a harmful outlook towards solving the problem. Taking the wrong approach to a problem like this can draw the focus away from parental involvement and allow people to start blaming policymakers for not fixing the problems rather than looking closer at how who people are plays into the situation.


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