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» A Culture that Engages Every Family, Steven M. Constantino, Ed.D.

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»PTA--Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

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Why Family Involvement? Because What Happens at Home Comes to School

By Maria Chesley Fisk, PhD

Think of three people who have had a significant influence on your approach to learning and succeeding. I’m willing to bet one or two of the folks you have in mind are immediate family members. Our families are, in essence, our living textbooks--they teach lesson after lesson on how much to value hard work, how to manage time, how to cope with emotions, and how to treat ourselves and others. Of course families influence how thirsty students are for new experiences, learning, and success in school – our guts tell us that. Families and educators should think about parent involvement strategically and intentionally and get the biggest bang possible for their dollars and minutes. Research on the relationships between parent involvement and student achievement provides guidance.

Research supports that gut feeling that families are a big influence on student achievement. Start with this: Kids are only in school 14% of the year. And this: As much as half of the variance in students’ test scores may be explained by home-related factors; only about 20% is explained by schools. No matter the family’s income, ethnicity, or culture, children whose families are more involved have better grades, attendance, behavior, and graduation rates.

Blond family readingParents are informal educators who, just like teachers, want their children do well in school. That’s why 78% of moms and dads come to parent-teacher conferences and more than that help with homework. And constructive parental efforts make a real and positive difference. One study put a dollar figure on it: an involved parent’s contributions to early high school students’ achievement are worth about $1000 in additional per pupil spending (the national average of per-pupil spending is $11,824).

The research base provides a sound consensus on what families do that help their children succeed in school. I have written a review, Parent Involvement for Learning: It’s a Piece of Cake, which I invite you to read and use. In it, a birthday cake represents important components of family involvement. The cake – the most important part, what matters the most – happens at home: holding high expectations and maintaining pro-learning and pro-health homes. Parental attitudes and habits are at least as important as any particular actions. The candles on the cake – very nice to have, but a cake is a cake without them – are about the business of school: volunteering, getting homework done, communicating with school, attending school events, and participating in school governance.

Logically, parents’ attendance at school events and help with homework matter, but it turns out high expectations and more general attitudes toward learning and school are even more substantially associated with student achievement. Do parents know that? Did you? I didn’t, not at a conscious level anyway, before I started reading the research. Knowing has made me more intentional about what I say and do with my own kids. We talk more about why doing well in school is important, and we spend more time pursuing our interests (theirs and mine) in and outside of school.
Evidence-based parental practices can help make family and school-inspired efforts as impactful as possible. Take some time to ask your children what they learned at school today and why it is important. Cook a healthy meal or go for a walk together and congratulate each other for doing something good for your brain health. Help everyone in the family learn something new. Because very probably, our children will look back one day and count us as most influential on how they approach learning and achievement.

Image credit: Utah State Library

Posted on June 3, 2013 by Maria Chesley Fisk, PhD

Maria Chesley Fisk, Ph.D. is an educator, author of Teach Your Kids to Think, co-founder of ParentSquare, an online school-home communication system, and all-around evangelist for parent involvement. Maria aims to translate educational and psychological research for today’s students, parents and educators in ways that enable next generation teaching and learning. Visit her website ThinkParenting.com and follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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