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The Right Kind of Involvement

Kathryn Young Thompson

We all know that parents should be engaged in their child’s education and two new studies show that parental involvement correlates directly to student achievement.  But are some types of involvement better than others?  Is there a right way to be involved in your child’s education?  The studies conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education say – yes.

PISA is the group whose test score numbers show the United States lagging behind many other industrialized nations.  When you hear that US education is not stacking up to that of Finland or Singapore, you’re probably hearing statistics connected to PISA.

The PISA tests are administered to 15-year-olds in several industrialized nations every three years.  In 2006, and 2009, a team led by Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the exams for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, took a look at what was going on in the lives of the students outside of the classroom.  The results of their study, published two weeks ago, give fascinating insight into the importance of parental engagement and exactly what type of engagement will produce the best results for student learning.

Students whose parents read to them almost every night scored 14 points higher than students whose parents did not.  This held true when comparing students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

And simply being involved and spending time with your child is not enough.  The study, that consisted of interviews conducted with parents of test subjects about how they raised their children, said that the largest gains were seen when parents read with their children, talked to them about their day, and told them stories.  The smallest gains were seen when the involvement consisted of parents simply playing with their children.

The other study, published in the November issue of The American School Board Journal, also found that some types of engagement are better than others.

According to Patte Barth, the director of the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education and the person responsible for writing up the study, “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.”

She wrote that the actions that have the highest impact are, ““Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college.”

Obviously, no one is suggesting that being involved in P.T.A., fundraising, and legislative advocacy are unimportant.  But if you have to choose between selling popcorn door-to-door to raise money for new playground equipment and reading to your child every night, cozy up with a good book feel good about the decision.

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at The Parenting Post, and occasionally the gym.