While there are lots of factors that go into successful education, the recent study from the Center for Public Education notes the importance of parents.  Not surprisingly, parental involvement helps students do better in school.  It cannot do it alone of course—teachers, administrators, school boards, local communities, political leaders and more are all necessary for a well run school that foster student learning.  Still, parents can and do help.

The value of this study is not just this affirmation of parental involvement but rather in specifying what types of involvement are most helpful.  While there are many interesting aspects of the study, there are six I want to note.

  • “Parent involvement on homework may be the award-winning strategy”
  • “For older students, [the most effective] techniques largely focused on enabling parents to convey high expectations to their children, encouraging them to take and succeed in rigorous courses with an eye toward college.”
  • One of the typical hindrances to success at school is parents not “getting children to school”.
  • Activities such as going to PTA meetings, attending school function and volunteering in a classroom “appeared to have less direct effect on student achievement, particularly in high school” than the three previous ones.
  • “No matter their income or background” parents who help with homework and set high expectation significantly raise the chances that their children will:
    • “Earn higher grades and test scores”
    • “Enroll in higher-level programs”
    • “Be promoted, pass their classes and earn credits, show improved behavior”
    • “Adapt well to school, and Graduate and go on to post-secondary education”
  • While white parents “checked homework” only 82% of the time, African American parents checked it 94% of the time and Hispanic parents 91%.

I find these results important for several reasons.  First, it clarifies how parents can effectively care for their children.  The study indicates that what is needed is a kind of daily attentiveness.  Parents need to make sure that their children get to school, do their homework, and encouraging them in their endeavors.  These seemingly mundane acts turn out to be loving ones as they do genuine good.

Second, this involvement helps students succeed in school which helps them succeed in our economy.  Data from the 2010 Census captures it succinctly:  those without a high school degree earn on average $20,000 a year, those with a high school degree $31,000 a year, and those with a college degree $57,000 a year.  Although I do not believe education is just an instrumental value for the job market, it is still an important dimension.  Earning at or above a living wage is essential for human dignity, typically enabling people to meet their basic needs and help care for those they love.

Third, these actions can be undertaken by anyone.  Disparities rooted in biases, especially racial ones, should be overcome.  Although the quality of instruction and the school as a whole must also be address, these strategies—rooted in basic attentiveness and compassion—are effective and can be employed by all.  If they were coupled with the economic and political changes that helped schools, we might no long be lamenting the state of education in the United States.

Finally, this study reminds us of the importance placed upon the family by Catholic social thought.  The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states that the family is a vital cell for society, teaching love of one another.  One of the ways this love can become manifested is in helping children do well in school.  If it is understood as such, education might then become more than just a means to a job.  Students who come to succeed in school through love of parents, might come to see their own activities in life—from school to work—as endeavors where love of others is practiced.