This kind of parental engagement may not directly affect test scores, but it can make school a more positive place for all kids, regardless of what their parents do or don’t do at home.
Pesky parents are often effective, especially in public schools, at securing better textbooks, new playgrounds, and all the “extras” that make an educational community come to life, like art, music, theater, and after-school clubs.Given that the best teachers have been shown to raise students’ lifetime earnings and to decrease the likelihood of teen pregnancy, this is no small intervention.All in all, these findings should relieve anxious parents struggling to make time to volunteer at the PTA bake sale.Although Robinson and Harris didn’t look at school choice, they did find that one of the few ways parents can improve their kids’ academic performance—by as much as eight points on a reading or math test—is by getting them placed in the classroom of a teacher with a good reputation.This is one example for which race did seem to matter: white parents are at least twice as likely as black and Latino parents to request a specific teacher.Similarly, 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. “We think about informing parents and schools what they need to do, but too often we leave the child out of the conversation.”One of the reasons parental involvement in schools has become dogma is that the government actively incentivizes it.This kind of meddling could leave children more anxious than enthusiastic about school, Robinson speculates. Since the late 1960s, the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs that seek to engage parents—especially low-income parents—with their children’s schools.“Ask them ‘Do you want to see me volunteering more? In 2001, No Child Left Behind required schools to establish parent committees and communicate with parents in their native languages.As part of his research, Robinson conducted informal focus groups with his undergraduate statistics students at the University of Texas, asking them about how their parents contributed to their achievements.He found that most had few or no memories of their parents pushing or prodding them or getting involved at school in formal ways. “You’d expect they’d have the type of parental involvement we’re promoting at the national level. It really blew me away.”Robinson and Harris’s findings add to what we know from previous research by the sociologist Annette Lareau, who observed conversations in homes between parents and kids during the 1990s.