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Myths and Facts about "Parental Involvement"

Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools WHAT WORKS (in order):

1. The educational attainment of the children's mother.

2. The socio-economic level of the children's home.

3. In-home parental promotion of preschoolers' skills acquisitions, such as reading and numbers, game playing, and the creation of a stable, stimulating environment.

4. Parental aspirations (expectations) for children's achievement, and parents' own enthusiasm for, and attitudes toward education and learning.

5. In-home parent-child discussions, valuing of children's opinions and conversation, and social interaction, i.e. "the curriculum of the home."

6. Parental supplementation of children's education with enrichment activities, such as libraries and museums, sports, music, travel, and family hobbies.

The Case Against Homework 7. Parental encouragement of older children's self-reliance and autonomy.


1. Homework in elementary school. [Recent research again confirms this.]

2. Routine parental involvement and help with homework.

3. Extended parent-teacher contact beyond the minimum necessary communication of notices, events, grades, and so forth.

4. Parental volunteering in and presence at the child's school and children's in-school activities. (As an independent variable and not merely appearing in the research as a correlate of parental socioeconomic status or family culture and interest in education, this does nothing for children.)

5. Parental involvement with and participation in school-related organizations, such as PTA. (Same comment as #4, above. This is not the kind of "parental involvement" that matters.) Destroy your child's dreams in one easy step: have him diagnosed with a mental disorder

6. Verbally encouraging a child to "do well in school," and giving rewards or punishment based on grades.

7. Shorting sleep time to study -- or for other recurring "enrichment" activities (such as child custody dinner-visitation activities during the school week). Gillen-O'Neel, C., Huynh, V. W. and Fuligni, A. J. (2012), To Study or to Sleep? The Academic Costs of Extra Studying at the Expense of Sleep. Child Development. Available at MORE: Buckhalt, J. A. (2011), Insufficient Sleep and the Socioeconomic Status Achievement Gap. Child Development Perspectives, 5: 59-65. Available at

8. Parenting programs to enhance parenting skills. (Notwithstanding promotional hype, parenting skills programs have not been shown to result in any clear academic achievement or enhanced outcomes for children. However, to the extent there is some small success in situations in which these programs address families with serious problems, such as adolescent behavior issues, behavior-based programs work and relationship-oriented programs don't.)


1. Children's educational achievement is not negatively impacted by a parent's lack of fluency in the English language.

2. Single motherhood, while it tends to reduce mothers' participation with children's schools and with their teachers (an "involvement" of little or no benefit anyway but bearing on educators' and the public's perceptions), does not reduce maternal in-home enhancement of children's education -- where "parental involvement" counts.

The Tragic Consequences of Drugging America's Children 3. Fatherlessness. The research on fatherlessness universally (and often deliberately) confounds "father presence or absence" with its frequent correlates in the "What Works" category, above. Dean Keith Simonton, Scientific Genius: A Psychology of Science. Cambridge University Press (1988) ("Exceptionally achieving individuals in virtually every human endeavor are more likely to have lost a parent... Roe (1952a) learned from her examination of notable contemporary scientists that 15% had lost a parent by death before age 10. Broken down by field, this happened to 25% of the biologists, 13% of the physical scientists, and 9% of the social scientists. To place this figure in perspective, Roe referred to data showing that only around 6% of college students lost a parent by age 10. Roe also mentioned Bell's (1937) work on illustrious mathematicians, in which around one-quarter had lost a parent before age 10 and nearly one-third before age 14... parental loss can occur by means other than orphanhood, such as alcoholism, abandonment, and divorce...").


1. Maternal depression has been found to reduce mother's in-home educational involvement.

2. To some extent, children mediate their parents' involvement directly with schools and school activities, and parents also are more likely to become involved because of the success of the children.

Military expert on children and violence

3. Television and video game playing appear to be developmental negatives, especially for young children. Children, especially young children, also need fresh air, sunshine, nature, exercise, and plenty of unstructured time outside just to play. (See and

4. School systems have a vested interest in broadly defining "parental involvement" to include parental participation in, and donation of time and money to, children's schools. Be careful in reading the research. This kind of "parental involvement" in education is not a factor in promoting one's own children's achievement, and where it appears to be, that is because it is actually a reflection that parents with more money, time, and interest in education tend also to be more active in children's schools, and parents who already have achieving children tend to become more interested for that reason in children's in-school activities.

5. Household and family disruption, lack of after-school and study-time routines, irregular sleep habits, and children's not having their own regular, comfortable, quiet places to read, work and think are negatives that will detract from achievement (however, correcting for these negatives in the absence of important "what works" factors, above, will have negligible positive effect on their own toward boosting long-term achievement.)

6. How Knowledge Helps, an excellent article on how we learn, by Daniel Willingham, on the AFT website.

The Sexual Paradox: Susan Pinker on Difference Feminism MYTH? 

1. Boys are falling behind and "in crisis" in our schools.  Not true.  Not true.
, argues Leonard Sax in Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, Basic Books (August 14, 2007)


The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review by Charles Desforges with Alberto Abouchaar [download pdf file] 

Also see Downey, D. B., Ainsworth-Darnell, J. W., & Dufur, M. J. (1998). Sex of parent and children's well-being in single-parent households. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60(4), 878-893 The greatest predictors of child academic success are (1) the educational level of a child's mother and (2) the socioeconomic level of the home. Regarding the mother variable, while it may translate to mother-substitute primary caregivers, this research has found that "adolescents from single father households are judged by teachers to be less well behaved and to show less effort in class. They also score slightly less than their single-mother counterparts on standardized tests, both verbal and math, and are perceived to be less academically qualified for college. Children raised by single fathers attain on average six months less education." [It is unclear whether this is a function of mother loss or lesser father (or stepmother) care, or whether father households may tend to have more older boys with behavior problems (there is research support for all three.) -- liz]

Death from Ritalin But see Mahony, Rhona, Divorce, Nontraditional Families, and Its Consequences for Children,, citing to Cherlin, et al., Science, 1991, June 7, 252 (5011), pp.1386-89 Andrew Cherlin and his colleagues studied random samples of over 11,000 children in Great Britain and over 2,200 children in the U.S., using information gathered on parents' and teachers' reports of behavioral problems and the children's reading and math scores. They statistically controlled for the children's social class, race, the children's early behavioral and test scores, and factors such as physical, mental, and emotional handicaps as assessed by physicians. After controlling for those factors, boys of divorced parents scored as high as boys from intact couples on the behavioral and academic tests..."

When it comes to children's academic achievement, it's overall family resources -- especially family income and mother's education -- that show the strongest associations with competency levels.

The most powerful predictors of children's academic progress are the mother's educational attainment and household economic well-being.

Mother's education is a primary predictor of child well-being. Russell Sage Foundation, c/o CUP Services, P.O. Box 6525, Ithaca, NY 14851

"[C]hildren residing without biological mothers fare worse than those without biological fathers, across most outcomes. In addition, only longitudinal measures of mother absence directly influence school outcomes. The time lived away from the biological mother is related to adolescents grades and school discipline, while the number of mother changes significantly reduces adolescents college expectations." "The Longitudinal Effects of Mother and Father Absence on Adolescent School Success." Population Association of America, Minneapolis, MN. (May 1-3, 2003)

What matters most is a mother's education and ability level and, to a lesser extent, the family income and quality of the home environment.; also see generally, JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH

"Seeking factors common to the early life of the twenty geniuses he selected, Dr. McCurdy came up with three: "(1) a high degree of attention focused upon the child by parents and other adults, expressed in intensive educational measures and, usually, abundant love; (2) isolation from other children, especially outside the family; (3) a rich efflorescence of phantasy, as a reaction to the two preceding conditions." McCurdy, Harold G. "The Childhood Pattern of Genius." Horizon 2 (May 1960): 38, quoted in Moore, Rayond, HOW TO SOCIALIZE YOUNG CHILDREN, Hewitt Research Center P.O. Box 9 Washougal, WA 98671


Becher, R.M. Parent involvement: A review of research and principles of successful practice. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. (1984) (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 247-032)

Caplan, Nathan, Marcella H. Choy, and John K. Whitmore. "Indochinese Refugee Families and Academic Achievement." Scientific American. (February 1992):36-42. EJ 438 367

Clark, Reginald M. "Homework-Focused Parenting Practices That Positively Affect Student Achievement." In Families and Schools in a Pluralistic Society, Nancy Feyl, ed., State University of New York Press (1993) Albany, NY: Chap. 4, pp. 85-105.

Clark, Reginald M. "Why Disadvantaged Students Succeed: What Happens Outside School is Critical," Public Welfare (Spring 1990): 17-23.

Dauber, Susan and Joyce Epstein. "Parent Attitudes and Practices of Involvement in Inner-City Elementary and Middle Schools," In Families and Schools in a Pluralistic Society, Nancy Feyl, ed., State University of New York Press (1993) Albany, NY: Chap. 2, pp. 53-71. ED 307 332

Dornbusch, Sanford M., Philip L. Ritter, P. Herbert Leiderman, Donald F. Roberts, and Michael J. Fraleigh. "The Relation of Parenting Style to Adolescent School Performance," Child Development 58, 5 (October 1987): 1244-1257.

Eagle, Eva. "Socioeconomic Status, Family Structure, and Parental Involvement: The Correlates of Achievement." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco: American Educational Research Association (March, 1989). ED 307 332

Elam, Stanley M. and Rose, Lowell C. "The 27th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/ Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Phi Delta Kappan 77, 1 (September 1995): 41-59.

Fehrmann, Paul G., et. al. "Home Influence on School Learning: Direct and Indirect Effects of Parental Involvement on High School Grades." Journal of Educational Research 80, 6 (August, 1987): 330-337. EJ 362 960

Henderson, Anne T. and Nancy Berla. A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement. National Committee for Citizens in Education (1994).

Keith, Timothy Z., et. al. "Does Parental Involvement Affect Eighth-Grade Student Acvhievement? Structural Analysis of National Data." School Psychology Review 22, 3 (1993): 474-496. EJ 486 04

Kit-fong Au, T. & Harackiewicz, J. The effects of perceived parental expectations on Chinese children's math performance. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1986) 32(4), 383-392.

Kohn, Alfie. The Homework Myth. and 063_133063

Krumm, H. Cultural values, parents' beliefs, and children's achievement in the United States and China. American Psychology (1988) 31(2), 729-739.

Lindgren, N. Family structure and conflict: Nest-leaving expectations of young adults and their parents. Journal of Marriage and the Family (February 1976), pp. 87-89.

Mulkey, Lynn M.; Crain, Robert L.; & Harrington, Alexander J. C. (1992). One-parent households and achievement: Economic and behavioral explanations of a small effect. Sociology of Education, 65(1), 48-65. (ERIC Journal No. EJ447920)

National Center for Education Statistics (1990) National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988: Student Component Data File User's Manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office: 90-464.

Parsons, J. E., Adler, T. F., & Kaczala, C. M.. Socialization of achievement attitudes and beliefs: Parental influences. Child Development (1998) 53(3), 310-321.

How Psychiatry and Modern Psychology Subvert Education, and Harm Children and Society Reynolds, Arthur J., Nancy A. Mavrogenes, Mavis Hagemann, and Nikolaus Bezruczko. (in 1:109) Schools, Families, and Children: Sixth Year Results from the Longitudinal Study of Children at Risk. Chicago: Chicago Public Schools, Department of Research, Evaluation, and Planning (February, 1993).

Rumberger, Russell W. et al. "Family Influences on Dropout Behavior In One California High School," Sociology of Education 63, 4 (October, 1990): 283-299.

Sattes, Beth D. (in 1:112) "Parent Involvement: A Review of the Literature." Occasional Paper #021, Appalachia Educational Laboratory. Charleston, WV: (November 1985).

Seginer, R. Parents' educational expectations and children's academic achievements: A literature review. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1983), 29(1), 1-23.

Snow, Catherine E., Wendy S. Barnes, Jean Chandler, Irene F. Goodman, and Lowry Hemphill. Unfulfilled Expectations: Home and School Influences on Literacy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1991).

Steinberg, Lawrence, et al. Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need to Do. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster (1996).

Vollmer, F. The relationship between expectancy and academic achievement - How can it be explained? British Journal of Educational Psychology (1986), 56, 64-74.

Weisz, J. R., et al. Standing out and standing in. American Psychologist (1984), 39(9), 955-968.

"[The] tendency give more attention and weight to data that supports our preconceptions and beliefs than we do to contrary data is especially pernicious when our preconceptions and beliefs are little more than prejudices.  If our beliefs are firmly established upon solid evidence and valid confirmatory experiments, the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that fits with our beliefs should not lead us astray as a rule.  Of course, if we become blinded to evidence truly refuting a favored hypothesis, we have crossed the line from reasonableness to closed-mindedness.

Carroll, Robert Todd, THE SKEPTIC'S DICTIONARY, 1998,; also see Evans, B. Bias in Human Reasoning: Causes and Consequences (Psychology Press, 1990); Gilovich, Thomas. How We Know What Isn't' So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life (New York: The Free Press, 1993); Gould, Stephen Jay. The Flamingo's Smile (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987).

Accuracy in Academia

Also see
AMERICA'S SCHOOLCHILDREN ARE TREATED LIKE LAB RATS, by John W. Whitehead "In almost every state across the nation, schoolchildren are being subjected to behavioral exams and mental health tests, often without their parents? knowledge or consent... One such program is the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Currently used in at least 45 states, the YRBSS test takes approximately 35 minutes to complete, with questions on everything from how much television the student watches to thoughts on suicide, sexual activity and drug use. For example, the 2007 middle school questionnaire includes such questions as: ?Have you ever seriously thought about killing yourself?? ... ?The last time you had sexual intercourse, did you or your partner use a condom??...[C]ritics of these risk assessment tests insist that they?re aimed at pushing antidepressant drugs..."





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