Esther Cepeda: Questioning parental involvement
CHICAGO -- There will always be bad schools. And the same can be said for underperforming students.
Why? Because there will always be bad, misinformed or clueless parents.
Not just the ones who abuse their children, keep loaded guns around the house, ignore their offspring or barely manage to dole out a few bucks before school so the kid can grab a “breakfast” of sugary soft drinks and dollar bags of cheese-flavored snacks on the way to school.
There are those who simply set terrible examples for their children. They keep the TV on all day and all night, they never read a book and they enforce no sense of order in their homes.
I imagine it was slackers like these who Rosalind Osgood, a school board member in Broward County, Fla., had in mind when she made the controversial suggestion to set a parental dress code for schools.
She was quoted in the Florida Sun-Sentinel implying that the district’s teachers and administrators were having a difficult time enforcing the fundamentally order-promoting dress codes because parents so often look like slobs when they visit schools.
“We have dads showing up in sagging pants,” Osgood said during a recent school board discussion. “It’s hard for me to tell a child not to show up for school with hair curlers, pajamas or short-shorts if they see parents wearing them. Parents need to lead by example.”
Never mind that the short-shorts and sagging pants make for amply distracted students in the classroom. Showing up to school in pajamas or hair curlers pretty much says, “I don’t care about my education.” This is a lesson clearly learned from the adult in the child’s life, who has shown up that way to talk to the school’s administrators who knows how many times.
To be fair, it is harder than ever to be a parent today.
Like consumers of health news who are told, depending on the week, that coffee will kill you or help you live longer, many parents feel bombarded by contradictory information about the needs of their kids. Whether nutrition, vaccinations or the value of preschool, the conflicting noise on these topics is mind-boggling. Worse, some parents miss the important stuff—such as the value of talking to your baby, which has shown to be beneficial for their development.
For some time now, the gold standard of parental responsibility has been involvement.
Depending on a student’s grade level, his or her educational needs or the school administration’s expectations, involvement can mean anything from checking homework to drilling subject matter to volunteering for chaperoning, fundraising, mentoring or coaching.
In certain circles in almost any school, there are badges of honor associated with being the busiest, most devoted, most involved parent. But though such parents undoubtedly contribute to the school’s overall well-being, what does this mean for actual students?
The newest research says: not much.
According to Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas, and Angel L. Harris, a professor of sociology and African and African-American studies at Duke, who wrote an op-ed article for The New York Times: “After comparing the average achievement of children whose parents regularly engage in each form of parental involvement [such as observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework] to that of their counterparts whose parents do not, we found that most forms of parental involvement yielded no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socioeconomic standing.”
Other research—author Amanda Ripley investigates the topic thoroughly in her marvelous book “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way”—has similarly suggested that all the book fairs, bake sales and PTA activities that parents dive into sometimes have only the effect of sucking up precious time that parents could spend focusing on helping kids with academics.
It’s all enough to make you tear your hair out. What’s a parent to do?
Just vow to do your best. And if you find the time and strength to drag yourself to the school for any attempt to help boost your kid’s academic performance, just remember: School administrators like it when you show up nice, neat and ready to listen.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.