Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
In recent years, we have heard lots about how we need better teachers in our schools. There’s no question that a great teacher can make a huge difference in a child’s achievement, and we need to recruit, train and reward such teachers. But here’s what some new studies are also showing. Teachers cannot do it alone. We also need to work better with parents. Parents who are focused on their children’s education also make a huge difference in their achievement.
How do we know? Every three years, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conduct exams as part of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests 15-year-olds in the world's leading industrialised nations on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems — the most important academic skills for succeeding in school and life. To better understand why some students thrive and others do not, the PISA team interviewed parents about how they raised their children and then compared that with the test results for each of those years.
15-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. Even when comparing students of similar socio-economic backgrounds, those students whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score higher than students whose parents did not.
Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance. Just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring. It is something every parent can do, no matter what their education level or social background.
The kind of parental involvement matters. For example, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day and when they tell stories to their children. The score point difference is smallest when parental involvement takes the form of simply playing with their children.
Parental actions that support children’s learning at home are most likely to have an impact on academic achievement at school. Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going on to further education and training: these parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for further education.
Of course there is no substitute for a good teacher. There is nothing more valuable than great classroom teaching. But teachers cannot shoulder the whole burden. We also need parents because parents can make every teacher more effective and improve the educational outcomes for every child.
Acknowledgement: Thomas l. Friedman 19 November 2011; Patte Barthe, The American School Board Journal.