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What’s more, although conventional wisdom holds that poor children do badly in school because their parents don’t care about education, the opposite is true.Across race, class, and education level, the vast majority of American parents report that they speak with their kids about the importance of good grades and hope that they will attend college.Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, mostly found that it doesn’t.
While Robinson and Harris largely disproved that assumption, they did find a handful of habits that make a difference, such as reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans.
But these interventions don’t take place at school or in the presence of teachers, where policy makers exert the most influence—they take place at home.
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.
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Robinson and Harris chose not to address a few potentially powerful types of parental involvement, from hiring tutors or therapists for kids who are struggling, to opening college savings accounts.
And there’s the fact that, regardless of socioeconomic status, some parents go to great lengths to seek out effective schools for their children, while others accept the status quo at the school around the corner.
Robinson and Harris’s data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education, show that this won’t help her score higher on standardized tests.
Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.