Improving your child’s academic performance – a question a day

In a recent post, “Where are the good schools?” I joked that you can tell a lot about the quality of a school by noting “parent lingering” at pick up and drop-off, but did you know that schools often gather data on the amount of parent volunteerism in their district?

This is for the simple reason that parent engagement is linked to student achievement. So, the number of hours logged by parent volunteers can quickly become a bragging right.

Parent Engagement Boosts Student Achievement

Consider these findings about parent engagement highlighted by the NEA:

Regardless of family income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to:

  • Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
  • Be promoted to the next grade, pass their classes, and earn credits
  • Attend school regularly
  • Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
  • Graduate and go on to postsecondary education

These findings are hard to dismiss, and many state governments, national agencies and foundations are working to improve parent engagement in schools.

Meanwhile, studies exploring the relationship between parent engagement and student achievement are gaining prominence. Take, for example, this study that points to specific behaviors of parents (“monitoring, warmth, and autonomy support”) as assets in preparing adolescents for career and college.

Parent Involvement Doesn’t Take Much More Time

Being an “involved” parent can mean many different things, and I know what you’re probably thinking: How can I find any more time to do that? You might also worry that you don’t have much to offer a classroom full of ten-year-olds.

Trust me, volunteering in schools doesn’t have to be an on-going major commitment to reap the benefits. In fact, things you’re probably already doing – like staying on top of all of the paperwork that comes home from your children’s teachers, or consistently monitoring your child’s homework habits – both constitute very important types of parental engagement.

In other words, simply showing an interest in what they do during the school day, from kindergarten through high school, leads to gains in achievement. Knowing details about what goes on during your child’s school day, and learning some of the “language of the school” leads to higher quality questions and conversations during the school year.

With a quick skim of a teacher’s communications home, you can replace your standard questioning attempt, “How was your day?” with a better developed question that will lead to more information from your child like, “I read that you’re learning about compound words. I thought of one… ICE-CREAM! Is that a compound word?” Better yet, provide an incorrect example and see if your child can correct you and explain why you’re wrong – that will really get the gears going!

Similar to giving your children good, high quality feedback on what they do well and what they need work on – as I addressed in this post knowing details about what your kids are doing in school lead to higher quality conversation and point to clear avenues for you to engage in your children’s education. You’re creating a situation where you’re helping your kids practice their skills, you’re showing them your intellectual curiosity, and you’re subtly letting them know that you actually communicate with your kid’s teacher! It’s clear how all of this effort leads to the type of academic improvement we typically see with the children of engaged parents.

So perhaps you don’t want to download and read EduTopia’s full guide for parents on engaging in schools, and maybe you don’t want to sign up with the PTA or PTG for something that requires your attention once a week for the whole school year. Rest assured knowing if this type of thing is the best you can do then you’re already doing pretty well.

More Ways to Connect and Engage

If you’re at a loss for how you can contribute to your children’s school as a volunteer, Larry Ferrlazzo posts bi-monthly or more frequent updates that consolidate information on boosting parent engagement in school here. Many of these posts center on what groups of dedicated parents are doing together to create change in high need districts, as is the case in Baltimore, Maryland. If you’re not on board with the group effort, the National Department of Education released a “Parent Checklist” outlining questions and resources that parents can use as their children head back into the classrooms in August. Some questions parents might ask their children’s teachers include:

Quality: Is my child getting a great education?

  • How will you keep me informed about how my child is doing on a regular basis? How can we work together if my child falls behind?
  • Is my child on grade level, and on track to be ready for college and a career? How do I know?

Ready for Success: Will my child be prepared to succeed in whatever comes next?

  • How will you measure my child’s progress and ability in subjects including reading, math, science, the arts, social and emotional development, and other activities?
  • How much time will my child spend preparing for and taking state and district tests? How will my child’s teacher and I know how to use the results to help my child make progress?
  • Are the meals and snacks provided healthy? How much time is there for recess and/or exercise?

Great Teachers: Is my child engaged and learning every day?

  • How do I know my child’s teachers are effective?
  • How much time do teachers get to collaborate with one another?
  • What kind of professional development is available to teachers here?

Equity and Fairness: Does my child, and every child at my child’s school or program, have the opportunity to succeed and be treated fairly?

  • How does the school make sure that all students are treated fairly? (For example, are there any differences in suspension/expulsion rates by race or gender?)
  • Does the school offer all students access to the classes they need to prepare them for success, including English language learners and students with special needs (for example, Algebra I and II, gifted and talented classes, science labs, AP or IB classes, art, music)?

One thing that I would add to this list for parents of adolescents is to acknowledge your “trouble threshold” grade. Many students, when asked, can probably point to a specific grade (for my parents it seemed to be around a B) anything below which triggers parent involvement… you know, the troubling kind (according to your kid). Studies have found that parents’ “trouble threshold grades” become their children’s threshold grade, and that “threshold grades” differ among families based on cultural and ethnic traditions.

So while a parent must strike a balance between becoming that helicopter parent, by over-protecting and over-directing their children through school, there are plenty of good conversations to have with your child’s teacher this year and plenty of ways to be involved. You’ll note that most good conversations begin with a question.

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