Parents are often said to be the first and best teachers a child has. Research supports this notion and shows that the influence parents have on their children’s education begins as early as preschool. Parental influence also goes beyond the parent-child relationship and includes parental characteristics, education and income, as well as how parents interact with their children and their children’s schools.
According to researchers Kathleen Cotton and Karen Reed Wikelund, “parental involvement in children’s learning is positively related to achievement” for all types and ages of students, and the more intense this involvement, the better the effects. There is an even greater effect for African-American students, a Duke University study claims. Joyce Epstein, the director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University, identifies six types of parental involvement -- effective parenting, two-way communication with the school, volunteerism at the school, assisting with homework, participating in school governance and utilizing community resources.
In a meta-anlaysis, Harvard professor William H. Jeynes discovered parental expectations have the largest effect on student academic achievement. Professor Douglas B. Downey of Ohio State University presents arguments that this is particularly true when parents combine responsiveness and warmth with their high expectations. There are potential continued benefits to this, as there is some evidence that this is a cyclical relationship and that prior student achievement affects parental expectations, according to Julie Grossman, Megan Kuhn-McKearin and William Strein with the University of Maryland.
Parental Education and Income
The more educated the parents, the greater the influence on their child’s school performance, in part because they provide their children with more outside educational opportunities, according to University of Michigan professors Eccles and Davis-Kean, and because they understand what types of decisions need to be made as early as middle school. The New York Times reported that the children of college-educated mothers scored higher at age 3 than those whose mothers dropped out of school. According to Professor Davis-Kean, higher parental income is also a predictor of academic achievement.
The connection parents have with their children’s school is also important to academic success. The National Education Association website points out ways schools can support parents, such as outlining what’s expected of parents, communicating with parents regarding what children are learning and providing an assortment of opportunities for parents to meet with school personnel. As Professor Hill of Duke University puts it, “In order for children to reach their potential, they need their parents as informed advocates.”