New Study Confirms Income, Education Linked to Parent Involvement in Schools

By Robert Rothman — April 25, 1990 3 min read

Boston--Preliminary findings from a national study confirm long-held beliefs that upper-income, well-educated parents devote more attention to their children’s education than do poorer parents with less schooling.

The results, released here last week at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, are based on a poll of some 25,000 parents conducted in 1988 as part of the National Educational Longitudinal Survey, a federally sponsored study of 8th graders, their parents, and their teachers.

In addition to providing data from the parents’ survey, researchers here released preliminary results of a test administered to the 8th graders in the NELS survey. Among other findings, the test results showed virtually no “gender gap” in mathematics performance, and little difference in math and science achievement between students from public and Roman Catholic schools.

The parents’ survey found that about half of all respondents had initiated contact with their children’s schools about the students’ academic performance. One-third of those polled reported having contacted their schools for information on academic programs.

The proportion of parents who had made such contacts, the survey found, varied according to income and education. Those with higher incomes and more years of schooling were more likely than others to initiate contacts with the schools.

Walter G. West, a statistician for the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, said the findings confirm educators’ perceptions about parental involvement in schools.

“The parents you see in schools are the parents of kids who don’t have problems,” Mr. West said. “Schools never see the parents they need to see.”

He also noted that the parents’ responses, when broken down by race, revealed that, contrary to common perceptions, Asian parents were less likely than those from other ethnic groups to talk regularly with their children about their school experiences.

Several previous studies have suggested that Asian parents’ involvement with their children’s schooling is a key factor in explaining such students’ high levels of academic achievement.

The survey also found that Hispanic parents were less likely than their white or black peers to talk with their children about school.

That finding could add to the debate touched off this month by Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, who drew fire for his comment that Hispanic parents place a lower value on education than they once did. (See Education Week, April 18, 1990.)

No ‘Gender Gap’ in Math

In addition to surveying students, teachers, and parents, the NELS researchers tested the 25,000 participating 8th graders in reading, math, science, and history and geography. The results were placed on a scale that will permit researchers to compare them with those from prior longitudinal studies, such as the National Longitudinal Study of 1972 and the High School and Beyond Study of 1980.

In contrast to the previous tests, the NELS assessment showed no difference in math performance between boys and girls.

This result may reflect the fact that the 8th graders tested for the new study had had less of an opportunity to select courses than the 10th graders assessed in the previous studies, said Donald A. Rock, a researcher with the Educational Testing Service, who analyzed the results. Many researchers have suggested that boys tend to do better in math because they are more likely than girls to take courses in the subject.

A follow-up survey, which is currently under way, Mr. Rock added, will determine whether the boys tested have subsequently taken additional math courses that would enable them to outperform the girls.

The 1988 test results also showed that while Catholic-school students outperformed their public-school peers in every subject area, the gaps in performance in math and science between the two groups were relatively small.

These results suggest that efforts over the past decade to improve math and science instruction in the public schools may have paid off in higher achievement, Mr. Rock said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 1990 edition of Education Week as New Study Confirms Income, Education Linked to Parent Involvement in Schools