Study: Parents More Influential Than Schools in Academic Success

By Michele Molnar — October 10, 2012 2 min read
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Parents who want their children to succeed academically in school have more influence over that outcome than the schools themselves, according to a study by researchers from three universities.

“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” Dr. Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. and a co-author of the study, told Education Week.

To arrive at their findings, researchers used the National Education Longitudinal Study data to evaluate social capital at home and at school. Parcel said her group evaluated results from 10,000 12th graders, taking into account their composite test scores in math, reading, science, and history to measure achievement levels.

Researchers compared measures of “family social capital” and “school social capital,” discovering that even in schools that had low social capital, students were more likely to excel if their family social capital scores were high.

Measures of family social capital included:

• Does the parent check the student’s homework?
• Does the parent attend school meetings?
• Does the parent attend school events?
• How much trust does the parent have in the child?
• How often do students report discussing school programs, activities, and classes with parents?

“In part what’s going on is that, when the children’s parents are engaged in those ways, then the children pick up on it. They think, ‘School is important. My parents think it’s important,’ and that increases their attachment to education, which translates into better achievement,” Parcel said.

To measure school social capital, which is defined as a school’s ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, the researchers evaluated:

• Student participation in extracurricular activities;
• Whether the school contacted parents;
• The level of teacher morale;
• The level of conflict between teachers and administrators;
• Whether teachers responded to individual student needs; and
• An overall measure of school environment that tapped delinquency, absenteeism, and violence.

Parcel and co-authors Dr. Mikaela Dufur, of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and Kelly Troutman, a Ph.D. student at the University of California-Irvine, reported their findings in “Does Capital at Home Matter More than Capital at School?: Social Capital Effects on Academic Achievement,” which was published online Sept. 5 by the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.