Families & the Community

Dads and Schools: Not Strangers Anymore

By Debra Viadero — June 18, 2009 2 min read

Just in time for Father’s Day, a new survey suggests that the fathers of America are playing a more active role in children’s schooling than they did 10 years ago.

Released this morning, the report was sponsored by the National Center for Fathering and the National Parent Teacher Association. (Coincidentally, the PTA’s leader, Byron V. Garrett, is a dad himself—the first African-American male to head the group.) The findings are based on May telephone surveys of 1,000 homes across the country.

Compared to 1999, the results show, more dads are taking their children to school, visiting their child’s classroom, volunteering at school, helping their child with homework, and attending parent-teacher conferences and other school-based parent meetings. The biggest gains have come in the percentage of fathers who say they meet with other dads for support, a figure that has grown by 20 percentage points, from 17 percent in 1999 to 37 percent this year.

The increases are important because research shows that children fare better academically when their fathers are actively involved in their education. But note that, in many of these cases, we’re still talking about a minority of fathers here. The number of dads visiting the classroom, for instance, grew a substantial 11 percentage points, but it’s still represents 41 percent of the fathers surveyed. The number of fathers volunteering or attending class events in 2009 was 28 percent and 35 percent, respectively—possibly because those kinds of activities tend to occur during normal work hours.

On the other hand, a clear majority of fathers—77 percent—are now turning up for parent-teacher conferences and 59 percent are attending school-based parent meetings.

The big disappointment for me, though, was the statistic for reading, which is arguably the most direct way in which a father can contribute to his child’s learning. Fifty-five percent of fathers said they read to their child once or twice a month—the same percentage as in 1999. Sadly, 39 percent of the respondents said the father in their household never reads to his child at all.

There were socioeconomic differences in these statistics as well, but they weren’t always predictable. Nearly 40 percent of the “never readers,” for instance, were in families earning more than $75,000 a year.

You can read the executive summary on the National Fathering Center’s Web site. Parenting resources are also available on the Web sites for both groups. My advice to moms: Print out a copy of the study and leave it on top of dad’s TV remote.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.