Student Well-Being

Dads Shape Their Kids’ Education in More Ways Than You Know, Research Says

By Sarah D. Sparks — June 16, 2018 4 min read
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Happy Father’s Day!

Though much of the parent involvement research focuses on mothers, emerging studies show involved fathers can significantly improve their children’s educational progress, too. Here are some of the ways dads make a difference, and how schools can do more to support them.

One recent analysis of 66 studies of urban children in pre-K through college found that on average, involved fathers of all races were associated with significantly better education outcomes, equal to nearly a half year of typical academic learning. And while dads had a little more of an impact on elementary-age children than teenagers—as any parent of teenagers probably already believes—involved fathers had significant benefits for their older children, too.

And the analysis shows that being involved can take different forms. Yes, helping their children with homework and volunteering at school was helpful, but the researchers also pointed to benefits from fathers mentoring and comforting—"helping their children become fulfilled and well-balanced human beings—and improving their behavior and moral discipline.

“When fathers are involved, the outcomes are positive across the board in terms of the academic as well as the social and emotional issues,” said Tyrone Howard, an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, the founder of UCLA’s Black Male Institute, and a father of four.

In a separate study, Howard and colleagues found that fathers of color, in particular, often struggle to engage with their children’s schools, even though they are interested in their children’s education.

That can needlessly hold back educational interventions. In one recent evaluation of a schoolwide anti-bullying program for grades 2, 4, and 6, Australian researchers found mothers initially were more likely than fathers to give bullied students “prosocial” advice about ways to find help and disengage from harassing situations, while fathers were more likely to initially give a bullied child aggressive advice about “fighting back.” However, fathers who directly participated in parent education about bullying were more likely to give children who were harassed advice on how to get help without escalating bad situations.

Giving Dads a Unique Voice in Schools

But research also suggests that both schools and education researchers should do more to reach out to fathers directly to understand more about how they engage with their children’s learning.

For example, a recent study in the Journal of Family Issues found that while many parenting and education studies rely on mothers to report on both their own and fathers’ involvement, a comparison of fathers’ own reports with those of their children’s mothers found that the parents often disagreed on fathers’ involvement. Parents who were not married, did not live together, or were not both biologically related to the child were more likely to disagree.

“I feel awful saying this, but I think where schools have gotten it right where it comes to getting men and fathers involved, has been by and large through sports,” Howard said. “Schools have not often found ways to get those same men who are very devoted, very invested, very involved on the sports side of the equation to take on an equally as active role on the academic side.”

But he added schools have started to become “more intentional about reaching out to fathers—in the schools where they put on the ‘muffins with mom’ [events,] now I see more ‘donuts with dads’ days, where they invite these conversations between school officials and fathers about the importance of their role in their children’s development.”

Moreover, while schools often default to considering mothers as the primary caregiver, new Census data also find that a rising number of dads are primary—or even solo—parenting. Programs to coordinate support networks for these parents, such as the National PTA Men Organized to Raise Engagement, or PTA MORE, can improve fathers’ involvement with their children academically.

Children Following in Their Father’s Career Footsteps

The U.S. Census Bureau study, “Fathers, Children, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Employers,” finds that for children whose father lived with them for at least part of their teenage years, 28 percent of sons and 17 percent of daughters will at some point work for their father’s employer. The vast majority of these children are employed at the same time as their dads, and they are more likely to work with their fathers when they are under 18, suggesting dad helped them get a leg up at work. Moreover, children who worked with their fathers started work at younger ages, stayed on the job longer, and had higher earnings than peers who did not work with their fathers. The results suggest high schools might benefit from engaging parents in identifying potential employers for high school career internship programs.

And for fathers working in schools themselves, an Education Week story earlier this spring suggests educators should never underestimate how much fathers’ involvement in the education field can incite a lifelong dedication to education issues in their children.


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