Opinion
Families & the Community Opinion

Let’s Pay Parents to Help With Learning Recovery

Schools would need to be strategic about communicating learning gaps and directing parent efforts
By Chad Aldeman — December 08, 2022 4 min read
Illustration of a mother standing next to her son at the computer.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After three years of interrupted schooling, many students are disengaged and behind—far behind—academically.

To get students back in school and performing on grade level, school leaders are trying to hire more tutors, nurses, counselors, and attendance coordinators. But even as district coffers are flush with cash, some simply can’t find enough people to fill all their open roles.

What if they also asked for help from parents? The pandemic provided a stark reminder of the importance of the school-to-home connection. Schools had to lean on parents during the depths of the pandemic; perhaps that can be a recovery strategy as well.

Schools would need to think carefully about how to engage parents constructively. But an investment in parents would more than pay for itself. It may be more cost effective to work with parents rather than try to hire new employees, especially in the current labor market. And an upfront investment to help parents support their child’s academic and behavioral development could help teachers focus on teaching and save the school money on costly remedial services.

There’s a name for this type of arrangement: co-production. Co-production occurs when the beneficiaries participate in the delivery of services they use. As my Edunomics Lab colleague Marguerite Roza highlighted last year, districts are already experimenting with co-production efforts in a wide range of services, including transporting kids to school, purchasing school supplies, or encouraging teenagers to take summer courses. Similarly, schools could pay parents to read to their children every night, make sure their child completes math lessons on the Khan Academy website or language lessons on Duolingo, or practices a musical instrument.

Would parents engage with this type of request? I think they would. Over the summer, I created a back-to-school reading challenge called Read Not Guess. It sent parents short lessons over email with tips on how to work with their children on basic phonics skills.

Schools could use their federal relief funds to design and implement financial incentive programs for parents ... to work with their children.

The Read Not Guess lessons were short, just 5 to 10 minutes a day, but over 1,100 people subscribed and half of them completed 80 percent or more of the lessons. Participating parents said the lessons helped build their child’s skills and stoke their interest in reading.

Now, what if the schools were the ones engaging families to help with reading or other subjects and providing financial incentives for their involvement? That type of partnership could make real headway on recovery efforts. To be the most effective, the research on incentives suggests that parents’ work should focus on inputs like effort and behavior rather than outcomes. For example, a study on incentives in Dallas and Washington, D.C. found particularly promising gains among students who were paid small dollar amounts for attendance, good behavior, and turning in their homework in on time.

Yes, some parents may need convincing that they should participate in such an effort. Researchers have diagnosed a troublesome “perception gap”—parents think their children are doing better than they are—which undermines the willingness of parents to sign up for voluntary intervention programs. The key for schools then is to communicate clearly about the achievement gaps they see and effectively harness and direct parent efforts.

There’s evidence to suggest that’s possible. Light-touch interventions like sending text messages to parents have led to big reading gains for children, especially the most disadvantaged ones. Teaching parents how to work with their child on specific reading skills also has strong positive effects.

See Also

Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week

There’s also the issue of time. Naturally, most education policies are aimed at maximizing the impact of the hours kids spend in school. Take, for example, the push for more personalized tutoring and the growing movement to improve early reading instruction. But even if the quality of in-person instruction is high, that still leaves a lot of unused time before and after school, on weekends, holidays, and summers.

Schools could use their federal relief funds to design and implement financial incentive programs for parents and other caregivers to work with their children. Teachers and school leaders may initially resist the idea out of concerns that only some families will benefit. That could allow some kids to get ahead while others stay behind. That’s both an equity problem and a pedagogical one, if teachers have to deal with students who come into the classroom at wildly different achievement levels.

But the wealthiest families already have the most books at home and already provide the most enrichment activities for their children. Teachers already have to deal with students at different performance levels—and this got worse during the pandemic.

Parents could help fill in those gaps, if they’re asked. That could free up teacher time and other resources that schools could use to support students that are furthest behind. Successfully engaging parents in recovery efforts could add up to a potential win-win situation: kids learning more thanks to their families and schools stretching their resources.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community How to Help Parents Understand Students' Academic Needs Post-Pandemic
Transparency and authentic engagement can get everyone on the same page.
3 min read
Families & the Community Why Aren’t Parents More Worried About Declines in Student Achievement?
Most parents think their students are doing OK, which could stymie districts’ recovery efforts.
6 min read
Image of a parent helping with homework at home.
E+
Families & the Community How to Respond to Parents' CRT Complaints
Four experts have advice for district leaders on how to craft their messages on diversity, equity, and inclusion lessons and initiatives.
5 min read
People protest outside the offices of the New Mexico Public Education Department's office on Nov. 12, 2021, in Albuquerque. The education department proposed changes to the social studies curriculum that critics describe as a veiled attempt to teach critical race theory. Supporters say the new curriculum, which includes ethnic studies, is "anti-racist."
People protest outside the offices of the New Mexico Public Education Department on Nov. 12, 2021, in Albuquerque. The protesters were reacting to proposed changes to the social studies curriculum that they said were a veiled attempt to teach critical race theory.
Cedar Attanasio/AP
Families & the Community These Groups Are Pushing Back Against 'Divisive' Parents' Rights Policies
A coalition of education advocacy and family support groups wants to redefine what constitutes parents' rights.
3 min read
Illustration of adults and child in a classroom.
A-Digit/DigitalVision Vectors