Almost un-noticed, was a phenomenal report which summarized an in-depth study on the state of American education. What’s so interesting about this report of which 3,000 schools, approximately 600,000 students, and thousands of teachers were participant subjects, is that this study was conducted some 50+ years ago. Led by Johns Hopkins University sociologist James S. Coleman, in 1966 his team concluded that family background explained more about a child’s achievement than did school resources, class size, teacher quality or expenditures.
Met with unfavorable reception, the report essentially stated that schools share similar outcomes for student achievement when socio-economic background is taken into account. Not race or ethnicity, but socioeconomics! Poorer students perform poorer than their more wealthy counterparts.
Differences in school staff and facilities are irrelevant to achievement according to this report. One KEY area in which “family” and student background correlates with achievement and school performance is Parental Education.
Better-educated parents are more likely to consider the quality of the local schools when choosing a neighborhood in which to live. Once their children enter a school, educated parents are also more likely to pay attention to the quality of their children’s teachers and may attempt to ensure that their children are adequately served. By participating in parent-teacher conferences and volunteering at school, they may even encourage staff to attend to their children’s individual needs.
In addition, highly educated parents are more likely than their less-educated counterparts to read to their children. Educated parents enhance their children’s development and human capital by drawing on their own advanced language skills in communicating with their children. They are more likely to pose questions instead of directives and employ a broader and more complex vocabulary.
Estimates suggest that, by age 3, children whose parents receive public assistance hear less than a third of the words encountered by their higher-income peers. As a result, the children of highly educated parents are capable of more complex speech and have more extensive vocabularies before they even start school.
Highly educated parents can also use their social capital to promote their children’s development. A cohesive social network of well-educated individuals socializes children to expect that they too will attain high levels of academic success. It can also transmit cultural capital by teaching children the specific behaviors, patterns of speech, and cultural references that are valued by the educational and professional elite.
In most studies, parental education has been identified as the single strongest correlate of children’s success in school, the number of years they attend school, and their success later in life. Because parental education influences children’s learning both directly and through the choice of a school, it remains unknown exactly how much of the correlation can be attributed to direct impact and how much to school-related factors. Teasing out the distinct causal impact of parental education is tricky, but given the strong association between parental education and student achievement in every industrialized society, the direct impact is undoubtedly substantial.
The information gathered from this report is helpful though not conclusive in showing a true causal relationship between parental education and academic outcomes for children or student performance. What is does indicate very clearly to us all is that within the framework of education, there must be a strong family component. Families ARE the greatest determinant of academic and classroom readiness and influence academic achievement at school. It is about time that we re-imagine education- more inclusive, respectful of diversity, safe, supportive and healthy learning environments where parents are constant, consistent and collaborative allies with educators.
We must empower engage and partner with parents at school, and connect them to learning and connect them with their child’s learning, as well. What the takeaway is from this report is once again: “It’s all about FAMILY!”