The influence of parental involvement on a student’s academic success should not be underestimated. While brain power, work ethic, and even genetics all play important roles in student achievement, the determining factor comes down to what kind of support system she has at home.
Students with two parents operating in supportive roles are 52% more likely to enjoy school and get straight A’s than students whose parents are disengaged with what’s going on at school. This is especially the case during the earliest years of schooling, in Kindergarten through the 5th grade, when students with active parents are almost twice as likely to succeed. Once students enter middle school, the effect diminishes slightly—possibly because they are maturing during this time— but there is still a 22% difference.
The data shows, predictably, that having one parent involved is better than having none at all. Interestingly, as far as behavior is concerned—being held back or expelled— having a supportive mother makes a slightly more positive difference than having a supportive father. Having a supportive father, however, leads to slightly higher grades than having a supportive mother.
Just as there seems to be critical period for parental support in terms of general academic success (K-5), there is also a critical period for parental support with regard to “school readiness.” Before a student enters primary school, her parents have a huge influence on how well she will perform. Did her parents introduce her to the alphabet? Did they read to her every night? Did they teach her to count? It appears that a parent’s level of involvement in school readiness correlates significantly with that parent’s own educational attainment.
Parents with advanced degrees are 3.5 times as likely as parents without high school degrees to teach their children the alphabet, 2.4 times more likely to teach them to count to 20, 1.8 times as likely to teach them how to write their first name, and 2.8 times more likely to read to them daily. Even the difference in involvement between parents with advanced degrees and parents with bachelor’s degrees hovers around 10%. Almost without exception, parents at each successive level of education send their children to school better prepared than parents who are less educated. This suggests just how delicate beginnings can be in a child’s educational development, and just how important it is for less educated parents to try to be more involved.
Another key to sustained academic success is progressing through each grade level with confidence and mastery. But even if the parental support is there, financial setbacks can pose serious problems. Between 1996 and 2007, the percentage of “low-income” students typically held back a grade reached 25%, while the percentage of “non-poor” students remained low and relatively constant.
This data reflects the unfortunate reality that successful adults are overwhelmingly found to emerge from supportive middle or upper class families. For more information on this effect, dubbed “concerted cultivation,” see social scientist Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success (2008).