About parent involvement: Not important? REALLY?

ptaIt’s been two days since the New York Times published a piece entitled, “Parent Involvement is Overrated“.   It was written by two researchers who are soon to publish a book based on their study with the intriguing title: The Broken Compass: Is Social Policy on Parental Involvement Misguided?”  I smiled while imagining seismic rumblings as researchers and bloggers prepare their attacks on this study by two professors, one from the University of Texas and the other from Princeton.

Love me some JayJay

Love me some JayJay

Personally, I didn’t have to wait long to hear a response from a fellow educator.  My wife Danielle (@dmgately), who is also a middle school leader, sat across from me at the Sunday breakfast table, reading the paper on her device.  I airdropped the article for her to read [astute readers and marriage experts may point out, “Don, she was sitting 3 1/2 feet away from you, couldn’t you have just TOLD her about the article?” To which I will reply, “Hey, you have your Sunday routines, we have ours.”] and of course, as usual, she had already read it.   She was quick to point out, “The study is based on standardized test scores and grades, we can’t decry the overemphasis on testing and then align ourselves with studies that rely on test scores to make their points.”

Okay, well,  touché to that, but the article definitely invites reflection. In case you didn’t see it,  here are some of the points it makes:

  • Most forms of parent involvement yield no benefit to children’s test scores or grades, regardless of racial or ethnic background or socio-economic standing
  • Children had HIGHER levels of achievement when their parents were LESS involved
  • Consistent homework help almost NEVER improves test scores or grades (when parents regularly helped with homework, kids usually performed worse)

At this point you must be thinking this entire post is an April Fool’s joke but it’s not. Read the piece yourself. When I encountered the study, my reaction was a combination of surprise, bemusement, and personal reflection. I have preached parent involvement with near religious fervor for many years, what do I do now? I actually like helping my kids with their homework, I’m always so proud when I can solve a 4th grade Common Core math task with my daughter. At the same time, I have a keen interest in contrarian or “here’s another way to look at it” research (I’ve pre-ordered the box set of Malcom Gladwell and I keep Freakonomics on my nightstand). So I will maintain an open mind and read the book when it comes out.  However, as I said, I am truly eager to read the response from the field.

From what I read, the book takes up the lack of benefit of parent involvement for one’s own children, but what about the value-added to the school by involved parents?

As a principal, I genuinely value the input of parents as stakeholders in our school. The more knowledgeable parents are, the better. I am proud that parent involvement at our school means so much more than bake sales and raffles (actually, our PTSA has a non-fundraising charter so they you’ll never see a parent at my school sell a cupcake or a raffle ticket). Lisa Davis is a parent at my school. Lisa, along with Gwen Pescatore, another super knowledgeable parent, publishes a must-read blog for parents entitled ParentsSchoolPartners. They also moderate a Twitter chat at #PtChat that recently featured U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan as a facilitator, not too shabby!


Last year was the first full year of implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards in New York State. When parents at our school became more involved as stakeholders, the educators at our school learned valuable information about the trouble students were having at home with math. We organized focus groups of parents who clued us in to these struggles and helped us put in place resources for students to learn better and for parents to help their children. We also initiated the Olweus Bully Prevention Program last year that has been a welcome addition to our already comprehensive anti-bullying efforts. Parents are vital partners in this effort. They serve on our Bully Prevention Committee and offer a critical perspective to the diversity of kids’ experiences at our school.

I never take for granted how fortunate we are in our community for the level of parental support we receive for our efforts.  I don’t know about Broken Compasses but kids at our school experience unparalleled success, largely due to the support they receive from their parents. I vote that we keep doing what we’re doing.

About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
This entry was posted in Educational Focus, Inside the Middle School, Personal Best, Reflections and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to About parent involvement: Not important? REALLY?

  1. Susan Katz says:

    Hi Don,

    I read the article you referenced and found it provocative to say the least. If I recall, it was negative on parent involvement of one kind but did not address how parents can be effective.

    After many years of parenting I think that parents should set goals that focus on preparing their child to live a quality life. I include living a productive and successful life with integrity in my goals because when all is said and done, it is not the SAT score or the rank in class or the college attended that will matter. A successful parent/child relationship will result in good character development, insightful interpersonal relationship skills, independent thinking, self awareness as well as the ability to manage all of life’s challenges independently and with confidence.

    I think parents can set the stage of life for their kids as they guide them with moral support, love and nurturing involvement. It takes being present in your child’s life to foster a life long conversation with your child.

    Our kids need to take responsibility for their actions and non actions from an early age. When all goes well, it’s great to let the child know that he is doing well. Just do not go overboard with praise. When things are not going well, lovingly guide the child to figure out what is wrong and how he can remedy the problem. I say, let the child own his success and own his struggles knowing that you are on the journey with him.

    Parents should not do homework with or for their child. Parents should do their own HOMEWORK when they parent their child.


    On Tue, Apr 15, 2014 at 7:47 PM, In the middle of learning – by Donald

    • dfgately says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Susan. One of the things it says parents should do is to encourage college aspiration. Another, and I’m almost hesitant to say this, is to request a specific teacher for your child. This is one of the few times I hope only a few people notice my blog. 🙂

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