The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children’s Education

Posted by Harvard University Press on November 6, 2017

Keith Robinson and Angela L. Harris
Boston: Harvard University Press, 2014

While family engagement advocates posit that the more involved parents and families are with a child’s education the better that child will perform in school, there have been very few studies that link family engagement practices to increased academic outcomes. Thus, in “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement with Children’s Education,” Robinson and Harris seek to answer the questions: Is family engagement linked to increased student performance? Does the evidence support the notion that parent involvement is the answer to underachievement? Robinson and Harris used longitudinal survey data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) and CDS to analyze whether certain forms, if any, of parent involvement result in increased levels of success for students across socio-economic and ethnic groups.

Robinson and Harris were interested in factors that could be directly linked to achievement. Thus, they assessed numerous measures of parent involvement, both at home and in school. While some of their findings were consistent with past studies, others ran contrary to past research. For example, while many parent involvement advocates argue that actively volunteering at your child’s school, either through the PTA or at school events, increases student achievement, Robinson and Harris found that these activities are negatively associated with student achievement.

Ultimately, Robinson and Harris conclude that no clear connection exists between parental involvement and improved student performance. In fact, they even find that certain forms of involvement are associated with declines in achievement. Just because one form of parent involvement works for one student does not mean that it will work for all students. The authors note that, moving forward, it is important to understand that a student’s context matters and that parent involvement strategies should not be uniform. Robinson and Harris challenge the long-held belief that parent involvement is the solution to underachievement and suggest that policymakers and educators rethink their family engagement strategies.

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