Home > Uncategorized > This Just In: Parents Education Has Impact on Child’s Success in School… Confirming a Findings from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s

This Just In: Parents Education Has Impact on Child’s Success in School… Confirming a Findings from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s

When I began my career in the Philadelphia area in the 1970s , the State of Pennsylvania developed a state wide assessment called the Education Quality Assessment that was administered to students across the state. It provided administrators, journalists, and graduate school researchers with a trove of data on correlations between test scores and demographic factors and here was the finding: a child’s success in school correlated highest with the mother’s education and the father’s occupational prestige. Then, as now, occupational prestige and education attainment were correlated, though the correlation is in all likelihood higher today than it was at that time when many men could be factory foremen or even superintendents of factories without a college degree. The conclusion that journalists seem to draw was this: if you teach in an affluent district you are a much better teacher than if you teach in an urban district or an economically distressed rural district.

Now, 40+ years later we have rediscovered this same reality in a slightly different form: Education Week blogger Catherine Gewertz reviewed a recent report from NCES and headlined her findings thus: “First Generation College Students Face Challenges in High School Too“. She summarized the findings as follows:

The report draws on the experiences of more than 45,000 students in three ongoing longitudinal studies. Among those who graduated from high school in 2003-04, only 27 percent of first-generation students took high-level math courses such as trigonometry/statistics/precalculus, compared to 43 percent of their peers with college-educated parents. Only 7 percent took calculus, while 22 percent of the students with college-going backgrounds took calculus.

Forty-four percent of the students with college-educated parents earned college credit through Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, compared to 18 percent of first-generation students.

First-generation students were less likely to choose an “academically focused curriculum,” too, which NCES defines as four years of English, two credits of the same foreign language, three years of math including a course higher than Algebra 2, three years of science including one class higher than general biology, three years of social studies including U.S. or world history.

Students without college-going parents were less likely to finish high school in a given period of time, too. The study shows that 92 percent of first-generation students who were sophomores in 2002 had finished high school 10 years later—by earning a diploma or equivalency credential—compared to 97 percent of peers whose parents had some college experience and 98 percent of those whose parents had bachelor’s degrees.

As one who grew up in a household where both parents had college degrees, headed a similar household, but worked mostly with students whose parents had no college degree as a teacher and administrator, I can attest to the different mindset that college educated parents bring to bear on their children. First and foremost, as a child and parent, there was never a question regarding college attendance other than which college one would attend. As a HS administrators serving parents who mostly lacked college degrees, I witnessed indifference toward seeking entry into college or, in some cases, downright opposition to seeking a degree…. particularly in instances where the student in question was female and aspired to something other than teaching or nursing.

When students lack the push at home to achieve in school, don’t hear the mantra “if you don’t apply yourself you won’t be able to get into college”, or aren’t encouraged to challenge themselves with the courses they take, they will too often take the course of least resistance, which is to avoid tough courses and take only the minimum credits required.

The reality is this: the children of parents who support their academics and understand what is needed to get into college still outshine the children of parents who are indifferent toward academics or are hostile toward schooling altogether. While this might be discouraging news, there is another reality I witnessed in my six years as a high school administrator in the late 1970s: one teacher can really make a difference! If a teacher connects with a child and sees a talent or a spark in that child they can motivate the student to enroll in more difficult courses and to aspire to an education that exceeds that of their parents even if the parents are resistant. In an era where parents can point to many people they know who went to college and never “made it”, making that connection is what is needed… but making those kinds of connections cannot be readily measured on a standardized test like the Education Quality Assessment and so it is undervalued.

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