The internet is a wonderful place for mining quotations. Last week, I came across this pearl of wisdom in a Rand Corporation Publication.
“ … research suggests that, compared with teachers, individual and family characteristics may have four to eight times the impact on student achievement…”
Mind you, the Rand Corporation is an ultra-conservative American think tank. In this particular publication, they took aim at teachers, attempting to prove that ineffective teachers should be fired to improve public education. Ironically, the Rand Corporation immediately pointed out that home life and environment have a greater effect than teachers on a student’s overall academic success; this is not controversial. A plethora of research has long supported this.
Freddie DeBoer, in his book, The Cult of Smart, makes the salient point that both sides of researchers in this academic debate agree that a larger part of one’s academic destiny is determined outside of the classroom, be it genes or environment, even if they disagree on the cause.
Anecdotal experience bears this out. Having taught at inner city schools in New York, I can tell you that being homeless, sleeping on the subway, and not eating breakfast is not a recipe for student success. I’ve also seen clearly gifted students grow up in the most dire of circumstances, and go on to Ivy League schools and become scholars.
What does this mean for teachers?
For teachers, it doesn’t change much. It’s our job. Even if we only contribute a small fraction to the equation, that small effect can mean the difference between passing and failing, getting accepted into an Ivy League school, being promoted or held back. Teachers matter, and always will. Again, research suggests that among all the different factors that influence the impact that school can have, teacher quality trumps all. John Hattie, the dark lord of educational research, ranks teacher efficacy as the single most important factor inside schools.
Yet I keep coming back to that original quote: four to eight times is a huge difference. I’m a father as well as a teacher; I have two sons. What am I doing at home that is helping (or hindering) them? Every year, I seem to come across a new piece of research that suggests something different: keep lots of books at home; send kids to bed early; stop them from using screens; read to them from a young age; and the list goes on and on.
In the end, the research points parents in one direction: being engaged. John Hattie’s research once again rears its ugly head, suggesting parental engagement and involvement can be worth 2-3 years worth of academics at school. Being involved, be it helping with homework, attending parent teacher conferences, or just even listening to your kids at dinner, all seems to have a positive effect. Nor is the effect limited to academics. Research also suggests that it also has a positive effect on a child’s social-emotional outcomes.
In the end, education is a partnership. Just as it is incumbent upon schools to provide the best teachers, and teachers the best education, it should not be forgotten that family and home life has the power to more than double that effect, or completely negate it. Choose the former: stay engaged and let’s watch our children succeed together.