The family is a key element in every person’s life; they have the greatest impact on a child’s socialization (Macionis 70). Socialization is a learned behavior that remains with a person his entire life. Family influences nearly every aspect of children’s life, including their education. Increasing evidence indicates that “schools are not solely responsible for promoting our young people’s academic success; rather, families must be engaged in helping youths develop the knowledge and skills they need to function in tomorrow’s workplace” (Israel 43). Therefore, the question is not whether parents influence education, but rather how and to what extent they do. A variety of explanations exist, including the size of the family, the parenting techniques, and the family’s economic status.
Why do some parents become involved in their children’s elementary and secondary education? Three major constructs are believed to be central to parents’ basic involvement decisions. First, a parents’ role construction defines parents’ beliefs about what they are supposed to do in their children’s education and appears to establish the basic range of activities that parents construe as important, necessary, and permissible for their own actions with and on behalf of children. Second, parents’ sense of efficacy for helping their children succeed in school focuses on the extent to which parents believe that through their involvement they can exert positive influence on their children’s educational outcomes. Third, general invitations, demands, and opportunities for involvement refer to parents’ perceptions that the child and school want them to be involved. However, even well-designed school programs inviting involvement will meet with only limited success if they do not address issues of parental role construction and parental sense of efficacy for helping children succeed in school.
One theory suggests that the chief reason why a student’s family life affects his/her education is based on the size of the family. More specifically, it suggests that those coming from a family with fewer children perform better academically than those coming from a family with many children. One main reason for this is attributed to the “dilution of familial resources available to children in large families and a concentration of such resources in small ones” (Blake 11). For example, in families with many children the parents have less time, less emotional and physical energy, less attention to give, and less ability to interact with children as individuals (Blake 11). Another reason that attention may be diluted is because of the many siblings. Often the mother is pregnant or recovering from pregnancy, which lessens her ability to care for the children. In addition, money is also often diluted. Blake says of that:
This type of dilution involves not only the parents’ treatment of individual children–the ability to provide personal living space, cultural advantages such as travel, specialized instruction such as music lessons, specialized medical or dental care, as well as continuous and advanced schooling–but, as well, to provide settings the advantages of which are not divisible: living in a desirable neighborhood, or having a wide range of excellent reading material or recorded music in the house. (11)
This suggests that children coming from a poor background are already at an educational disadvantage, possibly even before any formal schooling occurs. Travel enables a child to become a more cosmopolitan person and teaches children about the different cultures of the world. Music teaches dedication and helps with memorization skills.
Other problems are associated with large families as well. A study by Lori Heise and Jane Roberts showed that children from large families don’t interact with others outside the family group as much as those in a smaller family, which can limit their understanding of certain social roles (Blake 11). It also places them at a disadvantage in school, where they make not have many friends or feel “left out.” This can lead to poor grades. This is so because the child may become depressed and find it hard to focus on schoolwork. Without friends to greet them, many times the child chooses not to even go to school.
In addition, in families where lots of children are around, the intellectual level may be more “childlike,” so kids aren’t exposed to adult conversation, vocabulary, and interests (Blake 11). The children spend most of their time playing with other children. In a family with one or few children, the child often has no other choice than to play with their parent/s.
Similarly, the older siblings may often baby-sit or be treated as the “adult figure,” meaning that the parents are not as involved. The older children are often expected to help take care of his or her brothers or sisters. The parents are not home as often when a babysitter is available.
Having a large family can also lead to financial burden and in turn a burden on the child’s academic success. It is often thought that income does not affect one’s education until college; after all, education until that point is free. Studies have shown otherwise. It was found that only-child boys were twice as likely to graduate from high school as boys from families of seven or more, and the same holds true for girls (Blake 41). Of the graduates, there is again a large gap between the two groups for college attendance (meaning that children without siblings are much more likely to attend college than those from large families).
However, the distinction is not as large as in high school graduation rates. Once in college, family size has a relatively small effect on the number of years of college schooling a student receives (Blake 45). This indicates that the higher the level of schooling, the less family size is influential. Blake suggests that this is due to the many from large families who drop out of school and who are retained multiple times (Blake 45).
One study shows that students coming from a small family do better on achievement test. Twenty-seven percent of boys in grades 1-5 with five siblings or more scored below average on these tests. Compare that number to the twenty percent of boys in the same grade level who were only children (Blake 262). As the number of siblings in the family increased, his or her score on the test decreased.
Having many brothers and sisters could also be seen as beneficial to students, especially if a child is the youngest. Parents have often graduated twenty years prior to when their children are attending school. Therefore, they may not remember the material in order to help their children. Older brothers and sisters, on the other hand, would be more familiar with the subjects and could tutor their siblings. Therefore, students could improve by having a large family. While this theory of family size affecting one’s education is valid and holds true in many cases, it is not solid enough to be the sole explanation.
A second explanation as to why family plays such a large role in education is parenting techniques.
Problems of school adjustment such as academic failure, underachievement, and disciplinary problems often arise from a combination of information-processing difficulties, attention-deficit disorders, school or performance anxiety, and low motivation. These problems in turn have been linked to specific domains of family life (e.g., family conflict, communication, and organization). (Medway and Cafferty 137)
Studies have shown that many of the problems that children have in schools are associated with different parenting styles. Learning disabilities, poor task orientation, attention deficits, and low academic achievement can be caused by an unstable family life, where conflicts are handled through threats, counter-threats, and poor communication (Medway and Cafferty 138). Parents of children with disabilities are found to be more authoritarian and controlling than parents of “normal” children. Problems of underachievement in schooling can be attributed to parent-child conflicts, low levels of parental availability, and lack of openness between the parent and child. Studies have shown that students with performance anxiety, procrastination, and passive aggressive behavior in school are likely to come from over organized families, where parents are overprotective, restrictive, intrusive, controlling, and dominating (Medway and Cafferty 138).
According to psychologist Glenn Israel, a more recent study produced similar results, stressing that parents should help their children with their homework, discuss important school activities with them, and hold high educational aspirations for them (48). They should also limit television viewing, provide adult supervision when their children come home from school, and monitor homework. Doing so was proven to result in better academic performance and staying in school (Israel 48).
Other causes for students to perform better in school involves the child’s social behavior, which are a reflection of the family, particularly the parents. For example, children who move frequently are generally unable to feel integrated in the community’s social structure. On the other hand, the more groups a student is involved in (scouts, religious affiliations, etc), the greater his/ her socialization skills. Better socialization skills can in turn be linked to better school performance (Israel 49).
Parenting techniques contribute largely to a child’s academic performance, though this theory is probably the least credible of the three. It is obvious that a parent’s behavior affects his/her child, and their education, but the evidence was too stereotypical. It is outrageous to assume that because a child has a learning disability he/ she comes from an unstable home life. There are many other reasons that influence that, including biology and genetics. However, I strongly agree with the socialization aspects of this argument.
Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner says, “Children are most significantly influenced by their parents; therefore, if parents have few friends and are uninvolved in community activities, children are likely to be the same way” (40). Socialization definitely plays a role in academic performance, especially at the age of adolescence, when “fitting in” is so important to students (Bronfenbrenner 40). It is also obvious that parents playing a role in their child’s education is beneficial. Students need the motivation to perform well. If they don’t receive it, they will not be as successful. True as this may be, parenting technique is not the sole answer to this question of how parenting styles affect a child’s academic success.
The third reason often used to explain the connection between family life and a student’s education is the economic position of the student’s family. Children often base their goals on their parents’ achievements.
A study showed that while all parents would like their children to receive high levels of education and a prestigious career, low-income parents seem to set lower standards. They are satisfied with lower levels of education and less prestigious jobs
Students from lower-income families suffer other disadvantages as well. Economic hardship and stress have been known to affect the relationship between the parent and child. In addition, if the socioeconomic status of the student is low, the amount of parental support, control, and consistency is often low as well. A study by Saucier and Ambert revealed, “Adolescents from intact families have been found to be more optimistic about the future than those from homes in which there has been a separation, divorce, or parental death” (Brantlinger 154).
The amount of parental involvement with education was also found to vary with income. Most students studied claim that their parents attended conferences and activities in elementary school, but there became a gap during junior high and high school. High-income students say their parents still attended, while low-income students’ parents did not. Additionally, high-income adolescents’ parents were much more likely to receive help with schoolwork, such as editing written assignments, than were low-income parents. This could be a result of the education the parents had received.
After all, low-income parents had often dropped out of school prior to graduation, while high-income parents had high-levels of educational attainment (Brantlinger 156). A study by Carlos Torres and Theodore Mitchell showed that powerful more affluent parents played a significant role in maintaining a “…hierarchical track structure…” for their child. These parents ensured that their children did well in school. This was made achievable possibly through extra help, tutoring, and increasing the pressure placed on the child to do well (163).
Family size and parenting techniques can be related to wealth differences. For example, the smaller the family, the higher the proportion of the income can be spent on the child(ren). Those with better parenting techniques also have a higher economic standing than other parents. Better parenting methods can be linked to the parents having received a higher education. In turn, they often have more money.
While it was found that family size and parenting techniques affect one’s education, it is merely because of wealth. For example, it is not the actual number of people in the family, but the amount of money the family has because of the number of members. Economics are the key factor as to why one’s family life affects one’s education, and it’s a cycle. Children often grow up to be in the same economic class as the family he came from. Therefore, if a parent didn’t attend college, the student is less likely to (Shumow 37).
So why does one’s family life affect his education. The answer can be summed up in one word: money.
So what can we do about this problem? How can we give economically disadvantaged children a good education? There are several options: For one state funding for poorer schools could be increased. Also, if poor communities applied for grants, they could use them to fund their schools. There are also programs out there to help poor schools. The SETA Head Start Program and the Equity in Education Project were developed for the purpose of improving the lives of low-income children by providing “quality, comprehensive, child development services that are family focused, including education, health, nutrition, and mental health” (Head Start Home Page Screen 1.) By getting communities involved and educated about programs such as these it is very possible to prevent educational disadvantages like coming from a low-income household or neighborhood.
No matter how many elected school officials declare that “poverty is not an excuse” for poor school performance, the fact remains that children in poverty do not achieve well in school. In a study by Abt Associates, researchers examined the performance of children in high- and low-poverty schools. High-poverty schools were defined as those with 76% or more of the student body eligible for free or reduced-price lunches; low-poverty schools had 20% or less of the student body eligible for federally subsidized lunches. The researchers first divided the students into categories A, B, C, or D–depending on what grade they commonly took home on their report cards.
Then they looked at performance on achievement tests. Students in low-poverty schools who got A’s on their report cards scored as one would expect: 87th percentile in math, 81st in reading. Students in high-poverty schools who got A’s scored higher than their classmates who got lower grades, but they attained only the 36th percentile in reading and the 35th in math (Cirasulo 44). One can only imagine the sledgehammer that will hit these students when they have to compete with students from more affluent schools.
What is so depressing about this is the fact that education is the only way to get out of poverty. Education is the only intervention that can help children from poor families escape the cycle. In addition to giving young people basic skills, education can make them aware of opportunities beyond the ghetto. The few who escape the problems of crime, drugs, prostitution, and unwed motherhood are those who have received help from committed teachers and social workers. Schools cannot create jobs or carry all the burdens of a community, but they can make a vital contribution if they are allowed to focus on their primary mission of education.
Teachers do not create jobs for poor people, and they cannot erase the damage done by drugs. Granted, schools cannot take on all the burdens of the communities they serve; they should be allowed to focus on what they insist is their reason for existence — the education of children. When it comes to the educational success of a child, money should never be a factor. Unfortunately money is a factor and there is never enough to fulfill the needs of a child.