A Smarter Beginning 

Helping Your Child with Homework Doesn’t Work

April 13, 2014 / by Susan Sirigatti

8454238351_d692068536_m Are you a busy parent trying to fit helping your child with homework into your full schedule? Well, relax!  A recent large study shows that helping your child with homework doesn’t lead to improved academic performance. In fact, it can have negative effects. (Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris, The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education. Harvard University Press, January 2014.)

Parent Involvement That Doesn’t Help

Other parental practices that don’t increase your child’s academic achievement are strict rules regarding homework, punishment for bad grades, meeting often with teachers and school personnel, observing your child’s classes, and affecting the choice of your child’s high school courses. In fact, these can lead to higher levels of anxiety and fewer positive feelings on the part of the child towards school. This can result in lower achievement.

The Study

In doing this study, Robinson and Harris wanted to question a widespread belief regarding children’s academic achievement. That belief was that parents needed to be involved in their children’s education. The idea was that more active parents could get their kids to achieve more. This idea has been pushed by the government since the late 1960’s in an effort to involve parents with their children’s educations. In fact, millions of dollars have been spent on it. It was then reinforced in 2001 with No Child Left Behind.  But until now, there was little research to back up this belief (www.theatlantic.com/…don’t-help-you-kids-with-their-homework/35863).

12937013813_38f3610069_mThe study done by Robinson and Harris examined almost 30 years of surveys of 25,000 American students as well as family questionnaires. The question on the researchers’ minds was whether the children of involved parents showed greater improvement. They used 63 measures of parental involvement in children’s education including homework help, conversations about plans after high school graduation and parental volunteering at school. Then they compared parental involvement with the children’s academic performance.

Parental Involvement Produces Few Positive Results

 Their findings were that parental involvement produces few positive academic results for children. These findings were consistent across race, socioeconomic status, and amount of education of the parents. To be clear, Robinson in an interview, points out that “affluent children with good academic success do have involved parents, it’s just that that’s not the reason they have success” (www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/parents-arent-talking-enough-about-post-high-school-plans/).

While the study showed that most parental involvement in homework and school related issues wasn’t important, Robinson is quick to say that “parents actually do matter.” What the study did show is that the most positive way parents can actively affect their children’s achievement is by talking to them about their plans after they graduate from high school. These conversations can begin as early as the 2nd grade. He believes this connects the child’s present activity to future goals and sets up what he calls a “bridge” that kids can understand. He also says that reading aloud to children from the earliest age has been shown by many studies to be a very effective positive involvement.

Are the results of this study a surprise to you? Please share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

 Photo credit 1: cplong11/Foter/Creative Commons attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0);  Photo credit 2: bmitd67/Foter/Creative Commons attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)



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