What impact do parents have?

Originally written for Generation Next

I finally got around to reading Freakonomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner.

It’s been since about 2005, and has been on my list of “to-reads” but it always seemed to get pushed to the side for another title.

Anyway, for those who haven’t heard of it, the book is a collection of observations and statistic analyses by Steven Levitt, an award winning economist from the University of Chicago.  His co-author Stephen Dubner was a writer for the New York Times Magazine.

Levitt deconstructs everything from why Real Estate agents won’t try to get top-dollar for your property to how US teachers cheated when performance related pay was attached to their students’ grades. It’s a provocative read.

He also explores the parents behaviours and traits that influence their children’s academic progress.

And whilst only using the results of standardized tests to determine academic progress, he used the US Dept. of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that followed 20,000 students from Kindergarten through to Year 5 as his data set.

What he found gives us something to think about.

Look at the following list. See if you can pick out which of these are shown to impact on a child’s academic progress between Kindy and Year 5.

For each of the following, do you think that each factor has a positive, negative or zero impact on a child’s academic performance?

  • The child’s family is intact
  • The child has highly educated parents
  • The child’s parents have recently moved to a better neighbourhood
  • The child’s mother didn’t work between birth and kindergarten
  • The child’s parents have high socioeconomic status
  • The child is regularly smacked
  • The child’s parents regularly take him to museums etc..
  • The child frequently watches television
  • The child has many books in his home
  • The child’s parents read to him nearly every night

Have you made your choices?

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OK – The following factors have been shown to have a POSITIVE effect are:

  • The child has highly educated parents
  • The child’s parents have high socioeconomic status
  • The child has many books in his home

The other SEVEN factors have been shown to have NO impact on academic performance, either positive OR negative.

Of course a child’s performance on standardised tests is not the only measure of a good education. Any reader of my blog would know that I would never suggest otherwise,  but nevertheless, Levitt’s contentions certainly give us food for thought when parents (particularly mothers) are constantly bombarded with advice from all sectors of society.

Advice that is often critical and/or promoting a product of some sort.

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