What part do parents play in their children’s academic success? In The Smartest Kids in the World And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley presents data gleaned from the Program for International Student Achievement (aka PISA). This is an international test that compares student achievement. After the first administration of the test in 2000, Andreas Schleicher, the primary architect of the test, noticed some correlation between parental behavior and student success. Yet, not until 2009 did he convince thirteen of the test’s participating countries to include parent data in the study. The survey they received inquired about their parenting methods and level of participation in their children’s education, starting at early childhood.
The survey yielded rather unexpected results: “Parents who volunteered in their kids’ extracurricular activities had children who performed worse in reading on average, than parents who did not volunteer, even after controlling for other facts like socioeconomic background.” Only in Denmark and New Zealand did parental volunteering have a small positive impact. This data seemed to be corroborated by other studies. For example, ”Other research within the United States revealed the same mysterious dynamic.” The researchers tried to understand the reason for this seemingly contradictory result. What factors were important?
The parental behavior that did indicate significant positive returns was reading. ”When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they were fifteen.” These students scored better on the PISA than their age-mates whose parents didn’t read. As these teens matured, they also enjoyed reading more. ”In New Zealand and Germany, students whose parents had read to them regularly in their early elementary years performed almost a year and a half ahead of students whose parents had not.” Research from US confirmed the same results. What parents did at home with their children is more important that volunteering in school. Could the answer be that simple? Read to children and results last many years, even a lifetime!