The Family: America’s Smallest School
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The Family: America’s Smallest School

Conducted by: Paul E. Barton, Richard J. Coley, Policy Evaluation and Research Center, Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service

Released: September 2007

Download PDF: (pdf)

Overview: Families play a critical role in the education of their children. This report, an update of one done in 1992, notes that although state and national efforts to raise student achievement and reduce achievement gaps has intensified, there has been little in public policy that addresses the role of the family.

This report highlights some of the important family characteristics and home conditions that research has found makes a significant difference in children’s cognitive development and school achievement. The focus of the report is primarily on the family. The authors recognize that schools play a key role in their improvement however, raising achievement and closing gaps is the work of both schools and outside forces, including the family.

Children’s family and home experiences are examined, particularly those factors that influence learning. The report looks at differences in these critical experiences, often by race/ethnicity and socio-economic status. Statistics and findings are provided from many sources including: research studies, national census and data bases, and international surveys.

The report is addresses the following topics:

  1. The Parent-Pupil Ratio
  2. Family Finances
  3. Literacy Development
  4. The Extended Family: The Child Care Dimension
  5. The Home as an Educational Resource
  6. The Parent-School Relationship
  7. Putting It Together: Estimating the Impact of Family and Home on Student Achievement

Key Findings:

  • Gaps in critical home experiences mirror the gaps in early school achievement – gaps that persist through the end of high school.
  • Parent involvement in children’s learning and school and good communication between parents and school staff improves students’ success in school.
  • The uneven distribution of income and wealth in the United States is intertwined with the huge disparities in the literacy and academic achievement of students.
  • The quality of child care is most important during the first three years of life, when child-parent verbal interaction makes a critical difference in language development.
  • Parents need to be informed of what they can do to support school achievement including: getting students off to school, establishing rules for viewing television and reading/talking with young children. Parents who are willing, but unable to do these things will need support.
  • Parents, educators and policy leaders need to fully understand that raising student achievement involves much more than improving what goes on in classrooms.
  • Addressing these issues is a shared responsibility amongst a wide range of leaders and decision-makers including: elected officials, community leaders and school system administrators.

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