Apr 252010

Parental Influence Framework

The framework below is offered to foster discussion about a key group of influencers in the lives of children.  We score kids based upon their academic results continually.   But each child starts their education at home, within their families, communities and cultures.  Our current system of standardized testing takes a snap shot – like capturing runners at the instant when  they are crossing the finish line ribbon.  What we do not have a good measure or understanding of – is how far each has traveled to get to the test day.  Parents are the primary  teachers and perhaps we need to design a method for evaluating them and their influence both positive and negative.  Here is one hastily considered proposal.

  1. Involved, networked and engaged
  2. Willing, able but unknowing
  3. Un-empowered and disenfranchised
  4. Overburdened / incapable
  5. Self absorbed
  6. Apathetic

The Need For a Framework

Conversations with teachers in communities that have a very high population of lower income students tend to focus on the daily classroom battles they have to fight to first maintain order and secondarily to teach.  Discussions with teachers from more affluent communities center on the need to provide meaning to students of all abilities.  Classroom discipline for these teachers in affluent communities is much different and may be more focused on the use of cell phones in class rather than  screening for weapons or warding off gangs that are vying for control of school territory.  Teachers in low performing schools are complaining that they are being blamed, almost exclusively,  for students that are academically unprepared and low performing on standardized tests.  But many teachers can make a coherent and convincing argument that they are working with the “products” of social  and familial systems that have failed, in many cases long before a child enters school.

In Massachusetts the school year is minimally 180 days long.  During these 180 days the law states that students must receive 900 hours of structured learning time (excludes lunch, recess, study hall, etc) which equates to 5 hours per school day.  Generally school will start at 7:30 and finish at 2:00 or 2:30 (including lunch, recess, study periods) – about 6 or 7 hours under school supervision or 1,260 hours in school during the year.  On the surface this may seem like a lot of time but not when compared to the rest of the child’s life.  The table below demonstrates that students are generally in the supervision of the school only 21% of their waking hours.

Days in Year         365 Days in School                  180
Hours per day           24 Hours in school day                     7
Hours per year      8,760 Hours per year               1,260
Adj for sleep time (8hrs)   ( 2,891 )    
Available hours per year     5,869 % of available hours 21%


During the time away from school the child is influenced by their parents, household circumstance, community, interests, peers and of course mass media.  When it comes to supervised time these children leave the school and return to their homes to be supervised by parents and guardians.  The result and impact of that out of school supervision is not rigorously measured in the same way that we measure the time spent in the school. 

An obvious but often times politically controversial question must be – What is the role of parents/guardians in the education of their children?  How do we account for the influence of the remaining 79% of a child’s waking hours on their achievement scores and on the achievement gap?  Parents and their role in their kid’s success seems to be getting little press these days and that is unfortunate.

Parents are not homogeneous.  We all know at least one parent that is on their kids back night and day creating a pressure cooker environment about the need to do well to get into one of the top schools.  These high stress parents may have all of the Baby Einstein collection, had the headphones playing Mozart during infancy, and took the time to research the best pre-K schools years prior to when their child would have been ready to enter.  For every one of these highly involved parents we also can find those parents that may have too many children, none of which are cared for well and few if any encouraged to achieve much of anything.  These parents may comply with the law, sending their child to school, but feel it is the school’s job to educate them to whatever level is required.

Parents do have a responsibility to and for their children.  In fact, American values, a term I use very cautiously because it has been so corrupted in political circles, seems to have a common thread of ensuring that each generation of Americans was able to move up the socio economic hierarchy beyond their parent’s starting point.  The classic American immigrant story is the father or mother that worked whatever job they could find, made sure their kids were ready for school each day and placed their hope for the future of their family on that next generation.  Could it be that the failure in our schools and the current  “achievement gap” is also a reflection of an erosion of core values in our society?

This line of questioning led to many conversations with teachers in both affluent and lower income schools.  The result of those conversations is captured in a framework that describes a hierarchy of parental involvement and engagement with their children’s  education. 

On one extreme are those parents that are well versed in the mainstream culture, understanding the requirements of success, understanding the college admissions process and possibly shaping their children’s future from Kindergarten.  These parents are highly involved, very aware of what is needed and networked into the right sources of information and opportunities.

On the other extreme are those parents that have all but given up their parental responsibility to others.  They are so apathetic about their children’s education or self absorbed that their children are more likely raising themselves.  Some  may be incapacitated due to substance abuse,  incarceration or a lack of desire to fulfill a parental role.  These parents are discussed often by teachers because their children need more guidance, motivation, encouragement and support.

Between these two extremes are parents that are more than willing to do what is best for their children but simply do not know how or where to begin.  In these economic times there are other parents, some with the strongest desire and best of intentions for their children, that simply do not have the time to give them as they navigate a labor market that requires multiple jobs to make a living wage.  These parents are so over burdened with work or illness that they have to sacrifice their parental role for the family’s economic survival.  Of course there are also parents that believe that the schools know best and therefore they should allow the school system to do what is best for their children.  They may be intimidated by the school’s authority and leave their child’s future to the so-called professionals.  The “drama” filled lives of some very self absorbed parents may also creates an environment where children are treated as if they are distractions burdening their parents and taking time away from their parent’s social “activities.”

  1. Involved, networked and engaged
  2. Willing, able but unknowing
  3. Un-empowered and disenfranchised
  4. Overburdened /  incapable
  5. Self absorbed
  6. Apathetic

Does the Framework Ring True?

Some would argue that in very general terms the children of each of these parental categories present very different challenges for teachers, school systems and policy makers.  Are the over achieving high stress Type A students more likely to come from the Involved, Networked and Engaged  or from Willing but Unknowing parents?  Could it be that children that are not academically motivated are more likely to come from households where Apathetic or Self Absorbed parents reside?  These are tough questions.  But the framework is not intended to describe all or any.  It is intended to be a basis for questioning assumptions, talking through social issues and opening a dialogue that is more expansive than the current focus solely on the school portion of the day. These issues, although possibly politically charged, are necessary when discussing education reform pragmatically.  The framework provides cover for a meaningful debate because it is  distanced from the underlying issues of class, race, socio economic standing and cultural heritage.

Strategic Implications

Standardized tests are designed to measure academic skills.  But they assume, implicitly in the way their results are used, that students are starting from the same point. How do you measure and account for the fact that the distance that a student has traveled in their journey through their individual socio economic hurdles may be a better indicator of success in this new emerging, multi cultural, digitally connected, global work world?  Should we therefore be reconsidering our reliance on measures of “raw” academic output tallied on the day of the test.  Or should we also be measuring  how much a child has learned over their academic career, no matter the starting point and familial circumstance?

Questionnaire on Topic (please provide your opinion on this important topic)

We have developed a 3 minute questionnaire to get your feedback on this Framework.  Please cllick here to take the survey .  After you complete the survey you will be able to see the current results which will be posted as they are collected.

 Posted by at 9:53 am

  4 Responses to “Standardized Measurements for Parenting? A Discussion Framework”

  1. I started the survey, but several of the questions are poorly constructed and answering them would produce only an illusion of meaning. One problem with your framework is that there is no realistic way to gather the data accurately. Another is that it appears to be a continuum, but it isn’t. A simplified schema like this can only further distort debate, much in the way that standardized testing has done via NCLB.

    A further problem is that your discussion seems to once again place the onus of school failure anywhere but on schools. I’ve worked in a ghetto school that was highly successful, despite a poorly educated and largely uninvolved parent body. The real problem is with a fundamentally wrong model of education. Children from advantaged backgrounds learn despite this model, not because of it. Ramping up the model for the disadvantaged won’t improve the situation.

  2. I think this is well thought out. But I think it will be a hard sell because people would rather blame teachers than take a good hard look at the reality of the situation.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cecilia Pineda Feret. Cecilia Pineda Feret said: Parents have kids 79% of waking hours.Schools 21%.Shld we grade parental involvement as we do the kids? http://ow.ly/1CYxu […]

  4. Suppose you did come up with some parental model — what would you then do with it? Give parents an official grade, and alter the weighting value of students if the parents’ grade wasn’t high enough? Would you also go so far as to alter the weighting of students whose parents were on the upper end of the scale? (no, right?).

    This looks like a pretty transparent attempt to deflect all blame from teachers or the educational establishment.

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