Using data from the HSE University longitudinal study Trajectories in Education and Careers (TrEC), Ilya Prakhov, Olga Kotomina and Alexandra Sazhina determined which forms of family engagement in the school are useful and which are harmful to the student.
This study makes it possible to monitor students’ entire educational path (for example, their complete secondary education plus university, or their first nine grades plus a college or technical school).
The students surveyed for this study were in the ninth grade in 2012 and by 2015 were in universities and colleges or on the labour market. The TrEC contains data on the students’ academic performance and their parents’ SES (with cultural capital traditionally measured by the number of books in the family’s home library).
In this study, the dependent variables were students’ educational achievements, measured primarily as scores on the BSE and USE, and their educational trajectories, while the constants were the different forms of parental engagement in their children’s education (controlling for students’ gender and the characteristics of their family and school).
The researchers identified four main factors that describe patterns of parental engagement. The first is parental control, such as checking that homework is completed and calling teachers about grades.
The second factor is total engagement (the full spectrum of parental activity, from ensuring that homework is completed and hiring tutors to participating in school board meetings).
The third factor is when parents are reasonably engaged by, for example, giving their children additional literature and attending parent-teacher meetings. The fourth factor is organizational: family members join the parents’ committee and organize extracurricular events.
It turned out that when parents take an active part in school meetings, hire tutors and provide auxiliary literature to their children, the students score higher on the BSE and USE. These forms of assistance increase the likelihood that children will finish out their high school education and go on to university. Membership in the parents’ committee, however, has no effect.
As Ilya Prakhov explains, participation in such activities as school meetings lowers the risk of receiving inaccurate information.
“Being properly informed is an important element in choosing an educational trajectory and succeeding in it,” the researcher said. “At parent-teacher meetings for upperclassmen, parents can receive information on the correct approach for taking the USE, whether additional exam prep classes are available, possible cooperation between the school and universities, and Academic Olympics competitions.”
However, recruiting tutors and supplying additional literature does not help in every school subject. It has a positive correlation with USE results in Russian, but the connection for math is not as clear. Here, the type of school plays a significant role, with formal education trumping the role of tutoring.
The new study shows that a family can also be overly engaged. The child needs ‘a certain degree of independence in decision-making. This will favourably affect the incentives to study at school and choose a future path,’ Mr Prakhov said.
A measured amount of family engagement – as well as helping with, but not strictly controlling homework — also has a positive correlation to students’ educational success and whether they go on to study at university.
On the other hand, the habit that, “helicopter parents” have of ‘hovering’ over their children to check on homework and grades is definitely harmful and leads to lower U.S.E. scores. Excessive parental control has a particularly harmful influence on exam scores for ninth graders.
“Here, we are probably seeing the opposite effect: the child is studying poorly and so the parents are forced to take matters in hand,” the researcher said. “However, exercising total control over a high school student’s homework can cause them to protest or rebel, decreasing the motivation to improve academic performance. This can adversely affect USE results and, as a result, limit the choice of universities that will admit the student.”
Meanwhile, parental engagement depends on the type of family – its educational level, income and cultural interests. As mentioned above, in families with a high SES, parents devote greater attention to their child’s studies, but their engagement is more likely to be reasonable and measured.
The type of high school also has a bearing on USE results, with those offering advanced courses and schools of higher status being the most effective.
The study also found that girls score higher on the BSE than boys do and family characteristics have a positive correlation to ninth-graders’ final grades. At the same time, the type of school has little influence at this stage. In other words, the family – in terms of both its characteristics and its level of engagement in the child’s studies – plays the greatest role in middle schoolers’ academic performance.
It was also found that attending parent-teacher meetings, hiring tutors and supplying additional literature helps students entering high school grades 10 and 11.
However, researchers also noted that a stable progression from the ninth to the eleventh grades was the most important factor behind the strong Russian and math scores on the USE that are so crucial to university admissions.
Thus, family support at the earlier stages of education can influence academic success in the final year of study, even if the nature of this influence has changed. In other words, a family’s investment of time, effort and money in the child’s education has a long-term positive effect.
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