Father Involvement and School Performance

Much has been written of the demands on today’s women: they must balance family, career, and home duties. They must seamlessly transition from traditional to non-traditional roles and back again. What is often lost is that men are doing just the same thing. Whether that means more time dealing with the kids’ youth sports, helping with homework, or (gasp!) baking a batch of cookies when their kids’ friends are over, good fathering has taken on aspects of good mothering for many couples. While some recoil from the new world, others note the hidden positives of taking on the traditionally “motherly” duties – and nowhere are those positives more in evidence than when it comes to a father’s involvement in his kids’ educations.

When the Father is Absent

Researcher Brent McBride of the University of Illinois has studied the role of the father in a child’s education for years. One of his findings is right in line with earlier studies: the universally lower attainment of children when the father (or father figure) is absent. That made him wonder what magical effect a father has on a child’s education. Was it a matter of the stability of a father being on the scene? If a mother were involved enough, would a child do as well as if a father were present in the mix? From the starting point of single-parent families, where children had significantly reduced statistical success, McBride went on to study the role of the father when present.

The Father’s Role(s)

McBride studied a number of kinds of parental involvement in education: talking to kids about what is going on in school; attendance at PTA meetings and child-teacher conferences; and the quality of interaction between parents and teachers/administrators.

Then he looked at the differences between mother-only and mother/father joint responsibility. There seemed to be a benefit to the father’s involvement over and above the mother’s involvement in a child’s education.

The takeaway: even controlling for all other variables, and even if you think your wife can “handle” all involvement in your child’s education, there is a value to sharing the responsibilities.

Be that father.

What You Can Do

There are many ways to help give your child the “edge” by getting involved early. The behaviors McBride studied are a good start: Ask your child what is going on in school, and what he or she learned that day. Attend PTA meetings and parent-teacher conferences. Communicate constructively with teachers and administrators – not just as a champion of your child’s short-term interests.

Every parent thinks his child deserves a higher grade. Although you may have to push for your child’s rights at times, do not approach your child’s school only as if you are a “consumer” of its services. Teachers often have insights on behaviors a child does not display at home. Listen to teachers about your child’s challenges at school. Ask how you can help. If homework quality is shoddy when the television is always on, don’t fight for shoddy work to be accepted. Instead, ban the TV. Communicate with teachers or administrators as a partner in your child’s education, not as an adversary.

You can help kids prepare for tests – especially if you are communicating well enough to know they are coming up! Helping with homework and projects also establish that you take your kids’ education seriously. But remember, success is defined by your child learning – it does not help a child learn math for you to do the problems for them. But if you show them the principals they need to know to work the problem, and check their progress, they will master the concepts themselves.

A Question of Balance

Just as modern fathers have to find a balance of work, parenting, and home responsibilities, you and your wife have to find the right balance between mother and father in your child’s education. If you are a single father, a heavy burden is on your shoulders, but bear in mind that you are reinforcing the importance of education whenever you take an active interest in it.

How much attention is too much? Your child will tell you, in no uncertain terms.

But don’t always believe him!