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In a world of standardized tests, should parents drop out of trying to help?

In a world of standardized tests, should parents drop out of trying to help?

The Atlantic: Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework

Remember Melissa Harris-Perry’s proclamation that your kids aren’t really your kids, but “these are our children?”

At first glance, a recent article by Dana Goldstein in The Atlantic smacked of all the same overtones the Harris-Perry commercial had.

Namely, it seemed to convey that parents should surrender their children to the state, and they will be better prepared to succeed in life.

Do you review your daughter’s homework every night? Robinson and Harris’s data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education, show that this won’t help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.

Similarly, students whose parents frequently meet with teachers and principals don’t seem to improve faster than academically comparable peers whose parents are less present at school. Other essentially useless parenting interventions: observing a kid’s class; helping a teenager choose high-school courses; and, especially, disciplinary measures such as punishing kids for getting bad grades or instituting strict rules about when and how homework gets done. This kind of meddling could leave children more anxious than enthusiastic about school, Robinson speculates. “Ask them ‘Do you want to see me volunteering more? Going to school social functions? Is it helpful if I help you with homework?’ ” he told me. “We think about informing parents and schools what they need to do, but too often we leave the child out of the conversation.

Perhaps Goldstein was looking to echo Harris-Perry’s sentiments, but I did not reach that conclusion after reading her article. Depending on the lens you use to view this data, it can be looked at one of two ways.

First, one could come to the conclusion that parents need to back off and let schools do the child-rearing for them. Perhaps we ought to call this the Harris-Perry lens.

I viewed the data differently, however. It seemed merely to indicate there needs to be a balance between parental involvement, and a child’s autonomy. In this respect, the study confirms much of my own anecdotal experiences coming up in elementary, middle, and high school.

Those experiences showed the kids with hyper-involved parents were ultimately hamstrung by them. Every time a problem arose, the solution was found by running to a parent, who was always there to iron out the wrinkles. These are the same children that were never once told “no,” growing up. The same ones whose parents wanted to “give their child everything,” and did.

As we fear hyper-paternalism of the state, we also should fear hyper-paternalism at home, as each fosters the same inept product: a dependent adult.

The data Goldstein highlighted in her piece showed, at least to me, that a child’s success did not depend on how involved their parents were at school, but rather, what the environment was like when the child came home.

As part of his research, Robinson conducted informal focus groups with his undergraduate statistics students at the University of Texas, asking them about how their parents contributed to their achievements. He found that most had few or no memories of their parents pushing or prodding them or getting involved at school in formal ways. Instead, students described mothers and fathers who set high expectations and then stepped back. “These kids made it!,” Robinson told me. “You’d expect they’d have the type of parental involvement we’re promoting at the national level. But they hardly had any of that. It really blew me away.”

I disagree with Goldstein’s interpretation of the study that parents shouldn’t help their children with their homework. Just as hyper-paternalism isn’t the best way to facilitate learning, neither is laissez-faire parenting. We should not trade one extreme for the other.

Rather, the data indicated parents should be accessible, but not overbearing. They should be concerned, but not controlling. You can be very invested in your child’s education without also being President of the PTA. I think the study corroborates that viewpoint, even if only indirectly.

In short, help your kids with their homework. Just don’t do it for them.

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Help with homework must be done carefully.
In college Physics (a well-placed engineering school) the professor did any problems the students asked, even the homework problems, in a special gratis tutoring session real early in the morning. It was my first “A”, and I have the final exam grade to show it.

On the other hand, as a tutor, I caught on quickly that doing the problem with the student really doesn’t allow him/her to grow. Thankful, my mastery of the subject allows me to manufacture problems that are *similar* to the ones in the homework list, allowing me to highlight principles and trends.

Rather than appeal to the parents to thoughtfully calibrate their involvement, these experts prefer to attack the parents and get keep them off the island.

Anyone who would follow the advice of Harris Perry should have their head examined! She is a toxic nitwit of the first order. Unfortunately we have national media run by leftist loons who give her a platform from which she spouts her nonsense. No one, and I mean no one, should listen to Harris Perry, let alone heed her advice.

It’s easier than ever to monitor your children’s progress. Our schools have online access to lesson plans and grades and easy access to teachers via email.

Of course parents should monitor their kids grades and expect them to study and do their work.

Insufficiently Sensitive | March 23, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.

As one with direct experience of this phenomenon, I’ll testify that there’s a third facet to the alleged ‘fact’. Which is, that in mathematics, some modern texts are so infested with social crusades to make a ‘narrative’ of everything that the techniques, or algorithms, for solving problems are buried in multiple layers of confusion, created in a crude subjective attempt to add ‘real world’ situations to the problems.

Hence, daughter got little practice in applying single tools of mathematical operations, but was beset by a confusion of them with contrived plots which dad (who’s a long-experienced engineer) was put at pains to decipher, before extracting the simple enough problems which she was to solve.

In short, where she should have gained practice in the use of all the mathematical tools in her toolbox until she reached a state of competency and confidence with each one, instead she was beset with several other toolboxes which were needed to untangle the problems before the mathematics came into play. That should be part of the game in late high school or college, but not in middle school.

Right after earning my BA, I tutored math in grades 3-12. Some of the higher courses (trig and pre-calc) were ok, but the Jr. High level math courses were indescribably odd. They were wasting 3 months learning a game they will never hear about again, under the excuse that it would help them learn algebra later.
Why not spend three months teaching them algebra instead?

It all becomes easier when you allow yourself to become assimilated. To become one with the WHOLE. When your heart beat coincides with the ONE, when your eyes see the ALL.

It all becomes easier.
It all becomes easier.
It all becomes easier.

home school and none of this applies.

I found this quite interesting since the Atlantic was involved with the Citylab summit in NYC last fall and is thus quite aware of the fact that under the Common Core standardized tests as we have traditionally known them are going away. In fact, a November 2013 “Measuring 21st Century Competencies: Guidance for Educators” details all the new kinds of assessments coming to the K-12 classroom, including private schools. is a post putting it and the focus on all the virtual reality simulations into their troubling historical context.

Given the focus in education on changing values, attitudes, and beliefs, helping your child with homework is precisely how so many of these erroneous facts or manipulative projects are coming under scrutiny.

Very self serving advice for parents now who will be horrified by the shift away from the transmission of knowledge. The amount of deceit coming out of many school and district administrators these days ought to be classified as criminal. It is essentially legalized larceny of tax money while lying to taxpayers on what is intended.

Bruce Hayden | March 23, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Somewhat fond memories of teaching my kid the rudiments of Calculus in middle school. Derivatives really aren’t that different than Algebra – just applying manipulations to symbols, just different ones. They ended up graduating summa cum laude with honors in physics and math last year, and are now in a STEM PhD program. I really do think that Calculus is one of those things that most of us take a bit of time to get. For me, it was twice in high school, and then in college it was a snap. In my kid’s case, they had their second shot at it in high school, and so by college, it was old hat.

One of the other things that my kid got from their parents was that reading and math are both fun an easy, as well as being important skills. Harry Potter helped with reading, but what do you do with math skills? Esp. after learning the basics?

But aspirations are also important. I remember back to my childhood, and my parents pointing out that they and all four of my grandparents had college degrees (but turns out that my paternal grandfather only had an associates degree – and I didn’t discover that until I was 60 or so). The expectation was that we would all go to college too, and that graduate school was where to be oriented. It mostly worked for us. Did the same with my kid – undergraduate degree was a means to an end. I started pointing out at a young age that these friends’ father had a double doctorate, that this friend’s father had two master’s degrees, this one’s mother had a doctorate, etc. And, yes, that both their parents each had multiple graduate degrees. So, the expectations were always there.

My kid was lucky though, at least in math, since I had a math major, and their mother a math minor, in college. Not so lucky in some of the other subjects. What if a kid is going beyond their parents in high school, or even, maybe, earlier? In math, I think today that I would look into some of the great on-line videos that are coming out. Some are so good, that kids are choosing to watch these math videos (and doing the associated work) instead of playing video games or watching TV.

I had to help my children to learn math since their teachers wasted time in class playing games and sent them home to learn the actual math assignment for homework using poorly written texts and stupid worksheets. I wondered what was happening with the children whose parents had no clue about teaching math. Later I found out that some of the math teachers had no clue about math themselves. Sending them to school was a huge waste of time when they could have learned twice as much in half the time at home.

2nd Ammendment Mother | March 24, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Ditto…. Schools are largely artificial constructs that thrive on manufactured crisis designed to elicit and then reward and punish a specific set of behaviors. Schools are masters at manipulating adults into believing that grades are the measure of whether you are a good parent. Seriously, only kids with good grades have good parents and kids with bad grades obviously have bad parents.

We raised 4 dyslexic children. We were told – in writing – that it was not the teachers jobs to teach our children to read and write instead it was our children’s fault if they did not learn what was taught. (Yes, I can quote the applicable State and Federal laws on the subject.) We had two choices – fight a battle for appropriate instructional methods (there’s only 125 years of research on exactly how to teach dyslexic students) or put our money and energy into private tutors which had the training and were accountable for ensuring our children mastered the skills. $120,000 dollars later, we have 4 kids excelling in college.

My main problem with most of the homework our kids brought home, especially math, was that instead of reinforcing or practicing what they had learned in class; they were instead learning new material with little to no instructions. And the vast majority of their homework was busy work that did little to improve their understanding/application of the subject matter.

Because our kids were dyslexic, I was very adamant that our children were never punished for grades. In the real world, grades stop mattering the day you graduate. However, your work ethic, respect for others and ability to interact with others are the things that matter.

The fact of the matter is that there’s a lot of truth that the A students work for the B students and the C students dedicate hospital wings.

JackRussellTerrierist | March 25, 2014 at 1:18 am

What utter bilge.