The Influence of Schools on A Child

23 Feb

In a 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind, there is an interview of Judith Rich Harris, the author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do and No Two Alike. In the interview, Harris emphasizes the importance of teachers in shaping a child’s development and the influence of peers on a child. Parents are not as powerful of an influence as many of us think. In Harris’ own words:

One of my purposes in writing the book was to reassure parents. I wanted them to know that parenting didn’t have to be such a difficult, anxiety-producing job…

According to Harris, when at home, children learn from parents how to behave at home. But once they are outside home, they learn rules about how to behave outside home . Therefore, a school-based intervention is the way to improve a child’s behavior in a classroom, be it making them more diligent or less disruptive. A child’s peers could have significantly more influence on her as she grows older and start spending more time outside of home. In an earlier paper, Harris described the harsh peer group sanctions given to a 11-year-old girl when she violated the group taboo by voluntarily sitting next to a boy. This pressure to conform to the expected behavior of a group, however, by adolescence years, becomes less of a push to conform than a desire to “participate in experiences that are seen as relevant, or potentially relevant, to group identity.” At home, on the other hand, most parents probably would not find their adolescents to desire doing what they say.

This is why teachers have such big powers over a child’s development. A good teacher can influence a whole classroom of kids and push them in the right direction. A talented teach is also careful to not let the class split into two factions, the prolearning and the antilearning. Because when that happens, the difference between the two will quickly widen.

I think Harris provides very insightful ideas which are potentially very useful in crime prevention. Most students in underserved communities do not lack parents who care about their child’s future, even though their parents might be too busy trying to making ends meet to spend enough time with their child. But what these children lack is a nurturing environment when they are in school. When the teacher emphasizes the importance of education and instills good values in a child from an early age, it makes a huge difference in the child’s life and more than makes up for the lack of support from home. The KIPP program is a very good example.

In KIPP schools, more than 80% of the students comes from low-income families and eligible for the federal free or reduced-price meals program. Yet nationally, more than 90 percent of KIPP middle school students have gone on to college-preparatory high schools, and over 85 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college. In school, the students have longer hours and are pushed to work hard. The idea of going to college is talked about in the classroom to students from an early age. If more schools follow KIPP’s example around the country, the difference it will make in underserved neighborhood and crime prevention overall is unimaginable.


3 Responses to “The Influence of Schools on A Child”

  1. Joan Cassie Mathias February 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    This is such an interesting post. I am familiar with some of Harris’s work, and I definitely agree that school-based interventions can be very helpful. However, some research suggests that the discrepancies between parent based intervention and school based intervention comes from the fact that the correlation between measures on a child’s behavior (i.e., self report, report by parents, or report by teachers) is very low. As an undergraduate, I worked on research about children academic achievement with Professor Dr. Angela Duckworth. KIPP was actually one of the schools that was part of her research. I focused my research on parental involvement and academic achievement from students in a school in Texas. The longitudinal study measured parental involvement using students’ responses on questionnaires and measured academic achievement based on fall report card grades. Parental involvement predicted fall grades, even after controlling for IQ, socioeconomic status, race, gender, and age. Other measured aspects of parenting behavior − psychological autonomy granting, parental strictness and supervision, and inconsistent discipline − were not significantly related to GPA. These findings suggested that parental involvement is important for school success. However, when I focused my research on other studies that had researched similar topics, I found that the findings really varied based on whether researchers assessed parental involvement by parent, teacher, or child report. A study by Dr. Reynolds in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly confirmed that the correlation between these measures was often low regarding reports of parental involvement. Parents consistently report their involvement higher than do teachers or their children.

    In a study of almost 500 seven-year-old low-income minority children, Reynolds demonstrated how differently the impact of parental involvement on achievement appears depending on who reports involvement. Reynolds analyzed the relationship between standardized reading and math achievement test scores and parents’, teachers’, and children’s responses on questionnaires measuring parental involvement at home and at school. While reports of involvement by teachers, parents, and students all significantly predicted academic achievement, effect size varied greatly. Teachers’ reports of the parents’ involvement at home and at school predicted academic achievement. Teacher ratings were the only source that significantly predicted academic growth the following year. Teacher ratings of parental involvement in school were most strongly and consistently correlated with academic achievement, while parent and child reports had much lower correlations.

    All of these studies on what promotes academic achievement are so interesting and are especially relevant in light of all of the current controversy in Wisconsin. It is interesting how, when analyzing different variables and confounds, the data can appear to paint a very different result.

  2. Becky February 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    It is so interesting to read about the research you and your professor did. It is indeed puzzling to see the different results.

    You research in the one KIPP school is every intriguing. Since all the students are at the same school, it might not be too surprising to see that parents involvement positively correlates with the student’s performance in the school. It would be wonderful to see whether the student’s performance is even more strongly influenced by their friends in the school.

  3. shirley kressel July 18, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    The KIPP students are not a representative sample of the population — any population. They are children of self-selected, highly motivated lottery applicants, and lottery winners are further weeded out by requirements for parent contracts committing to extensive involvement in the child’s school and schoolwork, and then by ongoing “counseling out” of students who aren’t performing and behaving in stellar fashion. There is nothing to learn from a study of KIPP (and similar charter-school) students except that cherry-picking students yields a better crop. If KIPP schools had to accept all comers — and keep them — the way real public schools do (and if they had the same financial resources), I expect that they would show exactly the same results.

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