Thursday, January 3, 2008

The importance of family support

In a recent article in the New York Times the findings of a major study by the USA Educational Testing Service highlights just how important it is for parents to spend time with their children. As well, it repeats the consistent finding of 50 years worth of research that if you read to and with your children regularly that it helps your child's reading and chances of success at school. The study also offers some public policy reminders and shows why single parents find it harder to offer children the support they need. One of the challenges of being a sole parent is finding the time to give one-on-one attention, including reading.

The study, The Family: America's Smallest School concludes that a large proportion of low achievement in schools can be explained by factors that have nothing to do with schools. Instead, the researchers suggest that school failure is often linked to the level of poverty and government’s inadequate support for programs that could make a difference, like high-quality day care and paid maternity leave.

The E.T.S. looked at the impact of four non-school variables: The percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily, and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using theses four variables, the researchers were able to predict each US state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with great accuracy.

“Together, these four factors account for about two-thirds of the large differences among states,” the report said. In other words, the states that had the lowest test scores tended to be those that had the highest percentages of children from single-parent families, eighth graders watching lots of TV and eighth graders absent a lot, and the lowest percentages of young children being read to regularly, regardless of what was going on in their schools."

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