What is the key to academic success? That seems to be the million-dollar question right now in America. Recent studies show that out of 40 countries around the world, American students rank 25th in math and 21st in science. The average rate of proficiency in the majority of states hovers around a dismal 20% to 30%. Actually, they lag behind in every subject—except self-confidence! (Okay, that’s not a subject, but you know what I mean.)Now consider that the National Dropout Prevention Center states that 82% of inmates in this country are high school dropouts. The national Latino high school dropout rate is 21%—the highest in the country, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Not surprisingly, Latinos make up 19% of inmates in the U.S.
When it comes to student underachievement, parents blame the school system and the school system blames the parents. Parents claim the teachers are inept, unsupportive, and eager to fail students…or worse, pass them just to get rid of them. Teachers complain about a lack of funding and teaching materials, no parental support, and students who have no interest or self-discipline.
Who’s right? Well, rather than finger pointing, why not look at the factors that do contribute to a child’s academic success. Here are the top three:
1. Children with involved parents are more likely to succeed academically.
Parental involvement seems to affect a whole slew of areas including behaviorial problems, math and science achievement, school preparedness, graduation, and more.
Family Facts.org has a more complete article dedicated specifically to this topic, but essentially, in my opinion, it comes down to this: If you are an involved parent, you teach your children that you value education. Soon they will see it as a way to pursue and achieve their dreams. And by supporting and encouraging them, you help them to realize those dreams. No child wants to be a failure. But they quickly learn to live up—or down!—to the expectations of those around them.
2. The more books in your home, the greater the chances of your child’s academic achievement.
It’s true! Last year, the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility published the results of a study which showed that the number of books in the house directly correlates to the number of years of schooling that a child will complete. And the more books you have, the better your child’s chances of graduating not only from high school, but from college, as well. The authors of the study took samples from 27 countries and found that children with as little as 25 books in their homes, completed on average two more years of schooling than those children without books. And the households with 500 books or more were “as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father.” Read more about this study and others in this article by Laura Miller.
3. Great teachers do make a difference.
The controversial film Waiting for Superman claims that a good teacher can cover 150% of the required curriculum in one school year… and a bad one may only cover as little as 50%. Bob Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, says degrees and experience don’t make a good teacher. Instead, it’s how the teachers interact with and engage the students that make them effective. An expert on teacher quality, Pianta says that, basically, a good teacher knows how to wear three hats. They are “social workers” who can easily connect with their students, supporting their emotional needs. Good teachers are also good managers. They know how to manage time, lessons, and their students. And, of course, they must be instructors, knowing their subject intimately, as well as how to present it in a way that the children can understand. Read more about what makes a good teacher in this excellent article by Bianca Vázquez Toness.