Parents’ Education => Children’s Academic Success

In an August 22 blog post, Education Week‘s Marva Hinton reports on a new study that demonstrates the connections between children’s early home environment and the development and persistence of their academic skills through 5th grade.

The study, conducted by Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda and colleagues at New York University and published online in Applied Developmental Science, looked at 2,204 families with children in Early Head Start.

“All of the children in the study came from low-income, ethnically diverse families,” Hinton writes. She continues,

The researchers found that children whose parents engaged them in meaningful conversations and provided them with books and toys designed to increase learning were much more likely to develop early cognitive skills that led to later academic success.

…The researchers found that early-learning environment predicted pre-K skills as well as achievement in 5th grade. They also discovered that early-learning environments predicted later learning environments. …These findings were true across all ethnic/racial groups studied.

The NYU results mirror the findings of multiple earlier studies, including those reviewed by the National Institute for Literacy in 2006 and those conducted by the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy at Penn State. They corroborate the importance of focusing on what Thomas Sticht , in a 2011 article in the American Educator, calls “the intergenerational transfer of literacy” — the ways in which reading aloud and other ways of using oral language can promote the development of children’s literacy skills. Sticht writes,

The results of studies of major early childhood education programs suggest that some of the long-term academic and social outcomes of early childhood education result not so much from the direct education of the children, but rather from education provided to highly disadvantaged parents. Changes in parenting help explain why relatively short-term education programs for children could sustain them through school, and into adulthood. Better parenting provides a long-term educational intervention for children.

However, where Sticht found a one-to-one correlation between parents’ socioeconomic status and children’s educational outcomes (he cites an average of 215,000 words per week heard by children in professional families, 125,000 by children in working class families, and 62,000 by children in welfare families), the NYU researchers were struck by the variety of early childhood experiences that they found within their low-income study group. Hinton quotes Tamis-LeMonda:

“We often make assumptions that this is a homogeneous group,” said Tamis-LeMonda. “They’re all living in poverty, so these kids will therefore be doing horribly, that parenting will be weak. What is amazing to think about is how much the experiences of these children vary from one another. You have children who are in poor families who are getting incredibly rich engagement. Parents are talking to them all the time, providing rich language, lots of books, lots of toys, and then at the other extreme, also within low-income families, you have children who are in much more impoverished circumstances.” 

Hinton writes that the NYU researchers “found that children with a father in the home, adult parents versus teenage parents, and more-educated parents tended to have better environments for early learning.” (emphasis mine)

The NYU study is thus another tool in the adult educator’s advocacy toolkit. It supports the point that the National Coalition for Literacy and its member organizations have long maintained: that the education of adults is the key that opens the door to learning for people of every age and background.

Read Marva Hinton’s EdWeek blog post here.

Read the Applied Developmental Science article on the NYU study here.

Learn more about adult education and family literacy from the National Center for Families Learning and the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy.